Saturday, November 11, 2017

RACE, CLASS, REGION AND CULTURE IN AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC. Part 1: Genesis



PART ONE: GENESIS [The birth of American music: a confluence of African and European elements.]

The first Southern music:
                 o   Cherokee Corn Dance Song

Broadside ballads (1700s): sung by minstrels, lyrics sold on sheets. Often sang of lost loves, murderous crimes of passion, or both.
·         Prison songs: “The Gaol Song”
·         Murder songs: “The Oxford Girl”      
o   Compare with: “The Knoxville Girl” by The Louvin Brothers  1956
   §  “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes  1984 
·         Execution Songs: “The Gallows Tree”  
o   Compare with:
§  “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio   1958
§  “25 Minutes to Go” by Johnny Cash    1968
§  “Sam Hall” by Johnny Cash  2002  (the song may go back as far as 1707)

Antebellum Black Community
·         Spirituals:
o   “Roll, Jordan, Roll” [powerful scene from 12 Years a Slave
o   “John the Revelator”  Son House, 1930s  
·         Work Songs, alias Field Hollers:
o    "Po' Lazarus" from O Brother Where Art Thou 
·         Playing the Dozens (wherein two people have a contest insulting each other, often in rhyme):
o   “The Signifying Monkey”  Rudy Ray Moore, 1970. From a Yoruba folk tale.  
§  Compare “The Signifying Rapper” by Schooly D, 1988 
§  Compare “Signifying Monkey” by  Willie Dixon,  1947 [a VERY sanitized jazz version]  
o   “Say, Man”  Bo Diddley  1959 

The Minstrel Shows (1820s-1890s): the beginning of American culture appropriating blackness

Jim Crow:
o   “Jump Jim Crow” by Daddy Rice [note: thank God this is only 30 seconds long.] 
o   1950s TV Blackface demonstration [sexist AND racist!]       
o   Compare to: “When I See an Elephant Fly” from Dumbo  
Stephen Foster:
o   The above song's lyrics are about a former (perhaps runaway) slave longing for the better life he had on the plantation. Note: Foster spent most of his life in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and visited the South only once when he honeymooned in New Orleans.
o   “Camptown Ladies”  1850   
o   Compare to: “Old Man River” by Paul Robeson [from 1936 musical Showboat, a nostalgic call-back to Mississippi Riverboat Days of the 1800s… but note the slightly different tone. "I gets weary and sick of tryin'. I'm tired of livin', and scared of dyin'."] 

Western Songs, late 1800s: songs of working cowboys and miners                    
                                 o  “My Darling Clementine” 1884        
       o   “Streets of Laredo”  adapted from a British ballad. From 1890s.        
                                  o   “Git Along, Little Dogies”  [It’s your misfortune, and none of my own.] From 1890s. 

Gospel Spirituals (1800s) popularized by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, starting in 1871

1 comment:


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