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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II
THE NEGRO'S PART IN TRANSMIT­TING THE TRADITIONAL SONGS AND BALLADS
O NE of the most fascinating discoveries to be made in a study of southern folk-lore is that Negroes have preserved orally, and for generations, independent of the whites, some of the familiar Eng­lish and Scotch songs and ballads, and have their own distinct ver­sions of them. I was vastly interested in this fact when I chanced upon it in research I was making in ballad material some years ago in Texas and Virginia. Unaware that other cases existed, I thought at first that what I found were only exceptions, accidents of folk­song, though I began to look for similar instances. I found enough to start a nucleus for a discussion of this aspect of folk-song, and so was especially interested in an article by C. Alphonso Smith, professor of English at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, com­menting on his discovery of the same fact ("Ballads Surviving in the United States," in the Musical Quarterly, January, 1916). Pro­fessor Smith wrote, in answer to my appeal for suggestions for this book of mine: "It seems to me that you should devote at least a sec­tion of your work to the agency of the Negro in helping to preserve and to perpetuate and to popularize old-world lyrics — English and Scottish folk-songs that drifted across with our forbears and are not the products of Negro genius." I was delighted to find corrobora­tion of my conclusions in such a quarter, and am indebted to Profes­sor Smith for much information of value concerning this point.
To discuss this subject adequately would require research work and writing more extensive than I have time for now, and so I can hope only to give a suggestion as to the material, and leave it to some investigator who can spend much time in the field, to work it out in
detail.
To understand this phenomenon we have to recall the history of our colonization, and remember that the South was settled largely by Cavaliers and Scotch people, both of whom loved song. Folk-songs took up no room in the ships that crossed the ocean to this adventur-