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Slave Songs - What Are They Called???

Ken Klinger 06 Nov 98 - 12:45 PM
The Shambles 06 Nov 98 - 02:52 PM
Liam's Brother 06 Nov 98 - 03:52 PM
Allan C. 06 Nov 98 - 03:54 PM
BSeed 06 Nov 98 - 04:05 PM
Bill in Alabama 06 Nov 98 - 04:06 PM
Ole Bull 06 Nov 98 - 04:07 PM
Barry Finn 06 Nov 98 - 05:21 PM
Chet W. 06 Nov 98 - 10:03 PM
Chet W. 06 Nov 98 - 10:08 PM
Pete M 09 Nov 98 - 03:47 PM
Allan C. 09 Nov 98 - 04:28 PM
mir 09 Nov 98 - 10:41 PM
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Subject: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Ken Klinger
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 12:45 PM

Were songs sung by slaves called by a group name? I think so but cannot recall the term. Please help.


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: The Shambles
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 02:52 PM

Are you thinking of 'chain gang songs'?

I think we should tread carefully here, as this could be a sensitive subject for some of us.


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 03:52 PM

Hi Ken!

I don't know of any name other than 'slave songs' which inclusively means all types of songs sung by slaves.

'Field hollers,' of course, refers to Afro-American songs that were sung while doing agricultural work.

Chain gang songs were sung by prisoners, not slaves.

I'm sure someone else can add some more.

All the best.


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Allan C.
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 03:54 PM

My sense is that the majority of such songs have long since been grouped by what the song was used for, such as "Nego Spirituals" or "Hoeing Songs" and such. But what comes to mind is the remark made by an old timer who said something to the effect that while people had come up with a number of labels for the music from "way back when" like "oldtime", "folk", etc., "When I was comin' up, we just called it music."


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: BSeed
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 04:05 PM

There are, of course, the spirituals, and the freedom songs--sometimes the line between them was pretty blurry: "Let My People Go" is certainly both. There are the work songs and hollers...ultimately, the variety of songs is so great that I don't think any blanket categorization is possible. Where would you put a song like "All the Pretty Horses?" --seed


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Bill in Alabama
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 04:06 PM

Good point, Allan. Selah!


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Ole Bull
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 04:07 PM

The earliest published collection (1868 if I recall) was titled "Slave Songs of the United States." Of course, prior to that there was the popular minstrel show music which people believed was inspired by slave songs and music; they also commonly called this style "Ethiopian" music.


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Barry Finn
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 05:21 PM

I've never seen or heard slave songs refered to as anything else but slave songs. Some might brake that down a little. I asked Frankie Quimby of the Georgia Sea Island Singers about a song & she said "oh that's an old time slave song", on the other hand, older now deceased members of the same group refered to some work songs as a rowing song (going back to slavery days) & on loading lumber on deck, a chantey or just a plain work song. She also called some Code Songs, like to let slave people know that Harriet Tubman was coming through without letting on to the slave holders (this I'd say is a contempory term). Some of the older long moaning slow songs, sung solo while picking cotton might be called a field holler (could also be called a cotton or cane song) but that may be a label applied by recent collectors. After slavery days you may have a muleskinner singing to his mule some camp levee holler & in prison you'll have some songs refered to by the work they accompany (like capstan, pump & halyard shanties), hoeing or flatweeding, chopping or crosscutting or logging songs, but these wouldn't be slave songs. As long as the horses didn't sing them they'd be folk songs. Barry


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Chet W.
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 10:03 PM

This may be slightly off the subject, but has anyone come up with a good way to modify old songs that contain words that are just too objectionable to justify under the banner of folk authenticity. I'm thinking of the song "Year of Jubilo" as published in Wayne Erbsen's old-time song book, where the objectionable word is replaced by "worker". It makes it sound like a communist youth song, so much so that my partner and I wrote a new verse to it:

Seriously, though, it's a serious question.

Chet W.


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Chet W.
Date: 06 Nov 98 - 10:08 PM

It didn't print my verse for the modified "Year of Jubilo"

On May Day all the workers gather out on the old Red Square/ They celebrate the revolution, where there'll be no hard times there/ They raise a toast to Marx and Lenin while they tear their statues down/ There's going to be a big revival when the Baptists come to town/ (CHO) The massa run, HA,HA/ The workers push and shove/ There's going to be a great day coming in the year of Gorbachuv


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Pete M
Date: 09 Nov 98 - 03:47 PM

Very good point Chet, compounded by the differences in sensibilities of audiences. I get the definite feeling that the "word" you are specifically refering to would be more "unacceptable" in the US than in many other countries.
Problems arise with both with descriptives for ethnic groups as you identify, and with the more colourful language of for instance the lower deck. What with the embarrassment of original singers in including such words when singing for collecters who are generally "gentry" and the wish of collecters to shield the public from the coaser elements, one would think that the most "offensive" statement ever made in a folk song was of the order of "blooming black man". As usual, I don't think there is a right answer, clearly one does not wish to cuase offense, and need to tailor what is sung to the audience, but I would argue very strongly for the retention of the actual words used in any documentation such as the DT. In "Grey funnel lines" Tawney states that he sought to compromise by substituting a less "offensive' but pithy expletive where the sense of the song is not compromised, but retains the original where it would "affect the rhyme or alliteration". I suggest this is the best course.

Pete M


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: Allan C.
Date: 09 Nov 98 - 04:28 PM

Field hand???


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Subject: RE: Slave Songs - What Are They Called???
From: mir
Date: 09 Nov 98 - 10:41 PM

I have sometimes heard them refered to as "Work Songs"; songs that have a beat that allows people to work in unison. mir


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