Negro Work Songs & Field Hollers
This afternoon, in our first class meeting for the semester, I was discussing a pre-history to American blues and popular music. The below recording was captured by John and Alan Lomax at an all black southern prison and work camp during the 1930s. As a Folk Music Archivist for the Library of Congress, John Lomax’s job was to preserve old folk music traditions in America, many of which were believed to be on the verge of extinction. The musical traits heard in these recordings are thought to be reminiscent of the prisoner’s enslaved ancestors: call & response, bent pitches (later referred to as “blue notes”), a strong, physical rhythmic drive and absence of consonant harmonic relationships such as the use of thirds or sixths. The irony is that we didn’t have the ability to record until the turn of the twentieth century. Thus, we’re missing recorded evidence from a good 250 years or more of musical evolution as it relates to the music of the slaves. So, while we do have access to sheet music, press and scholarly research, we lack recorded evidence. These field recordings are about as close as we’ll get to what the music of the slaves may have sounded like.