The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #81179   Message #1485093
Posted By: Q (Frank Staplin)
14-May-05 - 10:24 PM
Thread Name: African American Secular Folk Songs
Subject: RE: African American Secular Folk Songs
Perhaps the fake book you looked at, Azizi, was "The Folksong Fake Book," printed by Hal Leonard Pub., edited, I believe, by Hal Leonard. There are piles of these fake books, which are useless for origins. Azizi, I would not quote from them. (Or perhaps they should be discussed. Many performers never get beyond that state of knowledge)

The best info that we have comes from older periodicals, journals, books and song collections from before WWI, and some later ones that are backed by scholarship. The comments on origin are often qualified, deservedly so, because the origins have been muddied or lost.
I have been working through several collections for my own enlightenment the last few days. Two are on line courtesy Mehlberg and his website, landmark works by Perrow and Odum, the latter devoted entirely to secular songs. The insistance on christianization had already affected much of the music heard in spirituals, and loss of nearly all of the pre-emancipation secular music.

The music in African-American collections has been modified to fit the European system of musical notation (the words were also modified to fit European schemes of rhyme and poetry). A reading of some careful early verbal descriptions shows just how far interpretations have departed from those of century and a half ago. Presentations of spirituals, even by African-American groups, often are completely Europeanized.

I don't know how you want to organize this thread (or threads), or what content you are looking for.

The older spirituals and few secular songs in Allen, Ware and McKim-Garrison already were Europeanized in order to fit the scale imposed on them. This week I received a copy of "Slave Songs of the United States" edited by the composer and arranger, Irving Schlein. He added piano accompaniment and chords, adding 'harmony for color.' A comparison of the melodic line in his sheet music and that in the original collection by Allen shows a number of slight, subtle changes- perhaps making the songs more singable, but departing even further from the versions as first heard by Allen et al.

Ali Farka Toure- a great musician, an excellent electric guitarist, trained in sound engineering, familiar with American blues and who has performed with Americans. I am afraid that much of his music is not pure 'Mali.' Great stuff, though.