Folk Music in The United States


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Folk Music in the Metropolis                                                    63

tends to break down in the metropolis. Folk songs are not often passed from parents to children after the family arrives in the city. The musical life of the Southern whites in Detroit is taken out of oral tradition, it ceases to preserve the old folk songs, and it is removed from the hands of the family and entrusted to the tender care of the hillbilly disk jockey. And hillbilly songs (which are definitely related to folk music, but are not themselves folk songs) do not, as a rule, pass into oral tradition. The Southern white immigrants have left the tradition of active participation and have become spectators and listeners in the pattern of modern city entertainment. They know the hillbilly songs well, but they do not sing them or teach them to their children. Instead, they rely on the professional musicians in taverns, on radio and television, to propagate them. And when a song is dropped from these outlets of entertainment, it also dies in the minds of the Anglo-American viewers. The real folk songs, however, popular ballads, broadsides, and lyrical songs, seem gradually to disappear from the tradition, except for those kept alive by a few professional entertainers who make something quite different out of them because they were not originally intended for public entertainment.

The other English-speaking group which has recently arrived in the cities of the North, the Southern Negroes, seems on superficial examination to have retained only a little more of its rural folk tradition than the Southern whites. The Negroes seem to have kept at least a part of their religious folk song tradition, the spirituals, but their interest in secular folk songs has almost always been transformed into an interest in commerical Negro popular songs on records, performed by professionals who are objects of hero worship by both Negroes and whites. An interest in the folk blues has been turned into a love for the popular blues; the singing of work-songs has been replaced by listening to old-time jazz.

It is of interest, however, that the religious songs of the folk tradition flourish in comparison with the secular songs. There are several possible reasons. Some churches frown on the use of recorded material and radio, so that the spirituals must be passed

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