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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IX
RAILROAD SONGS
T HE Negro, an imaginative being, delights to personify the things that enter into his life. As in his work-songs he may hold dialogues with his hammer or his hoe, may apostrophize the tree he is cutting down, or the butter in the churn, so he makes a dramatic figure out of such a thing as a railroad train. That appeals to him for various reasons. Its rhythmic turn of wheels inspires a rhythmic turn of phrase in a folk-song. Its regularly recurring noises are iambic or trochaic like the Negro's patting of foot or clapping of hand — not dactylic or anapaestic, like some sounds in nature, the gallop­ing of a horse, for example. The Negro's spontaneous songs are almost wholly in two-quarter or four-quarter time, rarely with the three syllable foot. Perhaps that instinct harks back to the beat of drums in jungled Africa, or perhaps it merely satisfies some in­explicable impulse in the Negro soul.
The Negro has no dragon in his mythology, but he sees a modern one in an engine and train — a fierce creature stretching across the country, breathing out fiery smoke, ruthless of what comes in its path. It is a being diabolic and divine, or at least a superman in force and intelligence. It gratifies his sense of the dramatic with its rushing entrances and exits, as it feeds his craving for mystery, with its shining rails that may lead anywhere, to all imaginable adven­ture. The Negro, while often outwardly lethargic, is restless of heart; is it because he feels that he has never found his true place in life? And so the engine with its dynamic energy, its fiery dissatis­faction, which, if ill directed, may result in dangerous explosions, fascinates him, and he loves to sing about it. He rides it in imagina­tion more often than in reality. He delights in unconventional methods of transportation, and he speaks with easy intimacy of railroad magnates, as when he sings:
Jay Gooze said befo' he died, Goin' to fix his trains so The bums could n't ride.
He thinks of a train as one whom he knows, sometimes a friend, sometimes an enemy, but always a real being. He may admire the







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