Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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Music expressed in the "form" described in the foregoing words, is as natural to the American Negro as his breath. No other form could satisfy his soul. Indeed, it is a portrayal of his soul, and is as characteristic as are his physical features. Hear him sing in his church, hear him preach, moan, and give "gravery" in his sermon, hear the washerwoman singing over her tub, hear the laborer sing�ing his accompaniment to his toil, hear the child babbling an ex�temporaneous tune, and most or all, these features will be recognized. Even those Negroes who have been educated and who have been in�fluenced by long study, find it difficult to express their musical selves in any other way.
In addition to a development and a certain perceptible refinement in some phases, the American Negro has made a new kind of song out of a combination of two different kinds of African songs. That monotonous chant with the ever-recurring interjections, a prominent characteristic of heathen music, was evidently too tiresome and un�attractive to him. It did not at all express the emotions born of his new world experiences. His vision was broadened now, and this chant, expressive of his heathen life, was too limited for him, so the first combination resulted in the following character of song. It has the qualities, both of the chant with its interjections and of the song with verse and chorus.
"This is a sin-tryin' world�Oh, Lord ! This is a sin-tryin' world�Help me, Jesus! This is a sin-tryin' world�In trouble ! Oh, Heaven is so high, and I am so low, I don't know if I'll ever get to Heaven or no."
The first three lines with their different interjections, expressing the feelings of the leader, correspond with the original chant of the heathen Africa, and the two final lines are additions made bv the American Negro. He went further and made another combination by adding a chorus to the chant and interjection, an example of which is one of the most interesting, beautiful, and pathetic of all our folk songs:
"Couldn't hear nobody pray