ON THE TRAIL OF NEGRO FOLK-SONGS

A Collection Of Negro Traditional & Folk Songs with Sheet Music Lyrics & Commentaries - online book

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IO
NEGRO FOLK-SONGS
field or on the railroad or street-grading jobs. All sounds of human activity among the Negroes in the South used to be accompanied with song. It is so now to a certain extent, but less than before.
Even now that I am living in the North I spend a part of every year in the South and I eagerly listen for old tunes.
I began the work of definitely collecting Negro folk-songs about ten years ago, when I was for one year president of the Texas Folk­lore Association. I had to arrange for the annual programme, and to deliver the "presidential address." Some of the previous meetings had been sparsely attended and I had promised the organization that their sessions in Baylor University, at Waco, should have satis­factory audiences. I had to make good on that promise, and I did, but it took a lot of tongue- and pen-work. I could not see what would be of popular interest if folk-lore was not — and so I told everybody I saw that the programmes would be of great interest. I advertised the sessions in the news and society columns of our papers, and did all I could think of to attract crowds.
I chose for my subject"Negro Ballets and Reels," and I asked my students in Baylor University to help me collect material. Some in­sist that I bullied them shamefully, that I insinuated that no one who did not bring me folk-stuff would stand a chance of passing on the finals. One youth complained recently that he combed the Brazos Bottom, and did not dare stop till he had found at least one reel for me.
I myself haunted all sorts of places where Negroes gather for work or play. I visited my kitchen acquaintances, offering to help shell peas or dry dishes, if I might but listen to songs. I loafed on back steps, I hung guilefully over garden fences, I broiled myself beside cook stoves, and ironing boards, I stifled in dust on cleaning days — asking only that I might hear the songs the workers sang. I visited my colored friends and their friends' friends in their homes, begging for ballets.
I started out by describing the scientific nature of my quest, but I soon found that did not work well, and so I explained myself as merely interested in old songs, not realizing that by that time the mischief was done.
I remember stopping by to talk with a stout ginger-cake woman whom I saw rocking easefully on her front porch close by Waco Creek one afternoon. I did not know her, but I asked for songs. She desired to know why I wanted them. I explained elaborately that I liked old songs,
"What you gwine to do with 'em?" she persisted.