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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BLUES
T HERE are fashions in music as in anything else, and folk-song presents no exception to the rule. For the last several years the most popular type of Negro song has been that peculiar, barbaric sort of melody called "blues," with its irregular rhythm, its lagging briskness, its mournful liveliness of tone. It has a jerky tempo, as of a cripple dancing because of some irresistible impulse. A "blues" (or does one say a "blue"? What is the grammar of the thing?) likes to end its stanza abruptly, leaving the listener expectant for more — though, of course, there is no fixed law about it. One could scarcely imagine a convention of any kind in connection with this Negroid free music. It is partial to the three-line stanza instead of the customary one of four or more, though not insisting on it, and it ends with a high note that has the effect of incompleteness. The close of a stanza comes with a shock like the whip-crack surprise at the end of an 0. Henry story, for instance — a cheap trick, but effective as a novelty. It sings of themes remote from those of the old spirituals, and its incompleteness of stanza makes the listener gasp, and perhaps fancy that the censor had deleted the other line.
Blues, being widely published as sheet music in the North as well as the South, and sung in vaudeville everywhere, would seem to have little relation to authentic folk-music of the Negroes. One might imagine this tinge of blue to the black music to be an artificial color­ing — printer's ink, in fact. But in studying the question, I had a feeling that it was more or less connected with Negro folk-song, and I tried to trace it back to its origin.
Negroes and white people in the South referred me to W. C. Handy as the man who had put the blueing in the blues; but how to locate him was a problem. He had started this indigo music in Memphis, it appeared, but was there no longer. I heard of him as having been in Chicago, and in Philadelphia, and at last as being in New York. Inquiries from musicians brought out the fact that Handy was manager of a music-publishing company, of which he is part-owner (Pace and Handy); and so my collaborator, Ola Lee







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