Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
of the body formed the original accompaniment of the song, but has now fallen into disuse." If the rowing singer meant "hold" or "stop" or "back" on my right and catch on my left, even a novice at the oars would have understood the motion as a familiar one in steering.
This is interesting, I think, though outside of the parti­cular line of argument for which I introduced the working songs of the slaves—namely, to explain their general cheer­fulness. Just as interesting is a singular custom which Mr. Reuben Tomlinson mentions in connection with the enig­matic song beginning "Rain fall and wet Becca Lawton," which has a refrain, "Been back holy, I must come slowly, Oh! Brudder, cry holy!" In place' of "Been back" there are as variants "Beat back," "Bent back" and "Rack back." When the song is used for rowing, Mr. Tomlinson says, "at the words 'Rack back holy' one rower reaches back and slaps the man behind him, who in turn does the same and so on." It is not impossible, or even improbable, that this form of the game which was played in my boy­hood, called "Pass it along," was an African survival.
It may be, too, that there is another relic, an African superstition, in the song. Colonel Higginson heard it as "Rain fall and wet Becky Martin"; a variant of the first line of the song as printed in "Slave Songs" is "Sun shine and dry Becca Lawton." Colonel Higginson comments: "Who Becky Martin was, and why she should or should not be wet, and whether the dryness was a reward or a penalty, none could say. I got the impression that in either case the event was posthumous, and that there was some tradition of grass not growing over the grave of the sinner; but even this was vague, and all else vaguer." In their note on the song the editors of "Slave Songs" say: "Lieutenant-Colonel Trowbridge heard a story that Peggy Norton was an old prophetess who said that it would not do to be baptized except when it rained; if the Lord was pleased with those who had been 'in the wilderness', he would send rain." To go into the wilderness was to seek conversion from sin, to go to "the mourners' bench," as our Methodist brethren say. Mr. Tomlinson said that the
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III