The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2847552
Posted By: John Minear
23-Feb-10 - 08:47 AM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
&qI am intrigued by the possibility raised in Gibb's comments that a later category, namely "sea chanties" applied to all of the work songs on board a ship and even for the loading and unloading of a ship, may have obscured real differences in origin, time and location for the different kinds of work songs. I know it's debatable, but when did these work songs begin to be called "chanties"? And when was this label applied to everything being sung on board ship except the "forebitters" or "entertainment songs"? Captain Lowe, who went to sea in 1842, talks about the "chantey men", but his first reference is to the "hoosiers" in New Orleans and Mobile stowing cotton "and in the summer sailing in the packet ships".

I think that it is often the case, at least in my experience of academia, that later categories obscure earlier realities, and the categories take on a "misplaced concreteness" that gets substituted for earlier discrete particularities and details and real differences. What I would call Gibb's "functional" understanding of chanties makes some real distinctions between the "halyard" work songs and the "short drag", "capstan", and "pumping" work songs. Only later were they all lumped together as "chanties". He seems to me to be suggesting that "chanties, proper" were the "halyard" work songs. And he's making a very strong case for their origin: the African American work song.

I am finding these distinctions to be very helpful in rethinking this whole "genre" called "sea chanties". And, yes, I am also convinced that they were more originally "chants" than "shants", so I am switching my terminology to "chanties".