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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RAILROAD SONGS
247
The effect is most unusual, and I wonder if any musician, even so experienced a one as Mrs. Buie, who wrote it down, could tran­scribe it correctly. I think the words are tragic enough, but as sung by these Negroes — !"
In some of his songs the Negro thinks of the railroad as a place to work, the setting of his experiences of daily toil. He enjoys working for the railroad, for it gives him a sense of suggestive distances, a feeling of an immediate way of escape, if flitting becomes desirable or necessary. He will struggle to get or hold a railroad job, as being less monotonous than other means of livelihood. In a stanza given me some years ago in Texas, the singer hints of such an effort that one Negro makes despite the disproportion between his size and that of the burden he has to lift. The tie referred to is, of course, the rail­road tie. The Negro is evidently working on laying out a new line or replacing the ties of an old one.
Great big tie an' little bitty man,
Lay it on if it breaks him down!
If it breaks him down,
If it breaks him down,
Lay it on if it breaks him down!
A section-hand speaks of the difficulties of his job, in a song heard by Professor Thomas, of Texas, and reported by him in a paper read to the Folk-lore Society of Texas. Here the Negro shows his anxiety lest he work overtime, for he beseeches his boss, or "cap'n," not to lose sight of the hour, not to let him work past the stopping time.
Don't Let Yoitr Watch Run Down, Cap'n
Working on the section, dollar and a half a day, Working for my Lula; getting more than pay, Cap'n, Getting more than pay.
Working on the railroad, mud up to my knees,
Working for my Lula; she's a hard oP girl to please, Cap'n,
She's a hard girl to please; So don't let your watch run down, Cap'n,
Don't let your watch run down!
Lula is a generic name for the black man's beloved. He disdains the counter terms of affection and invents his own. Readers of O. Henry will remember his use of a fragment of folk-song about "my Lula gal." This song evidently dates back to a time when wages were smaller than at present.







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