Folk Music in The United States


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Folk Music in the Metropolis                                                    65

status in the New World. But oral tradition survives. A young Polish informant in Detroit, whose grandparents emigrated to this country over fifty years ago, knows many songs, all learned from his relatives, and he indicates that this is typical. Indeed, he believes that most of the second and third generation Polish-Americans know more folk songs than do those who have recently arrived in the United States. This fact is of great interest, for it reajSBrms the theory of marginal survivals, and that the United States is one of their centers. We know that in many cases elements of a culture die out in the center of their distribution but survive longer at the margins. In this case, Polish folk songs have evidently decreased in number and strength at the center of their distribution, Poland, probably under the pressure of urbanization, industrialization, and political propaganda. But in the outskirts of Polish culture, among the PoHsh-Americans who left their homeland when folk music was flourishing, the songs have remained for a longer time and have been more vigorous.

A study comparing the songs sung by Puerto Rican children in New York with the versions sung in Puerto Rico yields interesting conclusions."^ Gradual changes come about in the songs, the most recent arrivals in New York singing variants most closely corresponding to those collected in Puerto Eico. In the New York version, references to the rural life tend to disappear, English words and American place-names are introduced. The changes in the tunes are insignificant, and a vigorous folk song tradition seems to be evident.

The practice of general participation in folk song, one of the marks of most rural musical cultures, is of course weakened in the city. Whereas a large segment of the population still participates fully, there is a tendency to develop specialists in folk song, individuals who are not really professional musicians but who, because of their great knowledge of folk songs and their interest in them, are recognized as guardians of the tradition. Among the Polish, largest of the ethnic groups in the Detroit area, they are the cooks who cater at weddings and who also perform the musical parts of the marriage ritual. These cooks evidently know hundreds of songs, wedding songs and others, and they act as con-

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