Folk Music in The United States


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64                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

on by oral tradition. Those Negroes whose family cohesion is strongest are usually the most devout; thus, since the family is usually an important unit in oral tradition, word-of-mouth transmission favors religious material. On the other hand, Negroes tend to prefer jazz and other popular music because it soHdifies their urban status and is a field in which they, as a group, enjoy prestige among whites. The Negroes in industrial cities are avid record fans; the number of record stores in Negro residential areas is disproportionately great, even in the poverty-stricken districts. Negroes seem to have a greater desire to be urbanized than the Southern whites. The latter are often transient, returning periodically to the South, and they remain rural in spirit. Most Negroes in the North have no intention of returning to the South.

The non-English-speaking groups of the newer American cities are much more conscious of their folk music heritage than the native Americans. For them, folk music is a way of retaining the cohesion of their ethnic groups, but it is also a method of impressing and gaining the respect of other inhabitants of the city. While native Americans often scoff at the strange rituals, holiday observances, and accents of the immigrants, the European folk songs usually arouse their sympathy, warm interest, and even attempts at imitation. But in a foreign environment a European ethnic group must work hard to achieve this continuity. It does not usually trust to the usual channels of oral tradition to assure the siuvival of the songs. Instead, it organizes singing groups and clubs, it sponsors professional entertainers, it developes specialists. Folk music becomes the concern of the intellectual leaders of the ethnic groups. Thus, while folk music remains in the life of the ethnic group more fully than in that of the natives, it is changed under the pressure of Americanization and urbanization. It is probable that the folk music of immigrants from countries largely rural, from eastern Europe, for example, is greater in volume and more vigorous than that from the heavily urbanized and industrial countries of western Europe.

Nevertheless, the ethnic groups retain folk music in its most genuine form. They vary considerably in their use of folk music because of their original differences, times of immigration, and

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