IV
SOCIAL SONGS -- DANCE AND BANJO

THE social folk-songs of the Negro, as distinguished from religious songs and work songs, are to be found mainly in the groups devoted to animals, narrative songs and ballads, parodies of religious songs, and recent events, in addition to the present group. They are so interwoven with the work songs that a hard-and-fast division is not always possible. They are used by the Negro, as most songs are used by the white people, simply for entertainment and enjoyment, with no particular function to be served except occasionally the rhythm of a dance, the speeding-up of a corn-shucking, the encouragement of a hunt, or the lulling of an infant.

They are among the songs first encouraged by the planters in order to keep up the spirits of the slaves. Dance songs, as I have shown in Chapter I, were encouraged from the very first. They are the songs of which the early black-face minstrels, led by "Jim Crow" Rice, first saw the stage value, ignoring the work songs and religious songs that must have been in existence at the time.

It is doubtful if any of the very earliest of these songs are still in tradition. They were probably too simple and incoherent to be thought worthy of notice by any white person who encountered them; and they were probably supplanted in Negro tradition by imitations of the early minstrel imitations, which were very farfetched and badly mixed imitations indeed, but which gave the Negro song a value and a currency far beyond anything it had previously enjoyed. The songs which the minstrels imitated must have been a second stage in Negro folk-song, after the Negro had become much more adept in the white man's language and ways than he had been throughout the eighteenth century. Something of what these songs were may be imagined from a few scraps preserved by early travellers, novelists, and other observers. I have reprinted a few of these in Appendix V.

Upon the social songs of the present group, as upon the songs about animals, the black-face minstrel has written large the impress of the times when "Jump Jim Crow" received twenty enthusiastic encores on its first appearance in New York, became London's most

-148-

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American Negro Folk-Songs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Foreword v
  • Preface xxi
  • Contents xxv
  • I The Negro Song in General 3
  • II Religious Songs 31
  • III Upstart Crows -- The Reaction From Religion 130
  • IV Social Songs -- Dance and Banjo 148
  • V Social Songs: Narrative Songs and Ballads 185
  • VI Songs About Animals 224
  • VII Work Songs--Gang Laborers 250
  • VIII Rural Labor 281
  • IX General and Miscellaneous Labor 290
  • X Songs About Women 311
  • XI Recent Events 341
  • XII The Seamier Side 356
  • XIII Race-Consciousness 376
  • XIV Blues and Miscellaneous Songs 387
  • APPENDICES 403
  • Bibliography 467
  • INDICES 481
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