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
269
So the young boy started out with more chance than many of his race. He had an especial love for music, and he learned the folk­songs that are a part of the heritage of the old South, of the past that is forever gone — learned them from hearing his elders sing them, and he sang them till they became a part of his being. He said that his mother would not allow him to sing "shout" songs, but only the spirituals. The "shout" songs were lively religious songs intro­duced to give the Negroes something of the emotional thrill that they might have had from dancing, if that amusement had not been sternly forbidden in many sections. The church would hold "shouts," when the benches would be pushed back and a lively tune played, and the worshippers would march up and down and around, their enthusiasm growing till they were all "patting and shouting." There is as much difference between the "shout" songs and the spirituals as between the beautiful old hymns and the Billy Sunday type of revival song.
He had some instruction in vocal music in the public school, where his teacher, a Fisk student, devoted an hour a day to practice in singing. Handy turned his attention to music when he left school and got a job with a show, and worked up, till finally he had his own band.
It was in Memphis that he wrote his first blues. A three-cornered election for mayor was on, and one candidate, a Mr. Crump, hired Handy's band for election advertisement. They played a thing Handy wrote and called Mr. Crump, which won the enthusiasm of the crowd whenever it was played. (Whether it won the election for Mr. Crump, I do not know.) After the composer had played this un­published music for over two years, he offered it for publication. Practically every music publisher in New York turned it down, with the criticism that it was not correct harmonically, that it did not conform to musical traditions. But Handy says that he felt that it was a true expression of Negro life, and so he finally brought it out himself, calling it the Memphis Blues. It made a great hit.
Handy said that at first he had trained his band to play only clas­sical music, ignoring their racial music. On one occasion, after they had given a concert, some other Negroes came out and asked if there would be any objection to their playing some of their music. He told them to go ahead. They had a banjo, a guitar, and a fiddle, and they played some of the genuine old Negro folk-songs. The audience cheered vigorously and threw money to them on the stage, Handy observing that they got more for their brief performance than he and his band had received for the entire concert. That set him to







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