Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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quering this rugged land, he was not stronger but weaker than his surroundings in America. He did not appropriate, but was appro�priated ; he did not assimilate but was assimilated; more than any other immigrant he became American, and to-day he is the American of Americans. Had conditions been different, it is certain that the trend of his folk music would have been in another direction. It was slavery that gave color to his music. Slavery was the starting point and Heaven was the goal of his life. The sorrows of slavery pierced his heart and it poured itself 6ut in such lamentations as:
(1)   "Nobody knows the trouble I see�"
(2)   "I'm troubled in mind�"
(3)   "O wretched man that I am�"
(4)   "Before I'd be a slave�"
Songs of this kind express the tragedies of slavery. They are the depths of his music. Curiously enough, the slave held Satan accountable for all his troubles. His mind could reach no lower. At the other end, the upper limits, we find God and Heaven. To him Heaven was a place of relief from the ills of slavery and a land of eternal joys. The thought of Heaven winged his soul to flights of imagination that wafted it into a state of consuming ecstacy. Then he sang of "golden slippers,"' "starry crown," "long white robe," "golden harp," and all the adornments that made Heaven' so real to him. Or he raised the question, "What kind of shoes?"
Who could tell the meaning of golden slippers to him who had worn brogans or no shoes at all? What did a long white robe mean to him who had known no better raiment than sacks, bags, or at best the roughest and poorest of clothing? What would it mean to him to have a starry crown, the adornment of a king, upon that old beaten and despised head of his? To him, those golden slippers and long white robe were as real as his brogans and his tattered garments.
His soul was either with Satan in pain or with God in joy. He hardly had time to see and appreciate the things of an every-day life. His surroundings were almost always extraordinary. This fact ac�counts for both the uncommon character of his religious songs, and the paucity and utter worthlessness of his secular songs. So few and so inferior are these latter that we may justly state that the Negro Folk Music is wholly religious. True it is that there were corn hu^kings, camp meetings, barn dances, and so forth, but it must be