The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2847956
Posted By: Charley Noble
23-Feb-10 - 03:38 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?

What you say about "Smith's attitude towards Blacks" certainly rings true. It's also evident to me that her attitude blinded her to the major contribution that the Gulf Port Black stevedores made to our inventory of shanties. Here's some more of what she had to say in A BOOK OF SHANTIES, p. 12:

"The usual arguement put forward in favour of the negroid derivation (of shanties) is the structure typical of the shanty-- the solo part with regularly recurring refrain, as in

'Whiskey is the life of man --
Whiskey, Johnie!'

which, incidentally, dates back, according to some authorities, some four centuries; that is, before Sir John Hawkins had laid the foundation stone of the trade in black ivory and hence of the negro population in the West Indies!

This structure, we are told, is precisely that found in negro songs, both on the plantations of the New World and in the black man's native continent. No doubt it is -- only, unfortunately for the convincingness of the theory, it is also typical of practically every kind of primitive verse form in the world...That is not to say that many of the shanties are not definitely 'nigger.' It would be strange if they were not: for, as it happens, a considerable number of those which survive belong to the mid-nineteenth century, when a flood of nigger minstrelry had poured over the land, and it was by no means necessary to go to the West Indies to find it."

Again, my major point is that Smith should have known more about the role of Black stevedores in the Gulf Port area in generating what we know as shanties (prior to the popularity of minstrel singing), and that her racism evidently blinded her to that realization.

It's also true and well-documented that there were White stevedores at work in the Gulf Ports, and they certainly played a major role by adopting the Black stevedore work chants and later adapting them to work at sea.

Charley Noble