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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NEGRO FOLK-SONGS
dren, but sometimes of a lyric beauty that is surprising. Can Tennyson's much-advertised "wind of the western sea" compare in simple naturalness and charm with that in the dateless, authorless lullaby which sings:
Oh, the wind is in the west,
And the guinea's on her nest,
And I can't find any rest
For my baby.
The imagery here is more spontaneous, more sincere in its appeal to childish fancy; for one sees the guinea — shy, wild creature that nests stealthily so that one rarely sees her at her hiding-place — settling down in peace in some secret place secure from surprise.
We see in these songs the kindly soul of the black nurse, promising the child, who is righting off sleep with that instinctive resistance symbolic of our older dread of the long sleep, anything he wishes if he will but yield to slumber. He may have all conceivable indiges-tibles, from cake to short'nin' bread, or he may possess and ride the ponies or wild horses or mules he is forbidden to approach in his waking hours. How like our human hope that another sleep will yield us joys not realized here!
These Negro lullabies have their quaint terrors, too, their repel­lent suggestions, which might upset a child unused to them. But baby calves and lambies dead under sorrowful conditions, great big dogs that shake the meadow, and the like, may have but brightened the sense of peace and security which a "baby child" felt in its mammy's safe embrace.. Ole Bangum and the Boar, with its cave where lay the bones of a thousand men, lulled to sleep many promi­nent Southerners, including General Taylor and President Madison, as has been mentioned before. And the song of the murderous Jew's daughter, slaying the errant little boy, was used as a lullaby by Negro mammies.
The antiseptic, hygienically brought-up child to-day might suffer if he heard such suggestions just before he went to sleep. But then he misses more than he escapes, for the ample bosom and enveloping arm of a black nurse might be more germy than a hospital ward, yet they are vastly comforting; and the youngster who is put to bed and made to seek slumber by himself in a dark room may experience more alarms than any that terrifying good-night songs might give him.
These simple, homely songs have a touching charm that profes­sionally composed lullabies usually lack, for, as Mr. H. E. Krehbiel recently said, folk-songs are "the most truthful and the most moving music in the world."







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