Harry Burleigh–A Nice Post for Once

We have been tackling some difficult ethical issues in this class regarding how we should feel and respond to the shameful reality of minstrelsy and its related veins. One conclusion we have come to is to acknowledge the past, recognize (white) America’s shortcomings, and point ourselves and others in the direction of something better. In my research for this post, I feel I have found that something better.

Sheet music for “Steal Away” arr. by H.T. Burleigh.
Complete sheet music here.

I came across the spiritual, “Steal Away,”1 the name of which I recognized as a song Viking Chorus sang during my freshman year. I found that the spiritual was arranged by Harry T. Burleigh, and reading about him was a little shining star in this (at times) depressing class. A rendition of the spiritual can be found on Youtube, among several others.

Harry Thacker Burleigh (b. 1866) is recognized as the first and among the most influential African American composers in post-Civil War America. He studied at the New York National Conservatory of Music where he became friends with Antonín Dvorák, who was the school’s director. They spent ample time together, Burleigh sharing with Dvorák the black spirituals and plantation songs that he had heard from his grandfather. Dvorák encouraged Burleigh to save these songs, to arrange them as his work.2 Thankfully, he did. “Steal Away” is one of the hundreds of pieces he arranged and composed. His most successful song is likely his arrangement of “Deep River” (1917), a song many people today recognize.3

Photograph of Harry T. Burleigh by Carl Van Vechten

In the booklet of “Negro Spirituals” from which I found “Steal Away,” one of the first pages is a single page note from Burleigh on spirituals. Similar to the descriptions of spirituals Eileen Southern provides in Antebellum Rural Life,4 Burleigh outlines them as “spontaneous outbursts of intense religious fervor, and had their origin chiefly in camp meetings, revivals and other religious exercises”. He goes on to condemn the portrayals of blacks and their music in minstrel shows, declaring that the attempted humorous mimicry of “the manner of the Negro in singing them” is a “serious misconception of their meaning and value”.5

It is my belief that, with the knowledge of the shortcomings of American culture in our hearts, we should look to and celebrate those who do not fall into the questionable traditions we have encountered. I think Harry T. Burleigh is a splendid example. Thus, I would like to end this post with the ending words of Burleigh’s note in the booklet. He speaks of that value mentioned above, the true value of spirituals.

Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come, and man–every man–will be free.

–H.T.B.

“The Voice is not nearly so important as the Spirit”

After reading Eileen Southern and Dena Epstein’s accounts of American slave songs and particularly spirituals, my curiosity was piqued. I set out to see what sheet music for spirituals looked like from the days of the sheet music craze and naturally ran across something I wasn’t really expecting.

What I found was H. T. Burleigh’s arrangement of “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” for low voice and piano.1 One thing that initially struck me about the song was that it fit with what Epstein wrote about as a common theme in slave songs, that is the repetition of the same line of text several times in a row. Another common characteristic was syncopation, which is also an important driving characteristic of this song.2

The cover of the sheet music for “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. A recording of this arrangement can be found here.

However, arrangement is also interesting because it has been written in the style of arias and art songs. The melody is written out clearly, omitting some of the vocalizations that perhaps would have been sung by slaves. It is also made clear that the song does not perhaps fully fit a European method of transcription by the footnote on the first page which offers an alternate rhythm for one of the measures. Additionally, the arrangement contains a simple piano accompaniment consisting mainly of repetitive chords on the beats. This makes sense as the arranger, H. T. Burleigh studied on scholarship at the National Conservatory of Music in New York and ultimately became famous for being the first to arrange spirituals in the style of art songs, allowing for their entry into recital repertoire.3

The other interesting aspect of this sheet music is the arranger’s note that precedes it. In it, Burleigh gives a brief history of spirituals and claims that they are “practically the only music in America which meets the scientific definition of Folk Song”. He then goes on to advise the would-be singer that “the voice is not nearly so important as the spirit” when preforming, and that rhythm is the critical element. He admonishes that spirituals should not be linked with “minstrel” songs and that one should not try to imitate “Negro” accent or mannerisms in performance.

Ultimately, this got me thinking again about our discussion question of who gets to sing these songs and who gets to decide who gets to sing them? This arrangement was obviously originally intended for a white audience because of its warning about trying to perform them imitating the ways that are “natural to the colored people”. Written as it is in the style of an art song, means it caters to recitalists. Most recitalists of the time were white, as Burleigh himself is regarded as one of the first African American recitalists. Can white performers sing these songs that came out of the deep anguish of slavery and do them justice?

H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

Burleigh also adds an interesting dimension to the puzzle. As a black man born after the abolition of slavery, does he still have a right and connection to these songs? After all, he came from a poor family and learned many of his spirituals from his grandfather, who had been a slave.4 Furthermore, Burleigh still lived in a time of deep racial inequality and probably experienced ugly racism and discrimination in his own life.

Perhaps Burleigh, in is own way, provides a bit of an answer to this quandary in his performance notes when he remarks that spirituals’ “worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man”. It may not be a perfect answer, but it is something.

1Burleigh, H. T. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” from Negro Spirituals. New York: G. Ricordi, 1918. http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15037coll1/id/5400. Accessed March 19, 2018.

2Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

3““Harry” Burleigh (1866–1949).” In African American Almanac, by Lean’tin Bracks. Visible Ink Press, 2012. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipaaalm/harry_burleigh_1866_1949/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed March 19, 2018.

4Snyder, Jean. “Burleigh, Henry [Harry] T(hacker).” Grove Music Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002248537. Accessed March 19, 2018.

Different Times, Different Troubles (Same Song)

“Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”, arranged by H.T. Burleigh.

It’s hard to definitely say someone should not sing certain music. When it comes to spirituals, we wonder if the music was supposed to be passed down the generations, or if it was supposed to be left behind, where it could only be associated with slavery and sorrow.

H.T. Burleigh thought such music should be remembered, as he is famous for having arranged the music for many spirituals, including “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”. Burleigh and others published a variety of other arrangements for “mixed chorus, men’s chorus, and women’s chorus”.1
Therefore, it is clear he intended these songs to be sung by a variety of people for generations to come. He believed that spirituals have worth to anyone and everyone. He even made a statement on the second page of this sheet music, warning not to sing these songs as if a “minstrel” performance, mocking the mannerisms of African Americans while singing the song, but instead to respect the value of such musical works:

“Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, and the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come, and man–every man–will be free.”2

If a choir of white people gave a lively and vigorous performance of this spiritual or any kind like it, it would come across as disrespectful. Slaves were not allowed to sing work songs mournfully, even though the songs were of sorrow and of trouble.3  “Douglass observed in the 1845 edition of his autobiography that slaves sang most when they were unhappy”.4 A smiley performance of such music seems inappropriate. People today cannot properly fathom the hardships that slaves endured back then, so for anyone other than slaves to sing these songs does not feel right. However, Burleigh might argue that spirituals transcend the history. The music can mean a lot to a lot of people, even if for different reasons.

Perhaps it would help to imagine slaves’ reactions to performances of their songs today. They could think it beautiful that their music has survived so long and that their time is not forgotten or brushed aside as insignificant in history. However, their reaction would probably depend on what performances they see–whose singing for whom and for what reason. They could definitely find it disturbing that their music is occasionally sung out of context for the pleasure of white people listening. But what would they think if they saw a choir in Taiwan singing one of their songs?

We can’t know for sure what they would think, but perhaps if the music is performed in a respectful manner, it can mean more for more people.

1 “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

2 Burleigh, H.T. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. New York: G. Ricordi & Co., Inc., 1917. Retrieved from Sheet Music Consortium, http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-spnc/id/23714.

3 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 161.

4 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 177.

Tuskegee Institute Singers – Echoes of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Whilst browsing the Library of Congress’ “National Jukebox,” I came across recordings from a group called the Tuskegee Institute Singers (later known as the Tuskegee Institute Quartet). They started around 1914 as a college a capella group that took their talents beyond the halls of the Tuskegee Institute (an HBCU founded by Booker T Washington).

They directly adopted practices of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and sang spirituals in a modified harmonized style to appeal to white listeners as the Fisk singers did. Scholars have drawn direct lines from the Fisk singers to the Tuskegee singers. Even if their work had been changed to appease a broad audience, some still found their work “primitive.”1

This follows a long line of judgement of the music of other cultures, which western Europeans often found strange and lower than their own. One review of their music from The Victor Records catalog of 1920 details their sound, which they found at the same time “wholly American” and “primitive” at the same time.2

They note their “weird harmonies” – though they also praise the fact that they, unlike other primitive cultures, have harmony at all. It is apparent that Western European critics felt that the African American community must try to be “American” and follow Western European practice, yet at the same time, they would never dare hold African American music in the same regard as music that originated in Europe. They expected the black community to strive to attain their standards, but also knew they would never accept the music of the black community.

Additionally, it is interesting that the critic here refers to their music as reverent and to be respected, but from his language does not himself revere the music. They reference that the music came from the grandparents of the singers – that it comes from a long tradition of workers. However, the description acknowledges the hard “American” work of the singers, but does not acknowledge that this work was carried out under the hand of slavery. This critic takes credit for the desirable aspects of the music but does not also take credit for the factor that slavery played in the music’s inception.

Below is a recording of the Tuskegee Singers singing “Go Down Moses” (a spiritual). More of their work can be found at the Library of Congress National Jukebox online site.

 

What do you think of their sound? Did it earn its criticism?

1 Nick Toches, Where Dead Voices Gether, Little, Brown (2009).

 

2 Victor Records Catalog, (1920).

Washboards and Rhythms

From fields to labels, African-American music is rooted in rhythm. One of the most evident developments of a rhythmic tradition is that of jazz. As broad of a genre as jazz is, I will focus not on the style of music, but rather the rhythmic elements that were carried over from traditional spirituals found in the fields of slaves to jazz groups of the 20th century.

As noted by Crawford, slaves were not given access to instruments in an attempt by the slave owners to prevent rallying calls of rebellion. In response, a tradition developed known as Pattin’ Juba, or a rhythmic hand slapping to accompany songs. Over time and with the abolition of slavery, instruments (among many things) were available to recently freed slaves.

As generations became more removed from the binds of ancestral slavery, the rhythmic style of Pattin’ Juba was transferred to household objects like jugs and washboards. Still in a state of poverty, the freed slaves created their own instruments to supplement the music they had sung in the fields. Below is an image of a collection of homemade instruments.

A washboard, homemade drum and homemade horns (1934-1950)

With the same accessibility as one’s own hands and feet had been in slave field, drums and washboards played a prevalent role in early post-slavery music. One group that popularized the washboard was the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Donning thus name from 1931-1934, the group was a small band of predominantly black musicians that performed jazz music. From 1930-1935, the Washboard Rhythm Kings recorded a series of collections of their music. The full album can be found here, and I would like to highlight two tracks in particular that draw strong parallels to the slave music before them.

Four members of the Washboard Rhythm Kings (c.1931)

Track #9, “Lonesome Road”, carries many familiar elements of black slave and church music. A speaker engages in dialogue with the other musicians and speaks of “a little revival meeting” and talks of how a singer will “open up this meeting with a little solo”. Following the solo, the speaker speaks to the soloist much like a preacher to a congregation member, saying “Sit down brother. Bless you, bless you.” The song carries on in a freeform fashion.

Track #2, “Washboards Get Together”, is a fantastic example of the rhythmic capabilities of a washboard. Without too much difficulty, the listener can picture a similar rhythm to the washboard rhythm being played out on arms and legs in the Juba dance. As stated previously, the accessibility of instruments like the washboard furthered the intensely rhythmic tradition of the music found in slave fields. Below is a video of the Washboard Rhythm Kings performing an unknown song that highlights the excitement in their playing.

African-American slave and church music exists as an important facet to early American music. Starting in the fields and moving eventually into the popular vernacular, the music continues to play a pivotal role in shaping American music. The rhythmic figures remain a cornerstone in modern jazz, and can be seen in performances by mid-20th century groups like the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Accessible instruments enabled further complications of rhythm, and opened up new opportunities for the rise of jazz.

Works Cited

Berresford, Mark. The Washboard Rhythm Kings, http://www.jazzhound.net/photographs/washboard-rhythm-kings.html. Accessed October 2, 2017.

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

harryoakley. “Washboard Rhythm Kings, 1933”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig9rs5-hMeY. Accessed October 2, 2017.

Lomax, Alan. Folk musical instruments including homemade horns, homemade drum, and washboard, between 1934 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017.

The Washboard Rhythm Kings Collection Vol. 5 – 1930-1931. Recorded September 20, 1997. Collectors Classics, 1997, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1031541.

Yanow, Scott. “Washboard Rhythm Kings” AllMusic, accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/washboard-rhythm-kings-mn0000924443/biography

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: Marian Anderson and Spiritual Transmission

Marian Anderson in 1951

Marian Anderson occupies a unique position in history. Born in 1897, the contralto represents the culmination of hundreds of years of musical transmission and development along with the continuously evolving nature of American Culture.

Her recording of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen made in December of 1924,specifically, illustrates the complex history of spiritual transmission. First described as part of an 1866 description of a shout held in an old cotton gin house by an author named only M.R.S., and later transcribed in the 1867 collection Slave Songs of the United States, this shout, like many, has a rich transmission history. Since its initial transciption, the shout has been taken on tour by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and performed by a number of artist from Louis Armstrong to Mahalia Jackson (here’s a playlist of different versions of the Nobody Know’s the Trouble I’ve Seen).  Below is the 1924 recording (remastered and brought to you courtesy of Spotify) of Anderson’s. Take a listen to the recording while you read the rest of this post.

So why this recording?

Anderson would debut in Europe at Wigmore hall in London in 1930, and later, would famously perform for a crowd of 75 000 at the Lincoln Memorial after she had been denied a performing space at Constitution Hall on racial grounds. Before all that, however, she made these recordings of spirituals, shouts, and work songs. What is striking about this recording of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen is Anderson’s vocal technique and how that reflects contemporaneous American cultural ideologies.

The technique used on the recording echoes the sound Anderson uses in the works she most frequently performs; the Lied of Schubert. Her use of classical technique to cover a song that had once been a ring shout is telling of the way Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen has changed over time. While some may argue that her technique is simply a result of her classical training, I would posit a more insidious explanation. As the Fisk Jubilee Singers demonstrated through their early performances of traditional spirituals, often times the vocal technique used when singing spirituals had to be altered so that the original spiritual could be safe for white consumption. The emphasis on western tonality as the only acceptable and marketable base for music contributes to the erasure of diversity in the “American” musical canon.  Zora Neale Hurston in her work Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals goes so far as to argue,

There never has been a presentation of genuine Negro spirituals to any audience anywhere. What is being sung by the concert artists and glee clubs are the works of Negro composers or adaptors based on the spirituals.

While this recording shows Marian Andersons’ devotion to performing spirituals, it also demonstrates how capitalist necessity and white supremacy absorb and appropriate any culture deemed to be “the other” and, in doing so, prohibit any genuine presentation of a spiritual.

Transcription of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Had from Slave Songs of the United States (1867)

At the start of a career, it is incredibly important to build an audience, and if the majority people who were paying for her recordings wanted to hear an “idealized” spiritual, an “idealized” spiritual is what they would get. Classical technique and pure westernized vowels would reign supreme over the original spiritual singing technique which placed greater emphasis on expression of lyrics and rhythm.  The influence of white audiences on the sound of spirituals like the one exhibited here can be seen as symptomatic of a larger societal problem wherein white tastes and experiences are centered over those of people of color. Marian Anderson’s recording of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen represents another chapter in spiritual transmission and simultaneously serves as an example of the ways music reflects and influences dominant culture ideologies.

 

Just a Note: The articles on Marian Anderson from the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and African American Music Reference  focus heavily on her amazing performance at the Lincoln Memorial. Take a break from scholarly journals and learn more about it from this NPR article. Also, if you want to learn more about Anderson, check out this other playlist of her performing spirituals and pieces from the Western Classical canon.

 

Photographs From Marian Anderson’s Website

Works Cited

“Anderson, Marian, 1897-1993, by AMG, All Music Guide.” In All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, 1. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books, 2001. Accessed October 3, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbiography%7C438020.

Epstein, Dena J. Sinful tunes and spirituals: Black folk music to the Civil War. Urbana Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

Max de Schauensee and Alan Blyth. “Anderson, Marian.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 2, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/00865.

Tick, Judith, and Beaudoin, Paul, eds. 2008. Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion. Cary: Oxford University Press, USA. Accessed October 2, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Williamson, Etta L. The Journal of Negro Education 26, no. 1 (1957): 38-40. doi:10.2307/2293324.

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/298760473/denied-a-stage-she-sang-for-a-nation

Slave Songs of the United States 1867

 

 

 

“Room Enough” [unless you’re black]: The Fisk Jubilee Singers and Hypocrisy

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.34.59 PMOh, brothers, don’t stay away, . . .
For my Lord says there’s room enough,
Room enough in the Heav’ns for you,
My Lord says there’s room enough,
Don’t stay away.”

Oh, the irony. As the widely acclaimed Fisk Jubilee Singers preached this message of welcome to thousands of concertgoers, yes, they themselves were met with respect and praise by audiences, but all too often they were also greeted with closed doors.

In 1872, only a year after the ensemble began touring the United States and only a few days after receiving “continuous ovation” as guests of the governor of Connecticut, they were turned out of a tavernkeeper’s hostelry. When the Jubilee Singers booked the rooms, he assumed they were a company of blackface minstrels. Upon discovering they were the real deal, not a group of white people engaged in cruel mimicry, he could no longer stomach hosting them. A scathing account of this incident appearing in the March 14, 1872, edition of New York’s The Independent mocks the “publican” tavernkeeper for showing more respect to the “burnt cork of the harlequin,” the blackface of minstrelsy, than the “pigment . . . of [the Creator’s] own hands”:

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 5.24.05 AMA similar incident, layered in even greater irony, occurred in Jersey City later that same year. Mr. Warner, the proprietor of the American House, a place most would assume to be welcoming to Americans of all colors, had a misspelled cable sent to the Jubilee Singers’ sponsor, the Amercian [sic] Missionary Association, saying:

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 5.30.29 AM

After insulting the intellect of Mr. Warner and his clerk, The Independent writer rightly wrote, ” Somebody ought to teach this patriot to spell “American” a little less violently.”

In 1880, they were refused at the St. Nicholas Hotel in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, IL. The Springfield audience greeted this news with hisses and cries of “shame!”

Perhaps the greatest example of a mixed welcome occurred two years later during their visit to Washington, D.C. After they were turned out of numerous hotels in the nation’s capital, they wandered the city until midnight, when they managed to find lodging in private homes. A few days later, they were at the White House at the invitation of President Chester A. Arthur. The Singers brought the president to tears with a performance of “Steal Away to Jesus” and the Lord’s Prayer. “I have never in my life been so much moved,” said the president.

Honestly, I am disgusted with such behavior. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, I would hope that African Americans would be treated with more respect and dignity. Instead I see a distinct laziness shown by the public. Before the war, slaves would entertain Southerners at the plantation house, performing for no money and being told where they could and couldn’t stay. After the war, freedmen would entertain Northerners at concert halls, performing for money and being told where they could and couldn’t stay.

As a culture, we seem to deal best with small changes: from plantation houses to concert halls, from no money to admission prices. We say all we want, using overblown platitudes to demonstrate our support for a cause, but we do as little as we can, avoiding actions that put any kind of strain on our time, budgets, or attitudes, even if a small change on our part could change someone else’s life. Look to the examples of the people of Springfield, President Arthur, and the writers, and go even farther: back up your words with actions. Otherwise, you’re only a hypocrite.


Sources

“THE JUBILEE SINGERS.” The Independent …Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921) 24, no. 1215 (Mar 14, 1872): 4. http://search.proquest.com/docview/90171741?accountid=351.

“THE JUBILEE SINGERS AND THE WASHINGTON LANDLORDS.” New York Evangelist (1830-1902) 53, no. 12 (Mar 23, 1882): 2.

“THE JUBILEE SINGERS AT THE HOME AND TOMB OF LINCOLN.” Christian Union (1870-1893) 22, no. 8 (Aug 25, 1880): 156. http://search.proquest.com/docview/137032063?accountid=351.

Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers: With Their Songs. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1876. Accessed February 23, 2015. https://archive.org/.

“President Arthur and the Jubilee Singers.” Church’s Musical Visitor (1871-1883) 11, no. 6 (03, 1882): 162. http://search.proquest.com/docview/137466484?accountid=351.http://search.proquest.com/docview/125358571?accountid=351.

Evolution of a Battle Cry

In modern society, copyrights prove claims to authorship in music.  In the past, too, great songwriters are immortalized as the formants of a genre–Cole Porter and George Gershwin are among the composers who churned out music to popular consumption.  However, folk songs are traditionally passed along orally, and often authors are lost amidst the many additions and changes.  Does embellishing and editing a previous author’s work remove the credibility and culture of the original message of a piece?

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is typically a piece played in a militaristic style–a strong brass section, lots of snare drums, and in this YouTube clip, an obnoxious animated American flag.  Its patriotism is not a new appropriation, but rather began during the Civil War when marching soldiers of both sides sang what was then “John Brown’s Body.”  Although the John Brown the lyrics were written for was a soldier of the Massachusetts regiment and therefore a Civil War figure (PBS), he was not the one immortalized in the song.  Rather, the abolitionist John Brown became the martyr the lyrics remember.

Both sides of the war sang this song, changing the words to fit their message (Library of Congress).  But perhaps it is most appropriate that the northerners, with their message of freedom for the slaves, won the war and the song, as it had descended from fragments sung at ring shouts by the very slaves themselves.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.18.14 PM

HELEN KENDRICK JOHNSON. The North American Review, 1884.

According the Helen Kendrick Johnson and The North American Review, the earlier version of this tune was found in a “colored Presbyterian church in Charleston.”

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 1.00.45 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 1.01.01 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say, Brothers

Say, brothers, will you meet us (3x)

On Canaan’s happy shore.

(Refrain)

Glory, glory, hallelujah (3x)

For ever, evermore!

The score for this hymn is not the complete beginning of “Glory Hallelujah,” but rather only the version sung by congregations at revivalist meetings and in stricter church settings.  Some scholars attribute the musical phrases and lyrics to ring shouts (Soskis 24-5).  It is easy to imagine the call-and-response singing of the Biblical lyrics, along with interjections of “Glory, hallelujah!”  In addition, the same message of escape, travel, and lands of ‘happy shores’ is evident in this piece as in many other slave songs.

Like many folk songs, spirituals, and hymns of early America, authorship is highly disputed.  Claims of ownership come from many different sources, and usually the privileged, educated members of society have the most lasting paper trails.  But the strong presence of a black musical tradition is evident in the very roots of music in America.  White Northerners may have appropriated the traditional tunes and modified the lyrics, but it is a grand image to imagine soldiers singing a song reminiscent of the cause of freedom to its very core.

 

SOURCES:

“History of ‘John Brown’s Body,'” PBS. 2010. Web.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/brown/sfeature/song.html

Johnson, Helen Kendrick.  The North American Review.  May 1884.  Accessed from Proquest.

Library of Congress.  http://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000841/

Linder, Douglas O.  “Famous Trials,” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.  2015.  Web.  http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownbody.html.

Soskis, Benjamin and John Stauffer.  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song that Marches On.”  Oxford University Press, 9 May 2013.  http://books.google.com/books?id=bIRQpD3HNSAC&dq=%22will+you+meet%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

 

Transmission of “Nobody know(s) the(de) Trouble I(‘ve) See(n)”

As former slaves entered American culture and society as citizens with slightly more rights after the Civil War and Reconstruction they created bands and groups for themselves to play in. In the late 19th and early 20th century military bands, small orchestras, and “stock bands” were formed mostly performing popular music of the day as well as notable Classical music such as Mozart Operas.

Claflin University Brass Band. Picture collected for the 1900 Paris Exposition

Claflin University Brass Band. Picture collected for the 1900 Paris Exposition <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001705781>

 

At this time spiritual music had long been co-opted by white culture with many former slave songs being compiled in “American” songbooks. In the 1920s black composers and arrangers were able to publish their settings for these groups. Composers Gussie Davis, M.L. Lake, Robert Cole, and others were very popular stock band composers and arrangers during the ’20s. Here is a setting of the familiar tune “Nobody knows de trouble I seen” from M.L. Lake.

Setting for small orchestra. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.100010139/pageturner.html?page=2&section=p0001&size=640

Setting for small orchestra.
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.100010139/pageturner.html?page=2&section=p0001&size=640

 

We can find the melody in the treble voice and this is a form of the melody that modern listeners would most likely be familiar with. However because of its setting it and acculturation it is rife with western harmonization and figuration. This adaptation of black folk songs is something that we are very comfortable with and reminds me of William Grant-Still’s Afro-American Symphony.

H.T. Burleigh (1866-1949) was an essential figure in bringing black folk music to the classical music scene in post-reconstruction America. He introduced popular singers to the literature and was well connected with influential musical big-wigs, including Antonin Dvorak.

H.T. Burleigh's setting of "Nobody knows" for voice and piano. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm_n0737/

H.T. Burleigh’s setting of “Nobody knows” for voice and piano.
http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm_n0737/

The earliest notated record of this particular tune we have is from Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867, the seminal work of collecting slave songs in the Antebellum South. This representation from the collection is not definite however, it is still subject to editing and doesn’t account for massive variation across the southern states. SlaveSongsThis post outlines how different settings of the same tune have been treated when brought into a western context and setting. First the tune is in its most original form (that we have available), then adapted to solo voice and piano for mass consumption and use in the home and then finally used as popular music that can be recognized by the populous who attend concerts.

 

The Sacred Harp and Shape Note Singing

Shape notes are a style of music notation most popularly printed in the songbooks of The Sacred Harp, and is categorized as sacred choral music. Shape note singing originates in the New England region of America as way to help illiterate Americans read music and participate more freely in religious activity. This style of singing was mainly found in the Protestant sect of Christianity. Shape notes reinforce the importance of congregational style of singing in church, allowing for a broader inclusion of church-goers.

The first iteration of shape note notation, invented by Psalmodist Andrew Law, was meant to simplify singing by assigning different shapes to different syllables (fa, sol,  la, and mi) so that singers knew which syllables to sing without needing to read lyrics. In 1801, the system was developed by William Little and William Smith and assigned these shapes to different pitches on a staff. This resulted in the creation of The Sacred Harp tunebook. In an article posted in the Common School Advocate in the year 1838, the tunebook was regarded as “decidedly the best and most permanently useful work yet published… made up of the finest compositions of the great masters of ancient and modern times, with new music.” A review that pays homage to the times, as this was a fairly new invention that gave a church goers a new and inclusive experience participating in the singing of psalms and hymns.

A popular hymn that is sung today that The Sacred Harp transcribed into shape note notation is “Amazing Grace.” Largely sung at funerals, this originally baptist tune transcribed in shape note notation is a great example of the choral music of the Antebellum south period. The Christian Observer, an Anglican evangelical periodical that existed between 1802 and 1874, wrote highly of the Sacred Harp tunebook, posting numerous recommendations of its publication. One that particularly stood out, read “New_Britain_Southern_Harmony_Amazing_GraceThe volume is composed of very beautiful melodies; and harmonies of almost unequalled richness… The tunes are admirably adapted to the effective expression of poetry, a circumstance upon which the happiest effect of Christian Psalmody depend.”  A boasting review of a simple style of music, which goes to show the nature of music during this time period in America. Neither monophonic nor polyphonic, this unique style, which is heterophonic in texture, has a surprising sound that is unfamiliar, even to a trained ear. The more popular hymnody has a far more recognizable polyphonic texture that most trained and un-trained ears are accustomed to.

At the annual conventions, there is a specific structure to how they sing each song, whether or not that is how it was performed in 1850 is unbeknown to me, but the format is as follows: “sung through once on the solfege syllables, then sung in its entirety, with the final phrase repeated as a conclusion” (Miller). Despite the repetitive nature of such singing style, the participants are very enthusiastic in their singing of such tunes, and often clap and stomp along with the beat. Through shape-note singing a community emerged, one that is based around the Protestant faith, but is much more than that.

Shape note notation is important in American music history, as it is seen as the first original American music style and it is a defining style that influences genres to come. Some music historians say that African American spirituals were influenced from the shape note singing of groups like the Sacred Harp. If this is in fact true, the shape note style is an important one in American history that continues to influence music today.

 

Bibliography

Miller, Sarah Bryan. Post-Dispatch Classical, Music Critic. “Amazing Grace at The Missouri Sacred Harp Convention, Shape-Note Singing Isn’t for Listening, It’s for Participation.” St. Louis Post – Dispatch, Mar 28, 2001.

“VALUABLE MUSIC BOOKS,” 1841. Christian Observer (1840-1910), Oct 29, 176. http://search.proquest.com/docview/136098231?accountid=351.

“A VALUABLE music book,” 1838. Common School Advocate (1837-1841), Vol. 14: pp. 95. http://search.proquest.com/docview/124760960?accountid=351

http://originalsacredharp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/1-First-Ireland-Convention.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/New_Britain_Southern_Harmony_Amazing_Grace.jpg

The Beauty in “The Negro’s Songs”

Black slave song was once a purely functional form of music that was described as “primitive” or “not inherently musical,” and the thought of it pervading American popular music once seemed impossible. However, after going through a metamorphosis of sorts, it changed into a form that appealed to the people of the United States. By undergoing this change, the songs had lost basically all semblance of their original function as a work song to an art song. Thus began the assimilation of black folk songs into American folk-songs.

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[1]

As a result of black folk music being introduced to the American public, people wanted to capture the origins and nature of this new genre. Books were written chronicling and collecting black folk songs, among them Afro-American Folksongs, A Study in Racial and National Music by Henry Edward Krehbiel and On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs by Dorothy Scarborough. Although these books were invaluable as a source for the average person to learn more about black folk songs and accounts of their encounters with the people that taught the authors the songs, they were written by white people using standard musical notation that is not able to accurately portray how the songs would have actually been performed by the people that originally sung them.

For example, take this transcription from Scarborough’s book of “I Went Up on the Mountain Top:”

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[2]

The notes, rhythms, and words are present, but we have no idea how accurate this is. We can only assume how fast it went, how to pronounce the words, and the harmonies implied, if any. What results from this collection of songs is not an authentic depiction of black folk tunes, but “…a body of beautiful music. It has been neglected, distorted, made pretty, made tawdry, and now is being presented in various approaches to its native beauty.” [3] This issue of “beauty” became even more contentious when considering how to perform these songs:

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[4]

Due to the vague nature of the transcriptions written by authors such as Krehbiel and Scarborough, the “correct” rendition was up to interpretation. However, it was agreed that that the expression of the text was far more important than the style in which a person sang. Hayes and Robeson are incomparable, but they both hearken back to the original spirituals and the idea of expression as beauty. Although the black slave song was once thought as the music of savages, it quickly became an integral part of American music and was not going away anytime soon.

 

1. 3. 4. Seldes, Gilbert. 1926. THE NEGRO’S SONGS. The Dial; a Semi – Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), 03, 247. http://search.proquest.com/docview/89694543?accountid=351.

2. Scarborough, Dorothy. On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs. Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore Associates, 1925. Pg. 7. Accessed on archive.org.