American Ballads and Folk Songs: page - 0157

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Thirty men in stripes are "flat-weeding" a ditch j every hoe strikes the ground at the same instant. The driver walks his horse behind them, shotgun across the pommel of his saddle. Guards, black trusties, ready and eager to shoot down any man who makes a break for free­dom—if one kills his man, it may mean a pardon or a parole—pace be­hind the gang. The sun stands hot and burning overhead and the bodies of the men sway easily to the swing of their arms and the rhythm of the work. Presently some big buck with a warm, powerful voice throws back his head and begins "Rosie," "Stewball," or "Great God-a'mighty." At the chorus the gang joins in with a full-throated response, and the voices blend into a strange harmony where, perhaps, no voice is on pitch. Thus the song is begun, and thus it goes on through the "long, hot, summer day"j first one leader and then an­other takes it up and sings his favorite stanzas, with the probable addition of some comment on the cruelty of the sun, the captain, his woman, or his "grea' long time." "While de blood's runnin' warm," some one of the men will shout out in a rhythmic interjection, "Talk it to time, now!" or "It's hard, boys, it's hard," or "Tell 'em about it!" —just as there are frequent exclamations during a Negro sermon.
No stanza is ever sung in the same way as another. The Negroes play with the melody and the rhythm, vary them, keep silent, burst out suddenly, and impose a great variety of ornament and original deviation upon the pattern of the tune. But the whole is dominated and swept along by the heavy rhythm of the hoes. It is in this way that the songs should be sung. Gtt the "wham!—wham!—wham!" of the big splay feet, the axes, the hoes, firmly and heavily in mind. Open your mouth and shout the songs. They are not gentle or sedate or subtle. They are the work-songs of driven, despairing men, who sing about their troubles to be rid of them.
When you think I'm laughin', I'm laughin' to keep from cryin\
[57]






E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III