Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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boats plying between the West Indies and Baltimore and the Southern ports, which were manned by the blacks, song was used for the same purpose. Later, on the South­ern river boats, the same method was utilized. These boat-songs usually were constructed of a single line followed by an unmeaning chorus, the solo being sung by one of the leaders and the rhythmic refrain repeated over and over by the workers."
There is nothing especially characteristic of slave life in such "water music" except its idiom. The sailorman's "chanty," I fancy, is universal in one form or another. The singular fact to be noted here is that the American negro's "spirituals" were also his working songs, and the significance which this circumstance has with relation to their mood and mode. The spirituals could not have been thus employed had they been lugubrious in tone or sluggish in movement. The paucity of secular working songs has already been commented on. Of songs referring to labor in the field the editors of "Slave Songs of the United States" were able to collect only two examples. Both of them are "corn songs," and the first is a mere fragment, the only words of which have been preserved being "Shock along, John." The second defied interpre­tation fifty years ago and is still incomprehensible:
Five can't ketch me and tea can't hold me—
Ho, round the corn, Sally I Here's your iggle-quarter and here's your count-aquils—
Ho7 round the corn, Sally] I can bank, 'ginny bank, 'gmny bank the weaver—
Ho, round the corn, Sally!
"The same songs are used for rowing as for shouting," says Mr. Allen, and adds: "I know of only one pure boat song, the fine lyric, 'Michael, row the boat ashore'; and this I have no doubt is a real spiritual—it being the Arch­angel Michael that is addressed."
My analytical table shows that three-fifths of the songs which I have examined contain the peculiarly propulsive rhythmical snap, or catch, which has several times been described as the basis of "ragtime."
It- is this rhythm which helps admirably to make a physical stimulus of the tunes, and it is noteworthy that
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