Analysis and Anthology of Black Folk Music in the 1800s

During the 1800s when it was booming in popularity within white America, black folk music was transcribed by white people interested in monetizing the replication of the music. Many anthologies chronicling black folk music were produced, transcribed by white people of educated, important stature in society, along with critiques and analyses on the subject. One of these anthologies is Reverend William Eleazar Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns: A collection of hitherto unpublished melodies of the slave and freedman, with historical and descriptive notes.

Within its cover, Barton gives an account of his “quest for quaint hymns” and the conversations he has with people along the way fo fulfill this quest.


Figure 1

His anthology contains descriptions and observations of the performance practice of black folk music characteristic to the overt white mentality of superiority of the time.


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The issue with white Americans transcribing black folk music is that they would often transcribe one verse of a song in standard notation and then include the next verses below. This would allow for those wanting to sing the music to do so, but often fill in all of the rhythms incorrectly or without the same feeling from verse to verse.



Figure 5

Another person who was very invested in the reproduction and performance of black folk music was Reverend George H. Griffin. In his article, The Slave Music of the South, Griffin pursues his passion for black folk music in a different way, ignoring extensive analysis of the music before arguing that it is a “very rich mine to explore.”





Fig. 1, 2, 3. BARTON, William Eleazar. “Hymns of the slave and the freedman.” New England Magazine 19, (January 1899): 609-624. Readers’ Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 19, 2015).

Fig. 4, 5. Griffin, George H. 1885. THE SLAVE MUSIC OF THE SOUTH. The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897). 02, (accessed February 20, 2015).