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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Jane Bird Black American ballads of 19th cent (18) Black American ballads of 19th cent 12 May 99

Okay, here's another area of research I've been pursuing. I wonder if you could give me some help here too?

I've been doing some work on a documentation project at York Minster Library (in the UK), and I'm currently cataloguing a set of broadsides. I've come across several ballads which are written in what looks to me like a crude attempt to represent a black Southern American accent, and there are references to places such as Kentucky, Alabama and Lousianna. The broadsides seem to be roughly from the mid 19th century, and we even think we can date one to the 1840s.

These ballads are written on various subjects. "Clar de Kitchen" seems to be about domestic work in a kitchen. "Blue Tail Coat" is about a chap with particularly snazzy coat, and he goes round impressing people with his style. "Lucy Neal" or "Miss Lucy" is a love song.

All these songs are written as though they are sung by black Americans, in so far as they are first person narratives, and they speak in this black American accent ("de" for "the"; "ribber" for "river" &c.).

What we're wondering is:
1) Are these originally black American songs? Even if they have been altered for a 19th centuary English audience (all of the broadsides were printed in England).
2) Why was there (if this is so) a fashion for songs that feature some representation of black Americans? If they are not authentic, are these songs crass immitations or more offensive parodies?

Any ideas on this subject will be read with interest.


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