Folk Music in The United States


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74                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

tivated medieval music which, so far as we know, was never a part of folklore. He sings patriotic songs, labor songs, work songs which were never in oral tradition. Finally, he is forced to compose songs himself and to hide his authorship. This must be particularly annoying to him, and it would not be necessary if it were widely admitted. But evidently the professional folk singer is committed to a career of mixed purposes, and the good, musical, and sophisticated arrangements which he makes out of folk songs, the interpretations which are often interesting and penetrating, must be presented as true folklore in the original version if it is to sell. A few professionals have solved this problem by calling themselves arrangers of folk songs, and some have tried to explain what they are doing in scholarly and objective terms. But most of them persist in defeating the educational aims to which they are devoted because they are not willing to tell their audiences what they are actually doing and how their versions differ from those of folk culture proper.

Professional singing is most common in the Anglo-American tradition, but it is also evident in American Negro music, and it has crept into the musical cultures of most ethnic groups. In the latter it is largely a method of preserving the songs and, more particularly, of fostering national pride and unity. Again, laudable as these aims may be in themselves, they do not give a true picture of folk music. Professional folk singing for entertainment is a great preservative, but it is also a catalytic agent. While preserving folklore it changes its very essence. But in order to find out about the true heritage of song in the United States we must go into the field, to the uneducated and often unmusical singer for whom folk songs are not only entertainment but also the expression of a way of life.

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