Negro Folk Music U.S.A

Negro Folk Music U.S.A

Negro Folk Music U.S.A

Negro Folk Music U.S.A

Excerpt

The subject of Negro folk music has been with us for a long while now, and, when I began to put this book together, I entertained the thought that perhaps there was really nothing new to say about it. There had been, and continues to be, a tremendous effort in the direction of collecting Negro folk songs and analyzing them, in relating them to their environment, and in searching for prototypes and comparable oral materials in non-Negro cultures. Musicologists and, more recently, ethnomusicologists have probed relentlessly into the musical structure of Negro songs. Collectors in the past few years, if they were seeking undiscovered songs, have had to be content, in the main, with finding variants of already- known themes. Even the seemingly spontaneous, improvised tunes often contained familiar elements of words or melody, or both. What, then, was left to be said about Negro folk music in the United States? Merely that it was one of the prime sources of jazz?

In looking at Negro folk music as a whole, however, rather than just at spirituals, work songs, cries, or pentatonic scales, it seemed to me that quite a bit remained to be said about the subject to put it in a larger framework. For there is more to it than haunting melodies, humor, and plaintive themes. Among many other things, there is a cultural continuity, often only dimly perceived, and a relationship with other existing traditions. Running through American Negro folk music and lore there is unmistakable evidence of a large and significant oral literature. If we look at any single spiritual as just a "song" or an "example" we are missing the larger picture altogether, for it is in fact only a single point of contact with a rich and integrated religious view of life. And that view is not naïve or quaint unless all other religious views are naïve or quaint. It may safely be said, I think, that Negro folk music today is the largest body of genuine folk music still alive in the United States, and this alone justifies an effort to see it in the round.

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