The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2840316
Posted By: John Minear
15-Feb-10 - 05:02 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Gibb, I appreciate your work and your insights. I like what you say about the possible Black origins of "South Australia" and I meant to include it because it shows up in Lydia Parrish's SLAVE SONGS OF THE GEORGIA SEA ISLANDS.   

I know I've seen your list and was trying to find it this morning but I couldn't put my hands on it. Is it in the "Rare Caribbean" thread? I'd like at least a link to that.

I'm a pluralist and I always like more than two alternatives, so the more categories the better, and if a song shows up in every one of them that's probably an important song, if my very arbitrary categories have any validity at all. I can easily imagine a song coming out of the cotton fields and down the rivers to New Orleans and being used on the docks by the Black stevedores, and being picked up by the Yankee/British/Irish packet guys down for the winter, and sailing back to Liverpool with the cotton, and then back to New York, just in time for the Gold Rush and off around Cape Horn to San Francisco, and then on board the "Julia Ann" and out to Sydney, where it meets its cousin coming from the other direction on an immigrant ship. I can't document any actual songs doing this from written historical records, but I can imagine it.   

Where I am "going" is an exercise in historical imagination. For me that means that while the content is fluid because we don't have any exact referents to speak of, the broader contexts are well-documented.   We actually know quite a bit about what was going on in the 19th century. That gives me the historical parameters for my imagination.

I doubt if "just any" or "all" of these shanties were crossing back and forth across the Pacific in the early 1850s. But some of them probably were. And there must be some ways to tighten the boundaries and say "more likely" this one than that one. But maybe that's not even possible. So then, I'll go for the possibility that this or that particular shanty family could have been around by such and such a time, and might have made it out to the West Coast.

I'm trying to imagine what it was like to make those voyages and most particularly, what it might have sounded like. Harlow does a remarkable job of giving such a picture for a time period 20 years after the "Julia Ann". That may be the closest I can come, but it's worth the effort to try to be a little more specific.

And also, where I am "going" is I am finally taking the opportunity to learn as much as I can about all of these shanties and their history in the 19th century.

I appreciate your statistics and your intuition that say "at least a good HALF of English language chanteys were of Black derivation to some degree."

[I had to interrupt this note to listen to my all time favorite group "The Carolina Chocolate Drops" on NPR. What a truly wonderful group and what a fine way to get in touch with a unique interpretation of some of the music that might just lie behind some of these shanties!]

I just got through looking at Bullen for a different purpose and now you've given me a different set of lens to take another look. I think that your "personal interpretation" rings true for me:

" that chanteys were born of a Black tradition -- African-American -- which no doubt in itself was the result of a culture combination that included English...but which nonetheless was distinct. The paradigm was adopted by others (non-Blacks) who had become acculturated to that culture. Once the *practice* and the model forms were adopted, they became a shell into which many more cultural influences and songs could be incorporated."