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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76
NEGRO FOLK-SONGS
lina, tells of an occasion on which she says she was "present at the birth of a ballad." The Negro preacher at a camp meeting quoted a verse of scripture and then chanted a stanza of a song he improvised from it. The congregation instantly caught the tune and sang the stanza after him. Before the song was ended, the congregation was improvising additional stanzas, and the whole was sung enthusiasti­cally and repeated many times thereafter. Mrs. Busbee says that she was the only white person present at the meeting and was tre­mendously impressed by the folk-loristic significance of the occur­rence.
Hatcher Hughes reports having been an auditor at the origin of a spontaneous communal ballad in the mountain districts of North Carolina some time ago. A shiftless character whose first name was John, and whose last name, while known, is charitably withheld, had maliciously killed a fine hunting dog, Old Lead, a favorite " tree dog " for hunting squirrels. The community was greatly incensed over the occurrence, accused John of wishing to eat the dog, and threatened to beat him severely. His wife, Mary, wept and begged for mercy for him. The neighbors were gathered together discussing the situation, when, after some tentative tuning up, a ballad flashed into being. Mr. Hughes can recall only the first stanza:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Killed Old Lead and home he run.
Old Lead was eat, and John was beat,
And Mary ran bawling down the street.
Mr. Hughes says that the word "street" was used purely for effect of rhyme! He says that others present improvised additional stanzas, and that the song was added to and sung in the community for a long time, as a genuine example of spontaneous communal composition of folk-song.
John A. Lomax argues for the communal authorship of The Boll Weevily saying in an article in the Journal of American Folk-lore, volume xxviii: "The ballad of The Boll Weevil and other songs in my collection are absolutely known to have been composed by groups of people whose community life made their thinking similar, and present valuable corroborative evidence of the theory advanced by Professor Gummere and Professor Kittredge concerning the origin of the ballads from which come those now contained in the great Child collection."
This ballad of The Boll Weevil can be more definitely placed with respect to location and time than can many folk-songs. It must