A Collection Of Negro Traditional & Folk Songs with Sheet Music Lyrics & Commentaries - online book

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Come across, Moses, Don't get lost.
Spread yo' rod an' come across. Jesus, Jesus died on de cross.
These convicts sang, while the hard-faced guards watched them ceaselessly and the bloodhounds lay beside them.
Dr. Boyd, of Nashville, Tennessee, an elderly man very promi­nent in religious work among his race, discussed with me the various types of work-singing among the Negroes. He said that the music and the words changed in every state, and to know the reasons for the change one would have to know the history of industrial condi­tions in each locality. He said that in Virginia the singing was more like that of a choir. In tobacco factories there would always be a leader, who would lead in singing, and a marvellous sort of group-singing resulted. In South Carolina the work was chiefly done out of doors, — as in rice-fields, and so forth, — where the laborers sang corn-songs. In turning the water through the rice, the leader would start off with a song, and the other laborers would follow as they came up to him. In Mississippi the Negroes sang as they worked hoeing or picking cotton in the fields, sometimes near together and sometimes scattered. In Louisiana the workers in the sugar-cane fields varied as to their singing, the cane cutters singing one way and the haulers another. In Texas, which was a new country, the sing­ing was made up of almost all types.
The cotton-field has heard much of this communal singing, as any Southerner knows. J. E. Morrow reports a scene from Texas:
"A number of 'hands' were in a cotton patch, and they con­stantly sang as they went down the rows. Groups of kindred spirits would sing one song together, or each sing a stanza alone, as fancy suggested. One of the favorites was this. One of the groups in the cotton patch — and the fastest — had for its leader an old man. He was apparently tireless, or so engrossed with his singing that he never slacked exertion. His favorite was the first stanza in this song. As he sang, the others added their contribution, with the following composite result.
"Would n't drive so hard but I needs de arns, Would n't drive so hard but I needs de arns. Snatchin' an' a-crammin' it in my sack, Gotter have some cotton if it breaks my back. Would n't drive so hard, but I needs de arns, Would n't drive so hard, but I needs de arns."

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