Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838- 1839

By Frances Anne Kemble; John A. Scott | Go to book overview
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XXIV

Negro Boat Songs

[ March 16, 1839]

Dear E(lizabeth],

This letter has remained unfinished, and my journal interrupted for more than a week. Mr. [ Butler] has been quite unwell, and I have been traveling to and fro daily between Hampton and the rice island in the long boat to visit him; for the last three days I have remained at the latter place, and only returned here this morning early. My daily voyages up and down the river have introduced me to a great variety of new musical performances of our boatmen, who invariably, when the rowing is not too hard, moving up or down with the tide, accompany the stroke of their oars with the sound of their voices. I told you formerly that I thought I could trace distinctly some popular national melody with which I was familiar in almost all their songs; but I have been quite at a loss to discover any such foundation for many that I have heard lately, and which have appeared to me extraordinarily wild and unaccountable. The way in which the chorus strikes in with the burden, between each phrase of the melody chanted by a single voice, is very curious and effective, especially with the rhythm of the rowlocks for accompaniment. The high voices all in unison, and the admirable time and true accent with which their responses are

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