Folk Song Of The American Negro - Online Book

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88                      FOLK SONG OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO.
Egyptian bondage, every now and then throwing out the hint that freedom was coming to the Negro, too. This song, from certain bits of information gathered from a surprising source, is hoary with age. Either the Negroes got this melody from the Hebrews, or the He�brews got it from the Negroes. The time was probably the age of the Pharaohs. However, it may be, the Hebrews claim it as one of their folk songs, the subject being "Cain and Abel." The following interesting piece of information was given me by a social worker among the Kussian Jews, in Henry Street Settlement, New York City:
"I was holding a Woman's Meeting one evening, and to help things move along, asked the women to sing one of their own songs. To my surprise, one began the tune of 'Go Down, Moses/ and the others followed. I was greatly interested, and asked them what the song was. I was told that it was one of their folk songs, 'Cain and Abel.' Desiring to satisfy mself in this matter, I held another meeting of Hebrew women who were not at the former meeting, and as a part of their exercises I sang, 'Go Down, Moses.' They recog�nized it as their song, 'Cain and Abel.' Whether of Hebrew or of Negro origin, there seems to be no way of determining/but it bears all the evidences of the Negro music. In plaintiveness, in intervallic changes, in melody, in scale, in rhythm, and in spirit, it has all evi�dence of Negro origin."
"I'm troubled in mind."
This song was born in a Tennessee plantation and was the burden of an old slave's lamentation, after he had been flogged. So piteously did he sing it that even the overseer was not unmoved. After each whipping he would sit upon an old log, the same one every time, rest his head upon his hand and pour out this wail. After he had wept thus in melody and experienced for a few short moments the inexplicable joy of resentless suffering, he went anew to the humdrum tasks of a slave.
Other songs are just as romantic in their nativity, but the mys�tery of their birth forbids our telling their stories. Each song is a product of sudden inspiration and subtle evolution with a meaning definite and consoling to the slave. In birth, in development and in the meaning, each song is an inspiring study.