The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2874276
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
28-Mar-10 - 08:17 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
(oops, messed up the HTML in my last post.)

In my reading of Dana, from a few days ago, I did not feel confident that what I envision to have been a new class of shipboard work songs (i.e. chanties) had necessarily been adopted (not developed, as per my hypothesis) -- not at least from the evidence of Dana -- in a major way, if at all.

Whereas my hypothesis is that a new paradigm for work-singing -- roughly corresponding to halyard songs, or "chanties," as they came to be known -- was borrowed from African-American practices, I don't feel confident, from these 1830s references, that that borrowing had yet occurred on a large scale. That is, the Afr-American forms existed (rowing, cotton stowing, and fireman's songs), but had yet to be widely incorporated on large sailing vessels.

However, I forgot to acknowledge the two songs mentions which there is some good reason to believe had African-American roots. One is "Round the Corner, Sally," which, as will be seen in later decades, was used by Black Americans for rowing and corn-shucking. There is no proof of where it originated, but, as I said, some good reason to associate it with that culture. The other song is "Grog Time a Day." Thanks to John M.'s critical inquiries and Lighter's scholarship, we know that Dana's original manuscript was supposed to have included "Grog Time of Day" (and not just "Round the Corner," but "Round the Corner, Sally). We have already fairly established "Grog Time" as a song popular through the Caribbean and performed by Blacks. I offer this possible reasoning for why the existence of "Grog Time" does not contradict my earlier interpretation.

"Grog Time" seems to have been widely known across cultures as, perhaps, a popular song in those days. My evidence for this is that a play, TELEMACHUS, OR, THE ISLAND OF CALYPSO (a play, republished in 1879) was first performed in 1834, which gives a stage direction for: "Music – Grog time of day, boys" Set off the coast of "a West India island." It is followed by newly composed lyrics follow. The song's appearance in another fictional work, TAR BRUSH SKETCHES by Benjamin Fiferail, 1836. (FWIW, Lighter says elsewhere, "Given the date, one can probably assume that "Fiferail's" is the song Dana heard. If so, it doesn't seem to have been a one-line, one-pull shanty. I suppose it would have belonged to capstan work.")

So, I argue, "Grog Time" had entered the sphere of "popular music," by then, as opposed to being just a "folk" song that one would only pick up from hearing a "folk" from Culture X singing it. As for "Round the Corner," I don't know. It is mainly Dana's description of the format of these songs, along with some of what he doesn't mention (i.e. whereas otherwise he is very descriptive) that leaves me skeptical that "chanties, proper" had by then a wide spread among seamen.

I don't have the figures at hand -- so please take this with salt for now -- but I seem to remember from the book BLACK JACKS (there are tables/stats in the appendix) that 1820s-1830s were some of the peak years for Blacks in the Euro-American sailing trade. I still think this must have had some bearing on how chanties came to be adopted. However, if the available evidence so far is not showing great influence of African-American songs on the shipboard work-songs, then perhaps either: 1) The idea is overstated or 2) references to the proper contexts are just not available -- In other words, these Black seamen may have brought their musical influence to the (fully rigged) packet ship trade, especially via Gulf Coast ports rather than to Boston-California brigs like Dana's!

I have to check out the since-added 1830s references, now, to see what they add to the picture.