American Ballads and Folk Songs: page - 0149

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American Ballads and Folk Songs
Every time de dang-dong ring,*
Ise got him by de head an' Ise gone ag'in.
Ringin' de dong don't worry me,
Ef I don't want t' work, God knows Ise free!
This song is the workday of a Negro behind a team of mules. Wherever the scrapers pile up dirt on the levees of the Southern rivers this song rises from the dust and heat. It voices the day-long reflections, the recurrent experiences and conflicts of the Negro mule-skinner. We have never heard a stanza that made any mention of re­ligious matters, for it is a devil's song and good church members do not dare be heard singing it. Black Samson, whom we found breaking rocks in the Nashville State Penitentiary, admitted that he knew the song and had once sung itj but, since he had joined the church and had turned away from the world, he no longer dared to sing it. All our arguments were in vain. The prison chaplain protested that he would make it all right with the Lord. But Black Samson replied that he was a Hard-shell Baptist and that, according to their way of thinking, he would be in danger of hell-fire if he sang such a song. At last, how­ever, when the warden had especially urged him to sing, he stepped in front of our microphone and, much to our surprise, when he had made sure that his words were being recorded, said: "It's sho hard lines dat a poor nigger's got to sing a worl'ly song, when he's tryin' to be sancrified; but de warden's ast me, so I guess I'll have to." And he did. But he had registered his protest before the Lord on an aluminum plate, now filed in the Library of Congress at Washington.
The air was recorded from the singing of a prisoner at Angola, Louisiana. The words come from levee camps in the far South.
* Dang-dong, or dong, is the bell that calls to work.