Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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as syncopation, and the undeviating tempo typical also of West Af­rica and perhaps resulting from the "metronome sense" described in Chapter 7. These rimes, of which the popular "I asked my mother for fifty cents" and "Head-shoulder baby" are examples, are some­times sung, sometimes spoken. The call-and-response technique is often used. Interestingly, they are heard frequently in the Negro areas of northern cities as well as in the South.
A further category of Negro song to be mentioned is the work song. Here again, traces of the African heritage show up. Work songs—songs actually sung while working, and with rhythms related to those of the work being done—are not common in the Western European tradition (sea shanties are an important exception). But work songs have been found in African Negro music, and perhaps their existence in Africa contributed to their development in the American Negro community. Their style is, of course, not at all African. Some of the work songs, such as "Pick a Bale of Cotton," actually deal with the work. Others, such as Lead Belly's "Elnora," are simply a group of words, euphonious but hardly related to the job, which supply a pleasant and rhythmic accompaniment to labor such as wood-cutting. This song type has stimulated trained Ameri­can composers such as George Gershwin and Jerome Kern ("Ole Man River") as much as any kind of Negro song.
The use of the voice by American Negro folk singers is often traceable to African singing styles. The much more relaxed, open way of singing, sometimes varied by the use of purposely raucous and harsh notes, is rather similar to some African singing and quite different from the rather tense and restrained manner of singing among southern whites; yet it is probably in no way biologically determined.
Most of the heritage of the United States Negroes is found in the South. The northern Negro communities that have existed for some time have become, essentially, members of the Anglo-Ameri­can musical community and look down on the recent immigrants from the South as being steeped in superstition and rural tradition. Yet even in the northern cities it is still possible to find musical cul­ture—in churches, on playgrounds, and in the bars of slum areas— that shows its dependence on the African background, and which keeps the folk music of the American Negroes to some extent a heritage objectively different from that of their white compatriots.

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