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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VIII
WORK- SONGS
T HE Negro, by nature rhythmical, works better if he sings at his labor. He seems to lighten his toil, perhaps even to forget the fact that he is working, if he has a song to help him on. As a soldier can march with less fatigue if inspired by the music of a band, so a Negro's hoe or axe swings more easily to the beat of a ballad or the sighing swing of a spiritual, or any sort of song he chants at his task. He can work not only more pleasurably to himself, but more prof­itably to his employer, for he moves faster and accomplishes more if he sings. This is well recognized by those who employ bands of Negroes at various types of work, as on construction gangs, and the like, and the fact is taken advantage of. Singing is encouraged — not as an art, but as an economic factor in efficiency. Song leaders are chosen, formally or informally, their responsibility being to speed up the efforts of the workers. Sometimes these men are paid more than any of their comrades, and are required to do nothing but direct the songs.
Frances Gilchrist Wood has told me of such methods used twenty-five years ago in the phosphate mines in Florida. The song leader would be called a "Phosphate Jesse," and all he had to do was to inspire the singing. Under the thrill of music, the workers would compete madly with each other to see who could "lay the rest out," until all but one had dropped in exhaustion, almost denuded of clothes. Song leaders also directed the singing of Negroes in the turpentine camps in Florida, Mrs. Wood says. The men who worked at "box-chopping," or chopping the trees to let the turpentine run out into the boxes placed to receive it, had their own special songs.
There is a good deal of singing in tobacco factories in the South to-day, but less than formerly, since machinery has been substituted to do what once was done by hand. In the old days, the workers sang in chorus at their task; and now that the roar of wheels would drown out their voices, in some factories the machinery is stopped for brief periods during the day and the toilers rest themselves by singing. The colored employees of the Lorillard Tobacco Company, of Richmond, Virginia, have a chorus of one hundred and seventy-five voices, and they sing the old Negro folk-songs. But in former







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