Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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pered at first, later chanted softly, was notice that that night there were to be services across the river. The first-born thought, "Steal away to Jesus/' was expressed all day, in the fields of cotton and of corn, and in fragments of tuneful melody the slaves were all informed of what would occur that night. At night when the master, overseer, and hounds had retired to sweet sleep, the slaves would steal from their cabins and quietly creep through the cotton, corn, and tall grasses, softly humming their greetings to one another. On toward the river they crept, and the night breezes wafted their melody to the ears of the missionary, who thereby knew that his black congre�gation was coming. Soon he espied here, there, and yonder, black forms, on rafts secretly made for the purpose, paddling themselves across the river. When they reached the banks, they lifted their voices in lofty inspiration, and from the depths of their hearts sang:
"My Lord, He calls Hie, He calls me by de thunder; De trumpet soun's it in-a my soul; I ain't got long to stay here."
The trees swaying in the night wind inspired them to proclaim, "Green trees a-bendin', poor sinner stands a-tremblin', de trumpet soun's it in a-my soul, I ain't got long to stay here/' The judgment day, the most important day in his calendar, impressed itself upon him�
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"Tombstones a-bustin', Poor sinner stands a-tremblin', De trumpet soun's it in-a my soul."
Of course, this song as we have it to-day was not produced in one night; it is a product of development, for the missionary who told the story to the Original Fisk Jubilee Singers, stated that he literally saw the song grow. Each stanza, as well as the chorus, ends with the expression, "I ain't got long to stay here," which was not originally sacred, but a sharp reminder to the slaves that they must not stay too long on that side of the river, or they must pay the penalty of disobeying their master. Too well they knew what such a penalty would be. So that little expression had to them a tre�mendous meaning.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Before I'd be a Slave," upon first hand authority, may be called the "Twins," for they burst from

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