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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18
NEGRO FOLK-SONGS
service having told me that a night watchman at one of the railroad buildings knew a lot of songs, a friend and I went to the place that night and found a good-natured, middle-aged Negro man, who said he was a preacher as well as a watchman. He was just starting off to-post the night mail when we arrived, but said if we could wait till he came back he would sing what he knew. So we sat down in the de­serted building and awaited his return. I did not want to leave with­out songs, for I had lugged my phonograph along to take records and had no wish to waste that time or energy. After considerable time he came back and sang various spirituals for us.
My quest for songs brought me an invitation to visit Melrose, a big plantation in North Louisiana, whose owner, Mrs. Henry, wrote me that the region was rich in folk-song and tradition. Her planta­tion is in a section where few white people live, the district being al­most entirely settled by Negroes and by what are called free mulat-toes. The latter are descendants of Frenchmen who in early days homesteaded in that region and had mulatto children, to whom they left their property. So the region shows an interesting cleavage of color, the Negroes having their settlement, their churches, Methodist and Baptist, and their schools, while the mulattoes have their schools, their Catholic church and convent, and their separate social life. There is almost as little social commingling between the mulattoes and the blacks as between the whites and the mulattoes, I was told.
I talked with a number of the people there, both black and mu­latto, and heard fascinating songs and stories of life before the war in Louisiana.
Among those whom I found especially interesting were Uncle Israel and Aunt Jane, he being ninety-one years old by his estimate of what he remembered, and she being ninety-four. He remembered seeing the stars fall, — that is the date by which most old colored people estimate their age, — and had witnessed a famous duel when he was a child, the duel between Gaigner and Boissier,
" I saw dem fight. One stood at de rising of de sun, one at de set­ting of de sun. I was a little boy, was carrying feed. Genl Boissier was plated — I mean he had silver plate all over hisself so de bullet would n't hu't him."
Uncle Israel walked with a limp and supported himself by his cane. He said, "It ain't ol' age dat makes me limp. I got a tap on my hip when I war a young man bef o' I war married. I war.a house servant, but when Marse Tolyte would get mad at de house servants, he would send dem to de field to work. I was hoein' cotton, an' he called me an* said,' Clean up dis row.' I thought I had it clean, but I