Children’s Songs Become Folk–“Rosie”

Unsure of what to research, even after spending hours scrolling through and skimming journals, narratives, pictures, and musical selections, I inevitably turned to children’s songs on the Library of Congress Lomax Collection. I have always been fascinated by culture and media for children, be it stories, rhymes, or whatever else–I’m even writing a non-fiction book on Nigeria for children right now.

An intriguing aspect of these children’s songs is their folk quality. For example, I dug quite a bit into the song “Rosie.” There are several recordings available in the Lomax Collection and each–despite being recorded within days of each other (May 1939) and in the same area (Livingston, Alabama)–is a little different. These are the versions: Vera Hallthe McDonald Family, and Ed Jones.

This is a classic call and response song, with a leader calling out and the group responding emphatically as a whole. The chorus is essentially the same in each with the “ha ha Rosie” and referring to her as either “baby” or “pretty girl.” The verse lyrics differ, but the overall structure remains the same, as well as the clapping beat underneath. Another recording, from the Smithsonian Folkways Records, is of children at Brown’s Chapel School in Alabama singing the tune:

“Rosie Darling Rosie” appears alongside various other play songs, including ones we may recognize, such as “Mary Mack” and “Loop de Loo.” The lyrics of this one also fall in line with those mentioned above, the chorus following “Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie / Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie” and the verses having different words but the same structure. The verse seems to suggest that the song (or at lease this particular rendition of lyric) is from the time of slavery, a slave calling upon his baby to run away with him to Baltimore (a notedly free place in those days) to escape their bondage.

“Rosie Darling Rosie” lyrics from Folkways Records https://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FW07004.pdf

The pamphlet that accompanies this record also includes lyrics which the kids do not sing in this particular recording but are still often sung (pictured at right). In the recording of Vera Hall above, she uses these lyrics, except her rendition replaces “preacher” and “two” with “nigger.” Otherwise, it is the same. This illustrates both how folk songs change over time and place and simply who is singing the song, as well as that these folk songs from the days of slavery may be reworked over time to be more palatable to the general populace.

Vera Hall at the home of Mrs. Ruby Pickens Tartt, Livingston, Alabama http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2015645819/

I delved a bit deeper into Vera Hall, as I was most drawn to her rendition of “Rosie.” Apparently, nearly a decade after Alan Lomax recorded her singing in Livingston, AL in 1939, Lomax invited her to come perform at the 1948 Fourth Annual Festival of Contemporary American Music at Columbia University in New York City. She accepted and left Alabama for the first and only time in her life. During this time, she stayed at Lomax’s apartment where he recorded more of her singing (including two more renditions of “Rosie”) and commentaries on the songs and her life. She describes “Rosie” as a song she and the other children in her area would sing and play as a line game. It was a song passed around purely by word of mouth, which is a wonderful example of how folk songs such as this survive.

Bluegrass: A generational experience

The concept of “nurture versus nature” is a scientific and ideological question that haunts every single academic field. Not even the immortal and ever changing world of music can escape. In her 2017 IBMA Keynote address bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens notes that the intersection between her biracial identity and love for bluegrass music are just an examples of why it is so important to “celebrate the greater diversity of the people who have shaped the music that is so much a part of [her] identity”. 1 There is a generational thread that exists within bluegrass music that is not simply resigned to Rhiannon Giddens’ story. The Lomax family, a similarly generational act, documented families all across the American South during the late 1930’s, some who are participating in the musical traditions associated with folk and bluegrass music. 2  

Bog Trotters Band members seated with instruments, Galax, Va. Includes Doc Davis, with autoharp; Crockett Ward, with fiddle; Uncle Alex Dunford, with fiddle; Wade Ward, with banjo; Fields Ward, with guitar

Music is so often attached to particular aspects of identity, it goes beyond family and represents tradition within an entire line of people. One aspect of the folk musical tradition is the way in which it can, and has, reinforced gender and age roles within a tradition. In many songs there may be particular parts mapped out for different vocal ranges, allowing for mother, father, and children to talk their place within the musical tradition. 3 A slightly more contemporary example that S.W. Mills uses in Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom, is Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass”. 

The idea of this broad category of music bringing people together didn’t exist just in communities of white Americans.The racial makeup of these traditions is something explored both by Giddens in her keynote address as well as the Lomax family. Their documentation spanned the gamut, showing musicians in each tradition.

Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson” accompanied by a musician on violin, Lafayette, La.

One thing that connects these two racially divided traditions is the generational role of music, especially folk music. It shows its importance not only in the formation of modern folk music but also its role in the formation of family values. Though documentation (and misuse) is a relatively controversial topic the ability to study such things wouldn’t exist without the resources provided from people like the Lomax family. Ultimately, it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful and meaningful way music brings people together.

1 Giddens, Rhiannon. “Community and Connection.” IBMA Keynote Speech 2017, Nashville, TN, 2017.

2 Cohen, Ronald D.. Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of Congress Letters, 1935-1945. University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3 Mills, S. W.. Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom. General Music Today, iss. 22, p. 12-18.

Bukka White and the Record Companies

In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax spent several months traveling the south and made literally hundreds of recordings for the Library of Congress’s Music Division. After spending a while aimlessly pouring through vast quantities of these recordings, I decided to read the Library of Congress site’s general overview of the entire expedition. Under the section chronicling the couple’s time recording in Mississippi, I came across the line “country blues artist Booker T. Washington (“Bukka”) White, known at this time as Washington “Barrel House” White”.1 The bit “country blues” stuck out to me because record companies in the 1920’s and 30’s were largely labeling white artists as “country” and black artists as “blues”. But the other thing that attracted me was the way in which White was referenced- as though I should know who he was. I didn’t.

Naturally, I set out to find out a little bit more about Mr. White and discovered that his story illustrates the role that recording played on the labeling of Southern “folk” music.

One of the first records White recorded with Victor in 1930. This is one of spirituals and released under the name Washington White.

Prior to meeting and recording for the Lomax’s, White had already recorded twice before. In 1930, several record companies were trying to tap into the “lucrative” market for “race records” and were trying to record whoever they could to create records.2 White ended up recording several sides for them, both blues and gospel songs, because the person who was supposed to record the gospel songs didn’t show up to the recording session.

In 1937, White was permitted to go to Chicago to record two sides before filling out his prison sentence in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.3 One side of this record was Shake ‘Em On Down, which became a rather popular song.

John and Ruby Lomax visited the penitentiary on their trip (this was the only place that they recorded in Mississippi) and it was there, in the hallway separating the white and black sections of the prison, that White recorded two songs for them.1 The interaction was described in the Lomax’s field notes as follows: “Po’ Boy and Sick ’em dogs on were sung and played by Washington (Barrel House White, with guitar. Barrel Houses were his hangout in the “free world”. Barrel House has made some commercial records.”4


Listening to White’s two recordings in the Lomax collection, it is intriguing to note that their “genre” is not clear. Instead of being either “country” or “blues”, White incorporates elements of both styles into his music, subtly giving testament to the false musical dichotomy of the time.5

Ultimately, it seems that White was a musician who mostly recorded because it is what would pay the bills. White’s career was mainly built on the blues, probably because that was what the recording companies wanted from him and would pay for. Additionally, White was apparently unhappy with the notion that he recorded for Lomax without receiving any pay; that was reportedly the only time he felt “exploited”.3

Booker T Washington “Bukka” White. In the 1960’s White experienced a second career as part of the folk movement.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in the fieldnotes, the Lomax’s note that it was initially difficult to convince prisoners to record for them because “one of the boys who had made some commercial records” had told others that the Lomax’s were only there to record to make money.4 Could this have been White, I wonder?

Overall, the story of Bukka White’s recording career demonstrates the fundamental way that the recordings shaped the ideas of music tied to race. White’s recordings for the Lomax’s reveal that music may not have been as black and white as the record companies wanted it to be.

 

1“The 1939 Recording Expedition”. The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/collections/john-and-ruby-lomax/articles-and-essays/the-1939-recording-expedition/. Accessed: February 24, 2018.

2Manuel, Jeffery T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s ‘Social Origins’.” Popular Music and Society 31, no. 4 (2008): 417-431.

3“Bukka White”. Mississippi Blues Commission. Mississippi Blues Trail: http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/bukka-white. Accessed February 25, 2018.

Burton, Thomas G. Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White: Tennessee Traditional Singers. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

4Lomax, John A, and Ruby T Lomax. Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes. 1939. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000855/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

5Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Po’ Boy. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000366/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Sick ’em Dogs On. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000365/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Do you know any black, contemporary folk artists?

Contemporary folk is a broad genre, stretching out into indie folk, indie rock, americana, you name it. However, when I think of this genre and the especially famous artists that dominate it, I can’t think of any black artists or bands. There might be a couple Asian American artists, but the genre comes across as very white. Take the Avett Brothers, for instance: one member was born in South Korea, and the rest are white. And their audience is even whiter.

Described as a folk rock band, the Avett Brothers are seen here, playing guitars and singing in front of a picture of a tractor, which are common aspects of country music. Country and folk have similar sounds, so it would make sense for the folk of today to have adapted from the country of days gone by. If one listens to “Monterey” by the Milk Carton Kids, an indie folk duo, it’s possible to hear the calming guitar and harmony influences of songs like “Driftwood” by the talented Merle Haggard, who claims influence from the man deemed as the first famous singer in the genre, Jimmie Rodgers.1 People could assume folk and country are white today because it’s always been that way. However, that is not the truth.

Even Jimmie Rodgers mixed his voice and instrument with the beyond legendary Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, singing “Blue Yodel #9”, but it wasn’t as popular.2 When John and Ruby Lomax traveled around the South in 1939, they stopped in a jail and recorded Roger “Burn Down” Garnett singing “Eaton Clan”.3 He played guitar and sang, echoing previous country and folk artists, but he did not receive much recognition beyond the recordings conducted by the Lomaxes, as he was in prison. Yet, other folk artists, sometime between 1938 and 1950, were performing at the Mountain Music Festival, and they were white.

Five musicians and a singer performing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina. Between 1938 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

So if country and folk artists have always been black and white, how come white artists are the ones to be recognized? Jeffrey T. Manuel explains the phenomenon as having been created by the music industry making a conscious effort to attribute the sound of folk and country to the social group of the white, Southern middle class. Rhiannon Giddens backs this up with the fact:

Occasionally black string bands were put on the Hillbilly label but with their name obscured, such as when Vocalion Records released a set of tunes under “The Tennessee Chocolate Drops” for their race records and the exact same set of tunes under “The Tennessee Trio” for the Hillbilly division. It rarely happened the other way around… (10)

The music industry made sure to keep race records separate. If music crossed color lines, segregation would be disregarded. Therefore, white artists rose to the top, and black artists faded into the background.

Although erasure of black artists has been a real issue for the longest time, music can’t help but be heard by anyone and everyone. The influences of country and folk music, black and white artists, continue to spread. Now, I can’t think of any famous, black, contemporary folk artists at the top of my head, but perhaps we should be able to think of some. Because black americana is real too.

Manuel, Jeffrey T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s “Social Origins”.” In Popular Music and Society, 417-431. City: Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

Railroad Songs and Gandy Dancers

Railroad songs were a genre created by laborers for the railroads in America. The origin of the genre is disputed and rather mysterious. We can all recall “I’ve been Working on the Railroad” (pre Civil War), but it is unclear if that is one example of the genres earliest pieces. Archie Green suggests in “Railroad Songs and Ballads: From the Archive of Folk Song” that “[the songs] welled directly out of the experiences of workers and were composed literally to the rhythm of the handcar. Others were born in Tin Pan Alley rooms or bars. But regardless of birthplace, songs moved up and down the main line or were shunted onto isolated spur tracks.”1 John Lomax had recorded many of these railroad songs. Here is an example of one: http://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/  2

These songs were created by workers to entertain and convey stories up and down the rails. The subjects of the songs, that are recorded, range from the erotic, basic railroad construction, and common themes like love and loss. The creators of the railroads songs included African Americans and many immigrant people. Unfortunately there are little to no record of the songs created by immigrants in different languages and today there is no way of rediscovering those songs. These songs created by African Americans and immigrants created a new slang term for these people called “Gandy Dancers”.

In the article “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk” by Erich Nunn, we get a sense of the effect that the Gandy Dancer’s music has had on country music, we are told, In My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers, a biography of her late husband published in 1935, Carrie Williamson (“Mrs. Jimmie”) Rodgers presents Jimmie as a crucible in which the “darkey songs” he learned as a boy are transmuted by “the natural music in his Irish soul” into something distinctive and new.”3 The songs that Carrie writes on were created by the African American men that worked of the rails and influenced Jimmie Rodgers.

Gandy Dancers used their songs as a method of keeping rhythm for the laborers of the railroad and striking in time amongst the laborers. Here is a short snippet of a documentary done on Gandy Dancers: 4

  1.  Green, Archie. “Railroad Songs and Ballads.” Archive of Folk Song, 1968. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/folklife/LP/AFS_L61_opt.pdf.
  2. Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Arthur Bell. John Henry. near Varner, Arkansas, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/. (Accessed February 26, 2018.)
  3. Nunn, Erich. Country Music and the Souls of White Folk. Wayne State University Press.
  4. Folkstreamer. “Gandy Dancers.” YouTube. June 23, 2008. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=025QQwTwzdU.

 

 

Lead Belly and folk music

This video shows John Lomax collecting songs in the Louisiana from a black prisoner named Lead Belly. This video is a good representation of part of what went into collecting and preserving folk music. We also get a good look at the differences in power and how race plays into that.

John Lomax is known for his work in the field of folk musicology, and we can be grateful for his work. The Lomaxes have been recognized for their contributions. John Lomax influenced the repertory of folk music that helps define American folk music, and he also helped establish Leadbelly who, along with other artists, helped pave the way for future artists and genres such as rock music. Yet, it is important to remember the way in which the Lomaxes impacted folk music. Their goal was not only to preserve, but to popularize folk music, too. They specifically picked songs that matched this agenda. Once they were recorded, they were preserved and created into a history by design.

Once Lead Belly was released from prison, he continued working with the Lomaxes in order to advance his career outside of prison. Lomax’s praise of Lead Belly’s songs, can be heard in the video; “I never heard so many good negro songs.” Yet, Lomax often presented a romanticized view of the hardships that African Americans went through. Lomax made sure that Lead Belly would perform in his prison uniform, even during the time after his release. Lead Belly was also advertised as being dumb and violent, despite his gentle nature. The Lomaxes were able to get away with presenting a kind of folk music that they thought would beat the commercial tendencies of the time at the expense of black folk artists like Lead Belly.

“Leadbelly” in March of TimeVolume 1, Episode 2 (New York, NYHome Box Office1935, originally published 1935)http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792710

Filene, Benjamin. “”Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602-24. doi:10.2307/2713083.

Dvořák and Krehbiel

In DvorÃjk and His World,  Michael Beckerman collections of various correspondents between Dvořák and critics and fan. I found one letter that stood out to me in particular was from Henry Edward Krehbiel. He was writing with praise of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Second from the left: H.E. Krehbiel

We know from Simon Plum’s blog post titled Henry Edward Krehbiel published on October 10th, 2017. We know from Simon’s post that Krehbiel was a musicologist and author known for his work on bringing black folk music into the spotlight to be recognized. He was born on March 10, 1854 in Ann Arbor and passed March 20, 1923.

Correspondance from H.E. Krehbiel to A. Dvorak. From Berkerman’s collection.

In this letter, composed by Krehbiel on December 12th 1893 in New York invited Dvorak to attend a lecture he was giving at the “Women’s University Club” on “Folk Songs in America”. Krehbiel wanted to talk with Dvořák about his New World Symphony to write an article on it for the New York Tribune.

After doing some additional research, I was able to find a newspaper article published 5 days later after the correspondence. While there is no author listed, it fits the style and time frame of Krehbiel. It is a short article titled Dr. Dvorak’s Symphony located under the Music header of the Tribune.

Work Cited

Bain News Service, Publisher. Paderewski & wife and H.E. Krehbiel. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link.

Beckerman Michael, DvorÃjk and His World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1993.

Plum Simon, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Music 345: Race, Identity and Representation in American Music. Pages.StOlaf. link.

Bob Dylan – a Pop-culture Musician that Even Oles Liked

Bob Dylan – https://www.biography.com/people/bob-dylan-9283052

Bob Dylan was (and still is to some extent) a folk icon. He was born on May 24th, 1941 in Duluth Minnesota and went on to have a remarkably successful career as a musician in both performing and songwriting. Sarcastic blog-post titles aside, it makes sense that St. Olaf’s student-run newspaper, the Manitou Messenger, would have mentioned Bob Dylan at some point. Sure enough, Laurie Dion wrote a short piece in 2001 titled Bob Dylan rolls home like a rolling stone1In the piece, Dion does a post-concert write-up of Dylan’s performance at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, where she says:

Dylan proved that his music remains “Forever Young.” And after 40 years in the music world, he’s still got what it takes to electrify an audience of retirees and teenagers alike. . . . Despite performing in his home state, Dylan didn’t mention a word of his Minnesota past. He didn’t even bother to introduce his songs — he just let the songs speak for themselves.”

Over the course of three sentences, Dion manages to allude three times to Dylan’s timelessness, which I believe is an important part of his appeal. The fact that multiple generations can enjoy hearing Dylan perform his music – which is itself a smorgasbord of different styles – is a testament to his timelessness, something which only a rare few musicians achieve. Does this mean that Dylan has secured his place in the pantheon of great musicians forever? Only time will tell. However, if one wanted to hear his music themselves, and in vinyl format no less, one need look no further than St. Olaf’s own Halvorson music library2.

Pete Seeger: American or Un-American

Seeger performing on banjo

Growing up, every first Friday of the month my mom and I would go to folk music sing-a-longs with groups of her folk music loving friends. It was always a lot of fun; we sang great tunes by Pete Seeger, Bill Staines, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and much more, accompanied by guitars, drums, and fiddles. As a kid I always thought Pete Seeger embodied what it meant to “be American.” My mom worked with the Madison Folk Music Society, and actually met Pete Seeger a couple of times. Upon finding this video entitled “Folk singers linked to alleged ‘Communist Conspiracy’” I was shocked to learn that Pete Seeger was accused of being a communist (and didn’t deny it,) mostly because I had heard such negative things about the ideology and such positive things about Pete Seeger from my mom. I was surprised that she never mentioned this to me.

Many consider Pete Seeger to be the father of the folk music revival, and it’s no wonder why. He was born into a musical and pacifist family in 1919, and spent his adolescence playing the ukulele and four-string banjo. After dropping out of Harvard at 19 to become a journalist in New York, Seeger discovered he was talented at playing the five-string banjo and knew he wanted to learn more about folk music. He then worked for Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folksong at the Library of Congress. After meeting Woodie Guthrie in 1940 and traveling the country together playing music for gas money, Seeger and other folk musicians started Almanac Singers. This group aligned with left-wing social movements, as they specialized in anti-war and pro-union songs. A representative example of their political message is evident in the song “Which Side Are You On?” While this song was originally written as a union organizing song for miners enduring a violent struggle with mine owners, its lyrics fit very well with Seeger’s questioning of politics and his advocacy for radical social change. Here is a video with the original recording of the Almanac Singers “Which Side Are You On?”

This leads me to the video that challenges Pete Seeger’s folk ideals. In 1957 Seeger was cited on ten counts of contempt of Congress after he refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1955. This video shows the original proposal to HUAC that Pete Seeger and his folk music were Un-American.

Screen shot 2015-03-07 at 11.01.37 AM

An article entitled “Congress Creates a Frankenstein” published in the Chicago Defender in 1953 argues that HUAC,

“began to destroy the freedom expression, freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom of thought when it pulled in some of the country’s greatest artists, playrights, actors and producers to question them on their loyalty to their government.”

Seeger refusing to testify before HUAC

This committee was part of the second Red Scare, which refers to the fear of communism and its destruction of true American politics, culture, and society that spread across the country in the 40s and 50s. This critical opinion of the committee identifies fundamental problems with HUAC – it its pursuit of the “anti-American” it engaged in an essentially anti-American activity. Pete Seeger would certainly agree with this perspective. He refused to testify, as he believed that the questioning of his musical and political endeavors was his own business as an American, and the government had no right interfere.

So, how has Pete Seeger remained so “American” after all this time? Can we divorce a person and their art from their politics? Why do we still view communism as so distinctly at odds with Seeger’s message of peace? We often separate his communist ideology with his message of peace, but why can we not see these political views as an integral part of his message.

Sources

  1. Folk singers linked to alleged ‘Communist Conspiracy’. Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975. August 19, 1963. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/video/videodetails.aspx?documentId=664253&videoSearch=folk.
  2. “Notable & Quotable; the New York Sun Recalls Pete Seeger’s Soaring Music–and His Late-in-Life Confession about Failing to Confront Communism.” 2014.Wall Street Journal (Online), Jan 28. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1492135733?accountid=351.
  3. “Congress Creates A Frankenstein.” 1953.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Nov 21, 2. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/493013412?accountid=351.
  4. Anne Dhu McLucas . “Seeger, Pete R..” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 15, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2259314.
  5. Bromberg, Minna and Gary Alan Fine. 2002. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80 (4): 1135-1155. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/229870616?accountid=351.

Henry Edward Krehbiel

While browsing the African American Newspapers database, I came across a short article  talking about a Mr. Krehbiel’s recent lecture on “Folk Music. ” Published in 1897, this article caught my eye because the subject matter – folk music in general but occasionally discussed southern black folk music – present was described as “new.” The fact that Mr. Krehbiel was talking about African-American folk music in an educational setting (implied by the text of the article) prompted me to search for more about him.

Henry Edward Krehbiel.

Henry Edward Krehbiel was an American music critic and musicologist who lived from 1854 to 1923. Although he studied law, he went on to become a music critic with the New York Tribune, where he stayed until his passing. For more than forty-three years, he was considered the leading music critic in America, analyzing all facets of music composed in America, including works by Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (composers he supported before they became popular), and African-American Folk Music. This, in particular, is important as it indicates that Krehbiel was one of the earliest researchers to go beyond recording or transcribing Black folk music and study the characteristics in relation other folk music (Russian, Swedish, etc…).

Henry Krehbiel’s “Afro-American Folksongs.” St. Olaf Libraries call number: ML3556.K9 1914

In 1914, Krehbiel published a book entitled Afro-American Folksongs with the following intention:

 

“This book was written with the purpose of bringing a species of folksong into the field of study of scientific observation and presenting it as fit material for artistic treatment.”

In part, Krehbiel is acknowledging the lack of study on African American Folk Music and, by doing so, is giving it and the black community more credibility than what was not common in that era. When searching St. Olaf’s database, I was pleased to find that the school did own a copy of the (I believe) original book! As mentioned earlier, this book is one of the first scientific studies into African American Folk Music and sought to compare the characteristics (rhythm, intervals, and structure) of that music with folk music of other regions.

Returning back to the original article, Henry Krehbiel held lectures on “Folk Music” before and after the publication of this review in the New York Tribune. It is indicated in the text that this article followed the third installment of his “Folk Music” lecturesThe significance of thesis lectures, articles, and of Krehbiel’s book is it provides insight into how people first viewed African-American folk music as research began on it.

 

Citations

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Henry Edward Krehbiel, 1854-1923.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-a83a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Krehbiel, Henry Edward. Afro-American Folksongs : A Study in Racial and National Music. 4th ed. New York: G. Schirmer, 1914.

“Mr. Krehbiel On Folk Music.” New York Tribune. Mar 2, 1897: African American Newspapers, Readex. 9 Oct, 2017 <http://infoweb.newsbank.com/>

Rhythm, Drums, and Quills

Through class discussion and our readings in Crawford’s America’s Musical Life, it’s well established that rhythm and percussive sounds were important elements of African-American and slave music. However, its well documented that slaves were banned from making drums and other percussive instruments. Although banjos and fiddles were common examples of instruments mentioned in the text, I was curious to know about less common ones that were created and used as well.

Folk musical instruments including homemade horns, captured sometime between 1934 and 1950, Lomax Collection.

Looking through the Lomax Collection of the Library of Congress, I came across several images of homemade instruments. They appear, and this is only my best guess from analyzing the image, to be crude trumpets. Unlike the rhythmic instruments described in the Crawford, the significance and history with slave music of these instruments is less obvious to me, so I searched for instruments that have a more solid history with the African culture of the slaves.

From this idea, I was able to find the Afro-American Folk Music from Tate and Panola Counties, Mississippiedited by David Evans. This was a wonderful resource providing many musical examples for each topic it covered, and it also covered many different kinds of instruments. The one I would like to talk about is the Quill.

Quills, a type of pan flute, Tom Leonardi.

The quill is a pan pipe instrument made from  bamboo rods. This instrument is not unique to American culture alone, many variations are found in history all over the world. Specific to the slaves, the quill was a common instrument found in southern Africa today, and when slaves were brought to America, the instrument came along (Leonardi, The Quills…). However, what caught my interest was they way it was described being played in the aforementioned article by Evans.  “The Devil’s Dream” was performed by Sid Hemphill, and recorded by Alan Lomax. The quill used as a 10-note quill, but only the four lower notes were played. The scale of the quill is described as “an unusual hexatonic scale lacking the fourth and the fifth.” The reason being that the octave was stretched by a semitone, roughly, according to Evans. Along side the four notes that were used in the piece, whooping produced the remainder of the sounds.  It is this technique that primarily ties the pan flutes to African traditions, where it was common to alternate between blowing and whooping notes.

Taken from the text of “Afro-American Folk Music…” Image depicts an approximation of the whooped and blown notes of the Quill.

Sadly, today the quill has phased out of use in the United States and replaced by the harmonica, which was due to it being more flexible in sound production and inexpensive to purchase. However, the technique of whooping is still used on the harmonica today in many forms of folk music.

To connect this with our class readings, our class has discussed how rhythm has been important in aiding and defining slave and African-American music. This has primarily been due to our focus of spirituals, work songs, and other folk songs of the 19th center that all include text, we have not talked about purely instrumental music or instrumental sections of songs to any length. By looking at quills, I have not only found other musical resources of folk music that are not focused purely on text, but have found another source that emphasizes the importance of rhythm and percussive sounds. The whooping, due to the change in tone, sounds more percussive. Additionally, it was rare for much more than drums to be played with a quill, showing who folk music used percussive accompaniment with other instruments instead of harmonica or melodic accompaniment. While I can’t verify that the following recording is the one talked about in the Afro-American Folk Music archive, I believe it to representative of the quills sound.


Recording of Sid Hemphill and of the quill.

Sources

  • Leonardi, Tom. “The Quills, an American folk instrument.” American Pastimes | KZFR 90.1 FM CHICO. May 7, 2013. Accessed October 02, 2017. http://kzfr.org/broadcasts/211. http://kzfr.org/broadcasts/211
  • Lomax, Alan. Folk musical instruments including homemade horns, between 1934 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660366/
  • “Sid Hemphill – Old Devil’s Dream”. YouTube. November 30, 2010. Accessed October 02, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRVVza3ObfM.
  • Wright, Josephine, David Evans, Glenn Hinson, Charles Ellertson, and North Carolina Museum Of History. “Afro-American Folk Music from Tate and Panola Counties, Mississippi.” The Black Perspective in Music 8, no. 1 (1980). Accessed October 2, 2017. doi:10.2307/1214524. https://www.loc.gov/folklife/LP/AfroAmFolkMusicMissL67_opt.pdf

Bluer Than Blue: Michael Johnson and Folk Music at St. Olaf

If you search through St. Olaf’s Manitou Messenger, in the 1970s and 1980s, you will notice a trend: St. Olaf College loved folk music, especially the music of Michael Johnson.

He performed on campus in the spring of 1973, on May 11, 1974, on October 24, 1975, and November 20, 1981:

Michael Johnson in 1975.

Playing for large audiences in Skoglund Gymnasium and in the Women’s Gym (now Kelsey Theater), Johnson performed hits from his albums There Is a Breeze and For All You Mad Musicians (the 1975 concert) like the songs “Bluer Than Blue” and “On the Road” (1981 and 1974 concerts, respectively). The popularity of Johnson was perhaps his ability to not only perform ballads/love songs and classic folk tunes, but also jazz and classical arrangements (and rearrangements) of his own and other peoples’ music.

That’s not to say everyone desired to hear a variety of music when Johnson came to town. In 1981, Johnson shared a concert with Simon and Bard, a fusion jazz group (many people left at 10pm when the band began their set). As the Manitou Messenger article from that event relates, that whole night was a fiasco: the doors opened 30 minutes late, Eastern Airlines sent Johnson’s guitar to Atlanta, and, the greatest crime of all, Simon and Bard was supposed to play first, but instead, Johnson opened. Many diehard Michael Johnson fans arrived late only to hear the end of Johnson’s set and the entire Simon and Bard set. Oops.

Michael Johnson in 1981.

St. Olaf’s affinity for Michael Johnson and his folk music showed the college’s continued participation in the folk revival, which began in the 1940s, peaked in the 1960s, and after that began to lose steam in the face of the British Invasion and the rise of rock. It also demonstrates the tastes of Oles, perhaps the unchanging tastes of Oles: to this day, one of the most-discussed concerts is Ingrid Michaelson’s visit to St. Olaf in 2012 (Michaelson is a singer-songwriter especially associated with the indie pop/folk movement).

Folk music in general has a strong following at St. Olaf. It could be the hipster-ish aspect of campus and folk music (“Have you heard of this person? They’re SO refreshing”) or maybe it’s the more rural origins of most of our students. Whatever the reason, in both the 1970s and the 2010s, folk music is alive and well at St. Olaf College.


“Calendar: Coming.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), April 26, 1974.

Lemke, Brenda. “Johnson steps up slow start.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), December 3, 1981.

Schrader, Beth. “Johnson and Johnson, pigskins and alumni.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), October 24, 1975.

Joan Baez and the Rise of the Folk Protest

Joan Baez with her guitar

Joan Baez with her guitar

The 1960s were a decade of political development and social unrest. American folk music became a method of conveying political ideas and protest, and the singer-songwriter fell into the important role as the purveyor and curator of civil disobedience. This style of folk music was adopted by college students who saw it as a meaningful vehicle for bringing about positive, humane change to the world. “Like Zen Buddhism and organic foods, folk music swept the colleges as a hip fad. Indeed, since the 1930s folk music had a close connection to the radical left in America (especially communists and socialists), and had increasingly been taken seriously by folklore scholars as a guide to past social mores.”

The prevalence of protest folk did not exist without criticism. Folk purists believed that protest songs were “pretentious, portentous and ponderous” and that folk-protest writers were “political hacks who wouldn’t recognize either folk music or folk style if it were walking along beside them in a peace march.”

Joan Baez was a folk singer-songwriter who made a name for herself in the 1960s (and then on) performing folk ballads. As the social and political climate heated up in the United States and around the world, Baez became a civil rights and universal nonviolence activist. “As the child of a decade of agitation, her attitudes and life-style evolved so smoothly that she seemed not to have changed at all. Joan blended into the protest tradition, into pacifism, into activism, into a publicized marriage and motherhood, into a vicarious martyrdom, . . . and finally into a national symbol for nonviolence.”1 She had a very appealing voice, which served her well in attracting audiences to her music.

Joan Baez wrote many songs of political and social protest, utilizing her distinct voice that became associated with the folk singer-songwriter genre. Saigon Bride is one of the songs she wrote, which appears on her 1967 album Joan. The following are the lyrics to Saigon Bride:

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

How many dead men will it take
To build a dike that will not break?
How many children must we kill
Before we make the waves stand still?

Though miracles come high today
We have the wherewithal to pay
It takes them off the streets you know
To places they would never go alone
It gives them useful trades
The lucky boys are even paid

Men die to build their Pharoah’s tombs
And still and still the teeming wombs
How many men to conquer Mars
How many dead to reach the stars?

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

Starting out on a local scale in California, Baez ended up playing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960 and then signing onto Vanguard Records for the next 12 years. Baez played many shows internationally and during the Vietnam War, she began playing internationally, including a show in Tokyo, Japan in January 1967. At this show, the translator later admitted that he left out all of Baez’s political comments after being instructed to do so by a man who identified himself as a CIA agent.

Instead of interpreting her subtle antiwar sentiments in Saigon Bride, the interpreter told the audience that it was a song about the Vietnam War. It is interesting to see how time and again, governments have feared the strength of a song or piece of art. Instead of listening to something and learning about its meaning and background, we are told to move past that and consume something topically or refrain from interpreting and consuming it altogether.

Joan Baez is one of the first recognized folk protest singer-songwriters and someone who has really affected the style of political song today. With singer-songwriters pioneering the political song, it has moved through rock, country, to rap and hip hop. Political protest today takes its form in many ways and the efficacy of that art is dependent on the audience it reaches out to.

1. Rodnitzky, Jerome L. Minstrels of the dawn : the folk-protest singer as a cultural hero. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976. x-87. Print.

2. Baez, Joan. Saigon Bride. Joan, CD, 1967.

Newport Folk Festival Hosts Composer of the “The American Folk-Song Mass”

As the folk tradition started to die out, American folk started to take flight when John and Alan Lomax recorded and collected music of the rural regions of the United State, particularly in penitentiaries. In the 1940s, artists around the country decided to takes these recorded folk songs and make their own recordings. A single vocal accompanied by a guitar became the standard folk song, and people decided to write their own songs in the “folk” style.1

Along with this surge of new folk composers came Father Ian Mitchell, “the guitar-toting Episcopal priest…, and his wife, folk-singing star Caroline.”2 Father Ian Mitchell composed The American Folk-Song Mass, consisting of several liturgical and some original text set to the twang of the guitar. The Chicago Defender stated that “Father Mitchel composed [The American Folk-Song Mass] because he got tired of ‘cloying, cornball, 19th Century hymns.’”3 Later, Father Mitchell released Catholic version of his folk-song mass, incorporating the texts of the Roman Catholic Liturgy. According to the liner of the Catholic version of the mass, Father Mitchell was later commissioned to compose the Funeral Folk Mass.

According to the Chicago Defender, Father Ian Mitchell and his wife Caroline signed on to the Newport Folk Festival, best known for hosting renowned folk singers such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, to perform songs from their newly released album Songs of Protest and Love. However, I hardly consider Father Mitchell’s music to actually be “folk.” Father Ian Mitchell was “a city-dweller who spent three years in the wastelands of Utah,” seemingly making him more apt to folk styles.4 All he did was take liturgical text and sing them with a different melody with a guitar accompaniment. According to Oxford Music Online, “the [folk] revival spawned a large number of singer-songwriters who accompanied themselves on the acoustic guitar but had little in common with those concerned primarily to bear witness to the tradition.”5 I believe that Father Ian Mitchell falls into this category and his “folk-song” mass should be considered “Mass: Plus Guitar, Minus Organ.”

1 Laing, Dave. “Folk Music Revival.” Grove Music Online. www.oxfordmusiconline.com (accessed Mar. 12, 2015­)

2 “Newport Folk Festival to Feature “Singing Priest”.” Chicago Daily Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1966-1973), July 12, 1969. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493434506?accountid=351.

3 Ibid.,

4 Mitchell, Ian. Rev. “The American Folk-Song Mass” F.E.L Records. Back Cover.

5 Laing, Dave. “Folk Music Revival.”

Development of Folk: Pre-Civil War to Civil Rights’ Movement

Folk music is one that draws many questions from American music historians. Questions like, “who owns folk music?”, “where did these tunes originate?”, and “what is a folk song?”.  One perspective that is particularly interesting and comes to a strong conclusion is that the origin of American folk music is based upon African Tradition. An article in The Chicago Defender claims that from African Americans and slave music, the genre of folk emerged. The argument is that the melodies of African American music prior to the Civil war were considered true American folk songs. Some original, but also based on African traditional music. The English, French, and Spanish all brought their own style of song to the United States, so their music isn’t naturally American. Oscar Saffold wrote in his article, “There is, however, a real indisputable folk song in America, an American production, born in the hearts of slaves — expressing a part of the life of our country.” This can be argued against, saying that the music of the slaves is originally from Africa, but Saffold’s argument is moreover strong, in that the African American traditional music had a large influence on proceeding music styles such as the blues and then jazz.

During the time of the Civil Rights’ Movement, there were many protests in southern United States, to express the desires and rights of equality among people; To blur the racial lines. These protests were filled with demonstrations that used art to promote equality, and the folk song emerged as an effective protest song. This incorporated the melodies of the old slave songs, but with new words. For example:

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This type of folk song is called a freedom song. It was used as a way to unite a community of people during the Civil Rights’ Movement, and was thought to communicate and express sentiments when words weren’t enough. This is tied into the work songs of slaves during the Antebellum South.

A poignant quote from the article says, “while there is no American folk song in the sense of expressing American life as a whole, still there is a folk song in America, and that is the music of the Negro” (Saffold). The roots of American folk music go deep into the history of the African American slaves of Southern American, and since, folk music has taken on many other attributes with the Folk Revival of the late 20th Century.

 

Bibliography

Saffold, Oscar E. “How american folk songs started.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), 25 Feb. 1933. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492356076?accountid=351

“Songs seen Vital in Albany Demonstrations.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), 22 Aug. 1962. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493909703?accountid=351.

 

Langston Hughes on African American folk

It isn’t very often in history that we read African American views on African American music. Langston Hughes, who wrote a column for an African American newspaper called The Chicago Defender, published several articles reclaiming African American folk music after jazz, the blues, and really much of American folk music was influenced by that tradition and style. In his poetic storytelling, and sometimes angry tone, Hughes gets at an issue of American music-that it has consistently turned African American folk music tradition into popular music, entertainment, etc. and reaped the monetary benefits while casting authenticity aside.

His article titled “Slavery and Leadbelly are Gone, But the Old Songs Go Singing on,” complains that African Americans have forgotten their slave heritage. “In 1963 we will be one hundred years free. Have you forgotten that you were once a slave? Is it a memory you do not want to remember?” On one hand, singers like Leadbelly could be popular because there was a certain time distance from slavery so that musicians weren’t judged “Uncle Toms.”[1] On the other hand, there is some tension as to how the folk music out of the slave tradition should be remembered, because clearly Leadbelly’s songs that embody oppression and images of slavery remember it much differently than revivals of the blues and spirituals during the 50s and 60s.

slavery and leadbelly are gone

Chicago Defender, 1954 click image for linked article [3]

In another issue, “The Influence of Negro Music On American Entertainment,” Hughes celebrates the pervasiveness of African American folk music in American music. “The Negro has influenced all of American popular song and dance, and that influence has been on the whole, joyous and sound…America’s music is soaked in our rhythms.” It is no coincidence that Langston Hughes was writing during the civil rights movement, when African Americans often re-claimed and re-defined their identity in an effort to create unity and political momentum.[2] Many of the folk musicians singing about civil rights, however, were white musicians making money off a style that used the folk idiom to appeal to the popular masses. Langston Hughes is quick to criticize this, calling into question the definition of folk music, how it is used, how it is remembered, and who has the right and responsibility to perform it.

langston hughes

Chicago Defender, 1953 click image for linked article [4]

[1] Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2001, 746.

[2] Reebee Garofalo, “Popular Music and the Civil Rights Movement,” Rockin the Boat: mass music and mass movements, ed. Reebee Garofalo, Boston: South End Press, 1992.

[3] Langston Hughes, “Slavery and Leadbelly are Gone, but the Old Songs Go Singing On,” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Sep 04, 1954, http://search.proquest.com/docview/492889401?accountid=351.

[4] Langston Hughes, “The Influence of Negro Music on American Entertainment,” Chicago Defender (National Edition),(1921-1967), Apr 25, 1953, http://search.proquest.com/docview/492962325?accountid=351.