X
SONGS ABOUT WOMEN

THE songs in which the Negro sings about women come from all sources -- from the mine, the construction gang, the jail, the dance, the minstrel show, the farm, the levee, even sometimes from the popular songs of the white man. Wherever the Negro is at work on a task which allows his mind to wander, -- and most of his tasks are of this description, -- it wanders sooner or later to his woman. Most commonly these songs are sung by gang laborers with whom most of the coarser songs originate. To-day they enter into quite a considerable part of the "blues," which Mr. Handy says originated in low dives, but which certainly served the ends of labor before they came upon the vaudeville stage, and thence again to the laborer through the phonograph. They had little place, however, on the mid-nineteenth century minstrel stage, where the songs about women were of so decidedly different a character that one is forced to conclude either that the Negro has changed his psychological nature since 1850, or (what we know from other evidence to be the case) that the early minstrel songs were almost purely Caucasian.

Although the great mass of Negro songs about women are of recent origin, a few are degenerate descendants of the old minstrel stage. The "yaller gal" of grotesque appearance (no. 33), who was brought from the south by "ol' Massa," was a contemporary, and probably a near relative of "Darling Nelly Gray." Unfortunately endowed by nature to begin with, both her character and her appearance have suffered in the tradition of the song. Some of her physical defects have been inherited direct from the black-face minstrels by the "yaller gal" or "black gal" whom the modern singer "would n't marry" (no. 317). It was on a minstrel stage of the eighteen-forties or fifties that the singer first "went down to Sally's house" (no. 65). The "sho-fly lady" (no. 59) probably belongs to the same period. One song in this group, no. 61, is composed of stanzas from two different songs of the old minstrels. And a very common motive in number of modern songs -- the comparison of three women -- probably originated1 in the similar comparison of three animals by the old minstrels.

____________________
1
See no. 16, in this chapter.

-311-

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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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