Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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28                      FOLK SONG OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO.
remembered that the corn husking was work as serious as plowing and hoeing; that the camp meeting was religious and in those days the barn dance was almost a priceless luxury. These periods of re�laxation were so rare that they could not make any such impres�sions upon the Negro's soul as did those experiences that made up almost his whole life. Stephen Foster's old melodies, "Sewanee River/7 "Kentucky Home/' "Nellie was a Lady/7 "Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground/7 and "Ole Black Joe/7 are sometimes called plantation melodies. They were composed by a white man, and, therefore, cannot be placed in the catalog of Negro Folk Songs; still it can correctly be stated that in spirit and pathos they bear the Negro stamp, and it is not improbable that they are composed of stories and airs Mr. Foster learned from the Negroes he knew so well and among whom he lived during the days of slavery. Conse�quently it is not out of place to state here the paradox that these are the finest secular Negro Folk Songs in existence. There have been many imitations of Negro music and some of it has been en�joyable, but these songs of Stephen Foster stand out as the best of that class, in fact they stand alone, in a class between all other imi�tations and the genuine Negro Folk Song.
When the question of American Folk Song wa§ first raised in this country, and some bold man ventured the opinion that the only American folk music wTas that produced by the Negro, immediately there was vigorous protest, but such eminent authorities as Dvorak and Kiehbiel, after careful investigation, have come to the same conclusion. As soon as this proof positive was given to the world, there arose another question. Is this music original with the Negro? The implied answer was "No.'7 Now, as soon as the world recognized the worth and importance of this music, the Negro was called upon to prove himself the producer. It was contended that he got it from the Scotch, from the Portuguese, from the Indian, or more vaguely, from the European.
Dr. Richard Wallaschek in his book on Primitive Music, makes this statement: "I may say that, generally speaking, these Negro songs are very much overrated, and that as a rule, they are imita�tions of European compositions which the Negroes have picked up and served up again with slight variations.'7 "Overrated?" In what way? In that they are called original or in the claims to the pos�session of value? "Imitations of European compositions which the