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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IV
DANCE-SONGS OR "REELS"
D OWN through the years the old dance tunes tinkle gaily. They have a vitality to match that of the boll weevil sung of in the darky's ballad, for they survived not only time but the stern dis­couragement of man. They have a brave laughter that endured in spite of public disfavor and threatening thunders from the pulpit. In many sections of the South, the Negro, who by nature is aquiver with rhythm, was forbidden to give expression to his impulse in the dance; and to the collector of folk-lore it is a mournful thing that many of the old dance-songs should have been allowed to die. But many survived — as the dance persisted despite opposition.
This ban on dancing was set up, not by the white masters, but by the Negroes themselves, or by their religious leaders. The dances that the captured slaves brought over with them from Africa were heathen and obscene, and so they must be "laid aside" in the new life. They were permitted, with certain restrictions, in the sections under Latin influence, — French and Spanish, — but not elsewhere. And even the crude plantation dances were thought reprehensible in many other districts. Wherever the Negro was under strong reli­gious influence, Methodist or Baptist, he thought dancing a sin — to be held to defiantly by the unregenerate but to be given up with fervor by the converted. Dancing was apparently an evil more ter­rible than most of the offences mentioned in the Decalogue, and the darky must have wondered why the Almighty was so absent-minded as to have left it out of his ten commandments. Certainly the Negro preacher was guilty of no such omission. So gay defiant youth danced on, while elders shuddered. But when the youth "got religion" and joined the church, he was expected to forego such revelry and cleanse his mind of "devil songs."
He did this so effectively that it is next to impossible to coax any dance-song from an elderly colored person. White heads wag re­proachfully at me when I beg for "reels."
" Dem is devil songs, mistis, an' I doan hold with sech," an old man in Birmingham told me.
"But didn't you use to know them when you were young? Didn't you dance them?" I persisted.







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