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And so and you of the nature of the life of the slain in the pre-Civil War of the South after a day's work there wasn't much left besides music. And after a while the consolations of religion. It's likely that one of the first types of Afro-American music to be heard in the south was the field call and the holler as Harold curl and it describes the phenomenon of men and women working together over a wide stretch of fields maintained social contact throughout the workday by calling back and forth and singing songs together. Sometimes the songs would be sung in unison. Sometimes responses would be sung from different parts of the field. Often this saying simply maintain the feeling of community and on this way some of the work songs. Sometimes one would sing to the other and they'd assist as he went along improvising in developing his theme there was also the call or sign with the old guy thereby serving primarily as communication.
This might be a message or a familiar signal and sometimes the call contained information. This car was part of an old tradition that still exists today in West Africa and Haiti. And the structure of slave life in America gave it special social importance. The tradition continued on after the Civil War. Disappearing slowly as the conditions of life changed but the cars are still to be heard in the many rural privates of the South. Here are some contained in the excellent ethnic Folkways to Ronnie and LP set Negro folk music of Alabama which combine combines both secular and religious music and is the best single collection I think for anyone interested in hearing a well-rounded collection of pretty jazz Afro American folk music. The singer is Annie Grace Johnson. She gives first from memory the car of the field hands during her childhood
singing both the car and the response. This is the way our father used to call him mother.
This holler was one of the children used to call each other out in the field. This is a greeting card. A man is returned after a long absence
and is greeted by the question Hey Rufus. Hey boy. Where in the world you been so long. Hey buddy. And he replies Well I've been in the jungle and going there no more. The answer is of course metaphoric. It would be understood by the listener to mean that Rufus has been in prison or some other kind of trouble. Rufus. Oh. This is a complaint call sung by you not brown you not use this
car or a variant of it each time it came to the bridge of Livingston Alabama. The town he lived in used in this way the call takes on a magical religious aspect and becomes a means of warding off unseen dangers that lurk at critical places along the road. In Haiti special shout calls are sometimes given when a person approaches a crossroads he sings here. For the times don't get no better here I'm going down the road. I'm going away to leave you. The times don't get no better here. I'm down the road I'm gone. The times don't get no better the times don't get no better. Down the road I'm gone. As well later here in these field calls are one of the first antecedents of the
blues and as such are particularly important in the study of jazz. The Work Song also must have been one of the initial forms of Afro-American song and it has a strong tradition going back to Africa not that other cultures obviously have not had work songs as well but the rhythmic punctuations the nature of the of a brothel the slurring pitch and Tambor of the voices are of African origin as is the peculiar kind of call and response pattern. Listen for example to this works on by a gang of convicts at the Downton State Prison Farm. Sandy Point Texas recorded for the Library of Congress by John and Alan Lomax. These men are wielding axes and clearing the land for cultivation as Lomax describes it. These men can endure long hours of hard driving work in the sun could sing as they worked pouring a new language and new ideas into the old African lead a
chorus form the wildness and savage joy of this work song come from the leader who was nicknamed lightning because he could move faster sing better laugh louder and make witty or comments than any other man on the farm. The song is a sketch of a man who lightning greatly admired a legendary character named Long John who ran the police the sheriff the deputies with all their bloodhounds and escape from jail to freedom. The song is a picture of the chase but full of puns about John of the Bible along with double meanings and asides along John. Richard Waterman points out the striking similarity between the song
recorded by the Moslem tribesmen of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast and West Africa. Here is the mossy chant. As an example of how songs changed through the individual revisions and
improvisations of Negro folk singers there is Long John changed to last John. No longer a work song but a kind of hard song and hooted by the blind harmonica player Sonny Terry with commentary by Woody Guthrie. Listen to how the harmonica not only plays but talks. Going going.
Ernest Borneman to further document the African
background for the work song quotes from an 18 61 report by eco sourness report on the bus Sukkos report that states that they never worked without music to increase the pleasure they find in the regular movements of the hands and feet. He reported the hang about their persons gallons composed of little ballads and when the women grind their corn in unison they sing an air which perfectly accords with the rhythm of the tinkling rings and bell rings that the workers perform solitarily the songs or solos if it is done collectively the songs korek. One finds that the Afro-American work songs have African pentatonic tunes will go into the African five tone scale somewhat later and their song with African into a nations they used to and perhaps in some sections may still contain a few African words from time to time but generally they're satisfied with Africanized grama and pronunciation of the slave owners languages that as they were many years ago
before the Civil War. And there was an additional point going to book slave songs of the Georgia Sea Islands. Lydia parish writes of the songs so both are frequently divided arbitrarily to suit the rhythmic needs of the tune. Something you'll find in jazz. Sometimes they lasso a bit of a word is attached to the one syllable word that follows and whole syllables or occasionally omit it. The sway of dislike certain sounds in the English language. TH was difficult for him to pronounce so and so was final g and he dropped an R. Whenever it interfered with fluency at the beginning the slave transplanted African thought in the speech pattern of his native land and employed his limited English in that fashion. And he also disregarded genders as he did in Africa. That brings up the matter of humming. Harold Cohen a noted that when the last consonant of a phrase is not only an I but also an L or a K in recording some of the rural folk music of Alabama
it was changed by the singer to him or N for softening giving the effect of harming the father is frequently heard as father and mother as my room or engine on his arm. And this may have been. This is an extension of the home like practice to be found in West African singing and speech habits. Again these African parallels are all quite tentative. Let me show you this humming a fact and the changing of eyes and Elves are in caves at the end of words in an Afro-American field blues sung solo in the open air. The ancestor of the city blows the falsetto that you'll hear on this is also a possible West African origin.
Where I live there Comair but I want you. You know from there on here I want you to and. I know you. Don't want you here I mean you were doing me wrong. When you're big on Hail crime. Don't get along well with your big gone.
There might. Be you. Know when you hear me oh I'll be there. These are where our getting back to work songs. Woman summarizes by pointing out that most of the surviving work songs with song in the New World negro idiom is based mainly on English words are almost completely uninfluenced by European tunes. They are powerfully rhythmic because they were sung by the slaves sometimes chained who had to work in rhythmic unison. They told the story of the damming of the Mississippi of the healing of rocks of the digging of Sorrows of the picking of cotton of the planting and cutting of sugar cane and short of the building of the Southern cultural economy. The phrases of the songs are separate from one another each being for instance in The Company Men of the lifting of the hammers while the intervals between them synchronize with the descent of
the hammers and the pause just after they have reached the ground. These songs are another example of how the negro made the agonies of slavery bearable by integrating them with the sound images of his African past. There was no getting away from the miseries of plantation labor so the work was infused with songs and soon the songs would influence the music of the slavers and their descendants. The suppression somersaults and the cultural infiltration he concludes and yesterday a slave becomes today's cultural mentor. Recorded for the Library of Congress here is a work song sung by Jessie Bradley in a group at the State Penitentiary in Huntsville Texas. Then Bodkin wrote the notes for this indicates that one of the most dynamic of Negro work rhythms would be found in the hammer a song of which this is one hammering. And John Lomax wrote the man who drove the spikes that fastened the long steel rails to the wooden ties sang one of the most
thrilling tunes of all the hammers song the song of the ten pound hammer with its two heads scarcely more than a couple of inches in diameter but with long free from the shoulder in a complete circle about the head hammering. I am.
Yours what might be called a work call the leader of the gang temping times on the railroad. Oh. The offbeat hand-clapping and the call and response patterns of Negro
children's games were also early forms of Afro-American music in Negro folk music of Alabama Harold Carolina has recorded some examples of Negro children's ring games and he writes the rain game was at one time a familiar sight in the south. In former days it was along with the animal tales told by adults one of the forms of recreation most loved by Negro children ring games were also played by white children. The ring game was both European and African. English rhymes and nowadays I frequent that certain traditional African elements remain ring games are most frequently found in rural places where children congregate together such as the disappearing playgrounds of small one room country schools. This rest while I'm going up north is especially interesting because it has an in-group kind of irony and parody both very strong characteristics of the Afro American song as it was of the
and still is of West African song as is also the on the ridicule will be followed by some other children's songs recorded. You know all about. It. Next week more of the beginnings of Afro American crews are going to
throw more children songs in America by. Animal tales from a very important development. There were three of you have been listening to the evolution of jazz a recorded series prepared and produced by Nat Hentoff under the auspices of Northeastern University and presented by the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council. The evolution of jazz was recorded in the Boston studios of WGBH FM. This is the national educational radio network.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
West African Influence, Part Two
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the second of two parts, continues to explore the influence of West African music on jazz.
Series Description
Jazz historian Nat Hentoff presents a series that traces the history of jazz, from its musical and cultural roots to its contemporary forms. "The Evolution of Jazz" was originally broadcast from WGBH in 1953-1954, and was re-broadcast by the National Educational Radio Network in 1964.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
African Americans--Music--19th century--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:29
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, Part Two,” 1953-11-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, Part Two.” 1953-11-13. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, Part Two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from