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Singing a song in first person- racial issue

MorwenEdhelwen1 07 Jun 11 - 10:25 PM
GUEST,mg 07 Jun 11 - 10:32 PM
Joe Offer 08 Jun 11 - 12:00 AM
Seamus Kennedy 08 Jun 11 - 01:15 AM
Darowyn 08 Jun 11 - 03:59 AM
Geoff the Duck 08 Jun 11 - 04:05 AM
Dave MacKenzie 08 Jun 11 - 04:30 AM
GUEST,Guest from Sanity 08 Jun 11 - 04:49 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 04:53 AM
Marje 08 Jun 11 - 05:00 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 05:02 AM
Geoff the Duck 08 Jun 11 - 05:14 AM
GUEST,Guest from Sanity 08 Jun 11 - 05:18 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 05:24 AM
GUEST,Grishka 08 Jun 11 - 05:48 AM
Musket 08 Jun 11 - 05:57 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 06:14 AM
GUEST,baz parkes 08 Jun 11 - 07:37 AM
Musket 08 Jun 11 - 07:43 AM
GUEST,Grishka 08 Jun 11 - 07:54 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 08:30 AM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Jun 11 - 08:32 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 08:34 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 08:38 AM
Dave MacKenzie 08 Jun 11 - 08:40 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 08:42 AM
GUEST,norman K jensen 08 Jun 11 - 10:41 AM
GUEST,mg 08 Jun 11 - 11:31 AM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Jun 11 - 12:02 PM
GUEST,Grishka 08 Jun 11 - 01:25 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 08 Jun 11 - 02:39 PM
GUEST,Dave in Michigan 08 Jun 11 - 02:49 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 05:27 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 08 Jun 11 - 05:52 PM
Joe_F 08 Jun 11 - 06:09 PM
Joe Offer 08 Jun 11 - 06:13 PM
Allan Conn 08 Jun 11 - 06:24 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Jun 11 - 01:36 AM
Gibb Sahib 09 Jun 11 - 04:38 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Jun 11 - 04:46 AM
GUEST,Ebor_Fiddler 09 Jun 11 - 05:02 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Jun 11 - 07:49 AM
An Buachaill Caol Dubh 09 Jun 11 - 03:25 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Jun 11 - 05:52 PM
Allan Conn 09 Jun 11 - 06:12 PM
Will Fly 10 Jun 11 - 12:30 PM
GUEST,Dave in Michigan 10 Jun 11 - 03:38 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Jun 11 - 05:45 PM
MGM·Lion 10 Jun 11 - 06:00 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Jun 11 - 06:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Jun 11 - 06:44 PM
Will Fly 11 Jun 11 - 03:41 AM
PHJim 11 Jun 11 - 01:38 PM
GUEST,Doug Saum 11 Jun 11 - 02:39 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 11 Jun 11 - 06:02 PM
GUEST,Allan Conn 11 Jun 11 - 07:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Jun 11 - 02:02 PM
Joe_F 12 Jun 11 - 05:55 PM
Dave MacKenzie 12 Jun 11 - 06:09 PM
Allan Conn 13 Jun 11 - 04:25 AM
Allan Conn 13 Jun 11 - 04:26 AM
Joe_F 13 Jun 11 - 08:53 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 20 Jun 11 - 11:17 PM
Dave MacKenzie 21 Jun 11 - 03:29 AM
MGM·Lion 21 Jun 11 - 03:40 AM
Dave MacKenzie 21 Jun 11 - 04:02 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 21 Jun 11 - 05:39 AM
GUEST,Long Lankin 21 Jun 11 - 08:14 AM
Amos 21 Jun 11 - 11:31 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 21 Jun 11 - 06:32 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 03 Jul 11 - 11:40 PM
Bobert 04 Jul 11 - 10:36 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Jul 11 - 09:23 PM
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GUEST,DonWise 13 Jul 11 - 05:59 AM
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matt milton 13 Jul 11 - 08:10 AM
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matt milton 13 Jul 11 - 09:12 AM
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GUEST 13 Jul 11 - 10:16 AM
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SharonA 13 Jul 11 - 10:39 AM
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Subject: Singing a song in first person- racial i
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 07 Jun 11 - 10:25 PM

Has anyone ever sung a song in first person where the narrator was of a different race? How did you handle it?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial i
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 07 Jun 11 - 10:32 PM

Many American songs are narrated by people of a different race and we just sing them. Nellie Gray, lots of Stephen Foster..Swanee River, Old Kentucky Home. What the songbooks do is give pictures that depict European Americans, often with mansions, but you listen to the words and they are people living in cabins etc...who of course could be EA, but in general I do not think they were. Just sing them respectfully. mg


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial i
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 12:00 AM

This is not exactly the issue Morwen is talking about, but I think the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess fits into this discussion well. Wikipedia says the first live performance was in 1935, with music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. It was based on DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy and his subsequent play Porgy and Bess, which he co-wrote with his wife Dorothy Heyward. All three works deal with African-American life in the fictitious Catfish Row (based on the area of Cabbage Row) in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s.

Heyward was born in 1885 in Charleston, South Carolina and was a descendant of Thomas Heyward, Jr., who was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of South Carolina - so I'm guessing Heyward was white. The play was written in "Negro dialect" (or the white conception thereof). The first movie production of Porgy and Bess was in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, and Diahann Carroll. Poitier and Dandridge did not do their own singing. As I understand it, the movie was terrible, particularly because it portrayed racially-stereotyped characters in a time when racial issues were becoming heated. Blacks were portrayed as oversexed, good-for-nothing gamblers who couldn't do "honest work." My understanding is that the Gershwin family disliked the movie so much, that the family did not allow its reissue on videotape or DVD.

A second movie was released in 1993, produced by BBC with a cast of unknown actors. I saw this production, and I really liked it. If was more of a televised stage play, not a full-blown movie. I'm getting a little hard of hearing, so I watched the movie with subtitles. What I found particularly interesting was that the subtitles were in "dialect," but the actors used only a hint of so-called dialect. For the most part, they spoke and sang in Standard American English.

I would suggest that when we sing "Negro" songs that are written in "dialect," we're better off to sing them in Standard American English.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Seamus Kennedy
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 01:15 AM

"I would suggest that when we sing "Negro" songs that are written in "dialect," we're better off to sing them in Standard American English."

Joe, I 'speck thass whut Ah'm gwine ter do too, if'n Ah'm a-gwine ter be singin' enny ob dem kind 'er songs.
An' also when Ah reads Bre'r Rabbit.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Darowyn
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 03:59 AM

Like this then? -
" Elderly man river, that elderly man river
He must know something, but he doesn't say anything
He just keeps rollin'-- rolling,
He just keeps rolling along.
He don't (buzzer) doesn't plant taters-- potatoes,
He doesn't plant cotton/cotting,
And then these/those that plants them are soon forgotting.
But elderly man river, he just keeps rolling along."
(Stan Freberg)

Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 04:05 AM

I seem to remember that when I was small I used to read the Brer Rabbit stories in a broad Yorkshire accent.
Actually I also have problems with when people who try to write forum postings or song lyrics in "Geordie" or "Scots". It just doesn't work! Fair enough to try to give a suitable spelling to real regional words, but in my part of Yorkshire, the words heard as "weeer" and "theeeeeer" are spelt where and there. There is no need to change the spelling - we KNOW how to pronounce them...
Quack!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 04:30 AM

I agree, Geoff. Most of the time when I write Scots I use standard English spellings, unless I'm highlighting a particular singer's pronunciation. There are problems, of course, when the English spelling is how the words would be pronounced in Scots, eg night, laugh, plough.

To return to the original point, I've been singing 'Bourgeois Blues' for half a century despite the fact that I'm only black (or dubh) in Scotland.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Guest from Sanity
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 04:49 AM

A LOT of the blues!... and I wouldn't worry about it, but when you perform it, it is important for you, and for the performance, to BE the character. If you do it WELL, it goes over well, and probably gains you respect. Remember, that is it is in the first person, the narrator probably is not going to be disrespectful to himself....so speak for him...BUT BE the character!!

Break a leg!

GfS


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 04:53 AM

So that means I can sing Lord Invader's version of "Brown Skin Girl" with the line "And the baby don't belong to the Negro race" without feeling just a bit funny? That's great.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Marje
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:00 AM

It's really a question about dialect rather than race, isn't it? I'm assuming that the singer speaks (approximately) the same language as the racially different person.

The only difference between this and other dialect issues is that it's more likely to be seen as patronising or offensive if a white person sings a song in a "negro" accent. To an extent the same applies to, say, a Londoner attempting to sing in a Geordie accent, but that is more likely to cause mirth than to cause offence.

Now I think about it, it happens all the time in popular music, though, doesn't it? Many of the traits of musical style, accent and dialect used in R&B, blues, and jazz are derived from black music and speech, but that doesn't stop white singers from trying to sound black. Is traditional song different, I wonder? And if so, why?

Marje


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:02 AM

Dave MacKenzie, isn't "Bourgeois Blues" written from the POV of Lead Belly? If you're singing it, that means as GfS says about being the character, you are being Lead Belly for a while. And that means that I'm playing Lord Invader for a while, too, when I'm singing that song (Brown Skin Girl).


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:14 AM

A lot of it has to do with respect - for the song, for the character, and in some cases for yourself. It can depend on the song. In some cases an oppressed group has enough in common with a different oppressed group, so the underlying spirit of the song transfers easily.
There are some songs I would happily sing but there are others, that are specific to a particular struggle, where I would feel that I was being patronising. I am culturally and racially too far removed from being a black South African to feel comfortable singing certain types of first person song. This doesn't mean I didn't fully support their position aginst apartheid.
Only you can make a decision as to where you stand with a specific song.
Quack!
GtD.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Guest from Sanity
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:18 AM

Just sing the shit out of it..do it right, do it as if you ARE the character! The people came to hear the song, not to make racial/political judgements about you. Blow them away, with your rendition! Practice till you ARE black. Believe me, you will only gain their respect and admiration.

GfS


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:24 AM

As a Chinese-Australian with a great respect for Lord Invader, his singing and the tradition (I've previously stated that I want to be a calypsonian), I believe that this song is alright, really. The real issue is the line, "You can see I'm a fellow with a funny face, and the baby don't belong to the Negro race."


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:48 AM

Let's face it: most time we sing any song, we would be guilty of perjury if we pronounced the lyrics under oath. This even applies to situations of affirmation, such as Church hymns. In other songs, the singer normally acts the role of someone in quite a different situation (currently). Acting must not be overdone, such as men singing falsetto in the role of women.

The more difficult question is about cultural authenticity, in particular for public performances. If you sing, say, a Chinese song about a girl, it won't be of much help to look authentic, if you otherwise betray your different cultural background (just assumed for sake of an example, not meant personally in any sense).

In such cases, acting should be even more "abstract", unless you are actually playing theatre, e.g. Porgy & Bess or Puccini's Turandot. "Abstract" means: reduced to the point of the song. Not always easy.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Musket
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:57 AM

I've sung a few old blues songs before. I have to admit, the voice does lose the South Yorkshire / North Derbyshire somewhat and is in danger of sounding a bit transatlantic..

I suppose it is similar to, when as a volunteer hospital radio presenter back in the '70s, I may have been guilty of playing the latest offering by "Zed Zed Top". Once I found out that in The USA, they pronounce it Zee, I was quite comfortable saying Zee Zee Top without wondering if people thought I was about to eat turkey a few weeks before Xmas and visit Vietnam with strong weedkiller.

Race? Howsabout gender? If I sing a song written for a woman to sing, I say I am about to sing as a woman. Very badly. A couple of reasons...


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 06:14 AM

If I sing an old South Chinese peasant song, I'll look the part (my ancestors are all originally from South China and were nearly all peasants) but I won't be able to speak (or even sing) the language, so that would be an issue! :). But I've got no problem singing as a man in songs, so I guess pretending to be Invader for a bit wouldn't hurt :).


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,baz parkes
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 07:37 AM

Can blue men sing the whites...?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Musket
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 07:43 AM

Or have they ever tried to sing in tune?

Bringing a canine dimension to the debate...


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 07:54 AM

Morwen, what I wanted to say is: don't pretend to be His Lordship, just act the narrating figure to the extent necessary to make the point of the song.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:30 AM

You mean the Invader? Huh, well I don't know if it is "him" as in "him" himself and not a persona that's singing the song. I'm reminded of my first singing teacher who was teaching another girl at the same time as I was there for my lesson at school. She was saying "Don't try to be Norah Jones." (This girl was singing Norah Jones).


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:32 AM

Of course when Irish singers sing a song from another part of the world in their own accents, they are liable to be accused of a kind of cultural imperialism, trying to make people believe it was an Irish song to start with...


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:34 AM

Grishka, the distinction is that if it *is* Invader who is meant to be singing the song, then this Australian will have to *act* him for the period of the song.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:38 AM

That could almost be another thread; singing a song in which the original singer/composer's name is mentioned.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:40 AM

Personally, when I sing a song, I am the song.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 08:42 AM

"And she said, "Lord Invader, not because you sung "Rum and Coco-Cola", Don't bother if you know you ain't got that Yankee dollar." What about those types of situations?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,norman K jensen
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 10:41 AM

I remember that I read the Pearl Baily really resented Porgy and Bess because of the use of dialect. She was answered by some wag who suggested that "It is not necessarily so" is not an improvement over "It ain't necessarily so."

I sang "Luck ole Sun" once and never even thoughtt about it. got lots of compliments from a racially mixed audience. I think respect for the song is what works best.

On a different note (get it?) I have wondered about gender issues when the words are specifically about "Her" or "Him" in love songs. Most love songs are understood to be about the opposite sex, but what about the singer who happens to be gay? Should he or she make the gender fit his or her orientation? I have not worked this out yet. Sometimes I think it's best to adopt the attitude that the singer is an actor playing a part and just stick to the script. At other times I want to make a bit of a fuss.
Any thoughts?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 11:31 AM

Re gender..My thoughts are to sing it exactly as you learned it and do not change it..unless you find out that someone else changed it before and you change it back to the original or more common usage. It really messes with songs and usually makes them worse. mg


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 12:02 PM

Or maybe, sing it as you remember it, which may not be quite how you learnt it. We do a bit of editing subconsciously sometimes which makes us feel more at home in singing a song.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Grishka
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 01:25 PM

As we all know, transgendered cover versions are absolutely common in pop music, which includes singer-songwriter songs. Even transracialized songs occur: "There is a rose in Black and Spanish Harlem ..." Sometimes it works well, sometimes not so well - when conventional roles and clichés are alluded to, or real cultural gaps exist.

As far as I know, genuine folk songs, though otherwise readily "processed", are rarely transgendered, since they are felt to come with fat quotation marks anyway.

For performing any music publicly, one must have some good reason that is understood by the audience.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 02:39 PM

I would suggest that when we sing "Negro" songs that are written in "dialect," we're better off to sing them in Standard American English.쳌 -Joe-

Hooray for Seamus Kennedy.

One might rightly discern that I disagree with Joe, and pretty much agree with what Seamus wrote, even if he might have been ironic.

First, dialectal (and most) stereotypes have their roots in reality...that is, some folks in a group actually do/did speak in the 'offending'쳌 dialect or pronunciation. So, in the songs of Foster, or the stories of Joel Chandler Harris, the patois was basically being transcribed. Is this jarring to modern sensibilities? Probably to some. Is it meant to offend? That's a more difficult question. If a Klan member sang in dialect, it is likely meant to demean; if Joe Offer so sang, it probably (certainly?) is not meant to offend.

Personally, I like dialect. I enjoy Jewish (in Yiddish or English) songs and jokes, and I enjoy them more if they have the cadence and pronunciation of the shetl Jew. I like Connie Francis' version of 'My Yiddische Mama,'쳌 but I really appreciate Sophie Tucker's or the Barry Sisters' version of that song much better.

A few years ago I tried reading one of the original Hopalong Cassidy cowboy novels. I finally gave up because the author, Clarence Mulhall, was slavishly recreating stereotypical cowboy lingo, making it too hard for me to read , although to an audience not far removed from the days of the trail drive it was clearly understandable.

Finally, I think context should guide whether or not to use dialect or stereotypical langusge. If one is recreating an era--a history of the ante-bellum south, for instance--the use of dialect is reasonable. If one is performing a musical potpourri, perhaps it would be better to use more standard English when singing songs which might otherwise offend.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Dave in Michigan
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 02:49 PM

Morwen, the Calypsonians were famous for their ability to adjust lyrics on the fly to make them more topical, so IMO you would be true to your adopted tradition if you adjusted the lyrics to be a better fit to yourself than to, say, Lord Invader. (Extra bonus points if you adjust then to the persona of, say, Darth N Vader, should you feel so inclined.)


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:27 PM

Dave from Michigan, just to get technical, the calypsonians *are*, not *were* known for adjusting lyrics on the fly. But then the problem becomes, how to think of lyrics that scan and rhyme?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 05:52 PM

And just to add another thing, they are also known for improvising verses- the melody coming with the words. That's another thing that's difficult for me.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Joe_F
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 06:09 PM

Of course, if I sing "Take This Hammer", I don't spoil the rhyme by translating "gwine" into my dialect.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 06:13 PM

I think there's a thin line here. Much of what was written in the past as "Negro dialect" was racially-stereotyped, and often inaccurate. Did black people ever actually say "gwine," or was that a white misconception?

I grew up in Wisconsin. When I tell people that, they put on what they think is a Wisconsin accent and pronounce it "Wiscansin. They say that's the way Wisconsinites talk, but I never heard a Wisconsinite talk that way. And while they insist that the "o" in Wisconsin is pronounced by the locals like a short "a," they never seem to notice that the locals pronounce "Milwaukee" with a silent "l" - muh-WOK-kee or MWOK-kee.

I think it's fine and necessary to put on a slight ethnic affectation when singing a song from another culture - but still I think it's important to avoid racial and ethnic stereotypes. It would be ridiculous to render "Old Man River" in a way other than "he don't say nothin.'" To my mind, "he don't say nothin'" falls within the broad spectrum of Standard American English - but the "shuck and jive" stereotyped dialect of blackface minstrel songs and of early movies (Amos & Andy, and the black dancer in early Shirley Temple movies, for example) is downright offensive. Despite what John on the Sunset Coast may think, much pre-1960 "Negro dialect" is a stereotyped and denigrating caricature that is very weakly rooted in reality. Interestingly, that exaggerated "dialect" was often used even by black performers before 1960.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Allan Conn
Date: 08 Jun 11 - 06:24 PM

"Actually I also have problems with when people who try to write forum postings or song lyrics in "Geordie" or "Scots"."

Scots does have it's own traditional spelling conventions which differ from English though. Then there are people (ie Tom Leonard etc) who don't use the traditional Scots spelling but instead write phonetically to reproduce a certain accent. Not sure which one you have trouble with or if it's both.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 01:36 AM

Anyone else want to talk about this issue?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 04:38 AM

Did black people ever actually say "gwine," or was that a white misconception?
"Gwine" (just as "de" for "the") is standard in current Jamaican (majority Black population) dialect. Black American dialects have changed a lot over the years. What may have been an honest attempt at description/transcription, at one point in time...once set down in print form, may have been reproduced (guessed at) without finesse or understanding in later (e.g. Amos and Andy) times, and with negative intent.

I grew up in Wisconsin. When I tell people that, they put on what they think is a Wisconsin accent and pronounce it "Wiscansin."
I believe you when you say it, but there has also been going on the famous Northern Cities Vowel Shift in the last many decades (possibly since you left the area?) which is typified by that pronunciation and reflected in what people have heard in recent years -- At least it is what they have heard *different* in Wisconsin (which probably applies just to the areas affected by the shift).

Lots of on-going changes... Which begs the question if singers are also expected to be historians!


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 04:46 AM

Gibb, what is your opinion of singing a song where the narrator is of a different race?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Ebor_Fiddler
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 05:02 AM

Surely the colour of a man's skin does not make him belong any the less to human race? It might be different if he was green and of small stature.

Chris.

PS:
1) In the old English Law term "Male embraces female".
2) Surely "Standard American English" is dialect (ie not Yorkshire Speak)
C.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 07:49 AM

This has nothing to due with racial attitudes and more to do with the discomfort of me singing a song through the point of view of someone who is both different from me in sex/gender (male while I am female) and of a different racial background (Black West Indian, while I am Chinese Australian). I have no problem singing songs clearly narrated by men, and I have a great respect for the original singer, but when these two combine there is an uncomfortable feeling.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 03:25 PM

If you're uncomfortable with a song, don't sing it. While I wouldn't have any difficulty with adopting a persona in some songs (I'm not a whaler, soldier, &C), I consciously avoid any song which requires me to inform everyone that "Me name is Paddy Leary...", or "O'Hanlon", although "The Bard of Armagh" I've been singing for decades. Curious.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 05:52 PM

Another funny thing, "Jean and Dinah" by the Mighty Sparrow which includes the line, "Only West Indians like me or you, go in to get a drink or two" is not as much of a problem for me as this version of "Brown Skin Girl". Maybe I just need to get over the discomfort and realise that most people will be aware of the concept of "slipping into a persona" for the duration of a song.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Allan Conn
Date: 09 Jun 11 - 06:12 PM

"what is your opinion of singing a song where the narrator is of a different race?"

Surely as long as one is treating songs from another culture with the respect they deserve then there is no problem? I think it is more about culture rather than race. I mean we wouldn't say to a black Scottish person that they shouldn't feel comfortable singing trad Scottish songs because they are a different race? Would we!


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Will Fly
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 12:30 PM

I very occasionally sing Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown And White" but, because I'm not Broonzy and have never felt the racial discrimination described in the song, I change the words. So, instead of me being the black narrator of the song and describing what happens to me in it, I recount what I've been told by the black narrator.

For example:

Original
I went down to the employment office,
Got a ticket and stood in line.
They was callin' everybody's number,
But they never did call mine.


My changed version
Bill went down to the employment office,
Got a ticket and stood in line.
He said, "They was callin' everybody's number,
But they never did call mine".


A subtle but important change for me. I can recount the experience without the pretense of being the narrator. Why do I sing the song? Because I like it and it makes a social point that's not dated.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Dave in Michigan
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 03:38 PM

Allan Conn wrote: "we wouldn't say to a black Scottish person that they shouldn't feel comfortable singing trad Scottish songs because they are a different race?"

[tongue in cheek] I think that we will have become truly enlightened when a black Scottish person can sing a trad Scottish song expressing centuries-old hatred for the English, and a black English person, hearing it, can be offended. That's true assimilation, on both sides. [removes tongue from cheek]

Standing back a few light-years from the specifics, I hope that human individuals learn to internally question any call to identify with a group; but I'm not holding my breath in expectation of this (disidentification) becoming fashionable any time soon.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 05:45 PM

Will Fly, that;'s a good idea- but how would you do something like that with a song like that version of "Brown Skin Girl"? It would be a bit difficult.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 06:00 PM

When I have a woman-singing song, I often do much as Will did re Black Brown White ~~ instead of starting, e.g.

"I am a young girl and my fortune is bad,
I've always been courted by the wagoner's lad",

I render it as,

"There is a young girl and her fortune is bad;
She said 'I've always...".

...Can then continue with the song verbatim, having 'distanced' the narrator.

Not sure if that would work with Brown Skin Girl, but some such expedient could presumably be devised.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 06:11 PM

OK, have just thought of something that *might* work: A verse beginning:
"There's a calypsonian from Port-of-Spain
And Lord Invader is his name".

Comments? Haven't made up the rest yet.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Jun 11 - 06:44 PM

a trad Scottish song expressing centuries-old hatred for the English

None come to mind, and the same goes for Ireland. Being against occupation and suchlike isn't the same as hating people of another nation.

As Percy French put it "When we've got all we want, we're as quiet as can be".


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Will Fly
Date: 11 Jun 11 - 03:41 AM

Will Fly, that;'s a good idea- but how would you do something like that with a song like that version of "Brown Skin Girl"? It would be a bit difficult.

No problem. Either I wouldn't sing it in public, or I would change the words from (for example) "I" to "He", as in:

"He got a gang of brownskin women,
He got a bunch of high yellers too..." etc.

It's the same, hoary old argument about what's appropriate/inappropriate for a person to sing. In the end, we all sing what moves us because we love it, and the devil take the hindmost. I don't often indulge in pretending to be a poor black sharecropper who's just been released from the Farm - any more than I often pretend to be a tarry-headed sailor hauling on a capstan. I prefer to sing mainly light fluff from the 1920s and 1930s, though I can be induced to perform Jimmie Rodger's "Waiting For A Train" if someone thrusts a tenor guitar into my hand.

Anyway, must go now - I have to give my toteloader to who I please...


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: PHJim
Date: 11 Jun 11 - 01:38 PM

The first song I can recall singing in a female voice was House Of The Rising Sun. It never bothered me till The Animals recorded it and changed the sex of the narrator to male. Not only did the song lose a lot of its meaning, but people who knew the song from The Animals would ask me,"Why did you change it to a woman's song?"
While I am not uncomfortable singing in character, I don't sing songs in dialect, because I don't feel comfortable doing them.
I don't feel bad about singing murder ballads in the voice of the murderer. I'm playing a part.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Doug Saum
Date: 11 Jun 11 - 02:39 PM

Another race? Beside human? DS


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Jun 11 - 06:02 PM

Well, PHJim, I sing songs in dialect. I love dialect, especially Caribbean, so I like to sing "Day-O" (also known as "The Banana Boat Song", "The Banana Loaders' Song", "Day Dah Light" and "Day De Light") in its traditional version, which uses a lot of Jamaican patois. I was singing it last night (it's June 12 here in Australia) and my brother asked me what "Mi come yah fi wuk, mi no come yah fi idle" meant.
(It's Jamaican patois for "I come here to work, not to laze around".)


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Allan Conn
Date: 11 Jun 11 - 07:11 PM

"It never bothered me till The Animals recorded it and changed the sex of the narrator to male"

I don't think the Animals changed it out of choice. I'm sure I remember it was because their record company (or someone of influence anyway) thought it would be not played or even banned because of the words being about a prostitute!


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 02:02 PM

So the song becomes one about a client of a prostitute instead - how would that be significantly different? It seems more likely that the change was made for other reasons, such as those discussed in this thread.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Joe_F
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 05:55 PM

McGrath: "Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 06:09 PM

"Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"?

When I sing it, I dedicate it to politicians everywhere.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Allan Conn
Date: 13 Jun 11 - 04:25 AM

"McGrath: "Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"?"

I always took the term 'parcel of rogues' as actually referring to the Scots who were bought and sold - rather than the English themselves.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Allan Conn
Date: 13 Jun 11 - 04:26 AM

" how would that be significantly different?"

Aye that is a good point right enough :-)


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Joe_F
Date: 13 Jun 11 - 08:53 PM

Allan Conn: The comment on the text in the DigiTrad agrees with you. However, in the context of the first stanza at least --

Now Sark runs to the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England's province stands
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

-- it seems pretty unambiguously to refer to England.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 20 Jun 11 - 11:17 PM

Refresh.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 03:29 AM

"-- it seems pretty unambiguously to refer to England."

But only up to the third line. The fourth line unambiguously refers to the relevant Commissioners to the Scottish Parliament.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 03:40 AM

I haven't quite worked out why this thread has become one exclusively dedicated to discussion of one song, A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation; nor, for that matter, what this song has to do specifically with the topic of the thread.

Can anyone enlighten me as to the reason for this drift and the connection, please?

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 04:02 AM

At some point, someone suggested that this was an anti-English song, and everyone else went home to bed.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 05:39 AM

Can we get back to the original topic, please?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Long Lankin
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 08:14 AM

Getting back to the original question - if you are not comfortable singing a song because of its sentiment, language etc then don't do it.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Amos
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 11:31 AM

I have sung many songs that could be called "darky" songs, and it does not bother me at all to do so--I sing songs of Irish rebellion although ! never rattled a pike; I do not like fishing, but I sing songs of fishing; I have ridden horses and rounded up cattle, once, but never made a living at it, but I do not mind singing cowboy tunes--I enjoy them heartily. I have never been pregnant but have no reservation about singing "Careless Love".

It strikes me that the performance of a song must be done largely on its own terms, its own merits, and if you have insufficient empathy to do that, you should probably stick to your own ethnic niche. Unfortunately, this would limit me to Grace Kelley and Pat Boone top-of-the-charts, a total of about four songs.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 06:32 PM

For clarification, here are the lines from the calypso in question:
"You can see that I am a fellow with a funny face,
And the baby don't belong to the Negro race."

That said, I believe Dave in Michigan's suggestion of adjusting the lyrics to fit myself is the best one on the list. But the problem is how to think of lyrics that scan and rhyme?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 03 Jul 11 - 11:40 PM

Refresh.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Bobert
Date: 04 Jul 11 - 10:36 PM

Hey, just about all the songs I do are ol' country blues songs I learned directly or indirectly from ol' black bluesmen... I never give it any thought... But I feel very much comfy with 'um... It's who I am...

B~


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Jul 11 - 09:23 PM

BTW, again, it has absolutely nothing to do with empathy or dialect- I'm fine singing "Day De Light, "Cudelia Brown", and "Mattie Rag", in dialect, for example,and this particular song has no dialect in it. The problem is with an explicit racial reference to the colour of the singer's skin. If I were performing it in public, I'd have a problem with singing the quoted lines as they were written. In contrast, the narrator of "Jean and Dinah" is never explicitly identified as Black- in the original version he is identified as "Sparrow" i.e. the Mighty Sparrow, who is Black but using himself to represent Trinidadian men who now have a chance with the women as the prices have dropped- but the only reference to his background is as "West Indian"- a national reference instead of a racial one.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Muppett
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 04:47 AM

Surely if a song is in the public domain, anyone can sing them, regardless of your Ethnic background, surely it's the same as saying you shouldn't speak French unless you're French !!!!!!!!!!!!1


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 05:01 AM

A language is different from a song. BTW this song is not in the public domain.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,DonWise
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 05:59 AM

To me, the issue is- can I identify with / get into the story being told? If I can, then the origin of the song, racial or otherwise, is secondary. Only if I feel that the dialect is too strong, too 'stagey' for me e.g. 'Freedom Come-all-Ye', 'Little Chance', do I leave the song alone.

One can also take the attitude, "The old guys down the pub never bothered much about the origins- gender, race, nationality- of the songs they sang so why should I? As long as it's a good song, a strong story I can get into, the dialect is not too 'over the top', then why shouldn't I sing it?"

As to adapting the lyrics in terms of rhyme and scan- try writing songs and you'll get the hang of it. For what it's worth (taking the lines as they are given above, totally out of context):-

'You can see that I am a fellow with a funny face
And the (my?) baby won't win any modelling race'

Having a 'funny face' is not, per se, necessarily racial.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 06:15 AM

DonWise, the "baby" is an actual baby- the child that the narrator's girlfriend is forcing on him. I suppose I might try writing a few calypso lyrics when I have the time but FWIW, here's the full song:
Brown Skin Girl
(Lord Invader-covered by the Mighty Terror)

1. What's wrong with you, Miss Ivy, girl?
Why are you trying to trap me with that baby?
What's wrong with you, Miss Ivy, girl?
Why are you trying to trap me with that baby?
We only got friendly in September,
And the baby was born in November.

Girl you can't fool me like that,
Tell me how a monkey can make a cat!
(So we singin' bout)

Cho: Brown skin girl, stay home and mind baby,
Brown skin girl, stay home and mind baby.
I'm going away on a sailing boat,
And if I don't come back
Stay home and mind baby

2. Now this is something that a blind can see,
That the baby ain't belong to me,
You know that I am a fellow with a funny face,
And the baby don't belong to the Negro race.
If she go to America,
She compelled to find the right father.
So girl, don't worry with me,
You can't tie me up with that blue-eyed baby.
(chorus)

3. Yes, Ivy, girl, you made an error,
To be in love with that Yankee feller.
You thought he really come here to live,
It is better you had met a native.
You said they come here for ninety-nine years,
And they leave you with that baby shedding tears,
And now you want me to pay the tax,
Go cut down the tree where you grind your axe.
(Chorus)


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 06:33 AM

BTW, he is discussing why he cannot be the father of this woman's child. In this case, removing the "Negro" reference does not take away anything from the song- it is about a "brown-skin girl" - light-skinned mixed-race girl of Black/White ancestry- who attempts to trap the "Trini" (Trinidadian) calypsonian, who is African-Trinidadian, with her child (conceived with a White American soldier) and the persona is giving her the brush-off because it "ain't belong to me". In other cases, removing the racial references would take something away. The explicit gender doesn't matter to me as this is one that loses something when in third person. However it might to other girls/women.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: matt milton
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 08:10 AM

I sing In The Pines, after Leadbelly's "Black Girl". But there's no way I'd sing the lyric as "Black girl, black girl, where'd you sleep last night?"; I sing it as "Little girl, little girl... etc etc. That's a pretty uncomplicated decision, rendered even less problematic by the fact that plenty of bluegrass singers sing "In the Pines" as "little girl" anyway.

As long as racism is a big deal (which it still is), then details about skin colour in songs written by black people are always going to be too poignant and redolant for a white person to sing without sounding crass.

If we lived in a world in which racial distinctions were utterly devoid of any kind of historical/pejorative/hierarchical charge, then it would be different: song references to skin colour would be as arbitrary and banal as a simple descriptive colour term.

But we don't live in that world yet: we live in a world in which people are still stabbed to death because of their race.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 08:49 AM

Matt, I am not White. I am Chinese- how would you, as a White person sing the lyrics on the 6.15 AM post? I think that singing the chorus "Brown skin girl, stay home and mind baby" is fine for me, to me it's a "valueless colour descriptor"- some Chinese people are naturally brown-skinned- but how would you handle it and the lines quoted, with an explicit reference to the narrator's skin?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 08:58 AM

And the point of the song is that there's no way the baby is his.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: matt milton
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 09:12 AM

Well, I think it helps that you're female. Those words coming from the mouth of a *woman* put much more of a contextual spin on the song (irrespective of skin colour). Because it draws attention to the fact that the real victim of the song is the girl, not the guy. It's also - like a lot of Caribbean songs of that time - got a lot to say about American military interests, and colonialisation and money and, depending on your perspective, rape.

I'd sing it as it is if I were you. How do you feel about potentially singing the words "the baby don't belong to the Negro race" to an audience of Trinidadians though? (I'm not stirring, just rasing it as a potentially uncomfortable moment)


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 09:17 AM

I'd change the lyrics- I *am* an aspiring calypsonian.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 09:46 AM

BTW Matt, not trying to imply anything, but not all Trinidadians are Black. And I would assume that the audience (if you mean Trinidadians living there and not overseas) would understand what I was trying to do- unlike the popular version of "Rum and Coca-Cola", this is not sanitised. Also FWIW, I would love to sing this as is and still make it my own, and also although the girl is Trinidadian, the situation is basically the same as the one behind the plot of "Miss Saigon" and in a way it is about the actions of American soldiers in a lot of foreign countries during WWII and earlier and later conflicts.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 10:16 AM

Sure. But, according to Wikipedia, some 77% are, with only 0.3% of Trinidad's population being ethnically European. When I said 'audience', I meant the people in the same room as you listening to you sing. Am I wrong in assuming that the calypsonians you're hoping to learn from/sing with are black (or mixed race black)?

"Negro" has become, thankfully, an archaism. But while it's not quite as shattering a word as "nigger", it's pretty damn close, whether speaking etymologically, historically or practically. I singled out that line because I think that some words are just so highly charged that I can't think of any good reason any non-black person ought to use them in any circumstance other than reluctant quotation. It goes beyond context or intent of the person using that word (And, while a song is "quotation", it's not "reluctant", it's enthusiastically entered into.)

Of course, art isn't about "good reasons", and there always remains a place for a strategic, sensitive, informed breaking of taboos... Play it by ear.

As I said, I'd sing it if I were you.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 10:38 AM

No, you're not wrong about that. I agree with you on the audience thing. I just wasn't sure *which* audience, if you meant immigrants or not,or if you meant it in a general sense. Thanks for the clarification that you meant people in a calypso tent or concert hall. I would think at least a significant percentage of people of a single nationality in a single room would be old enough to understand deeply- some even *remember* what the song is talking about, as well as hearing the word "Negro", and in the case of Black Trinidadians, using it to describe themselves. This is not saying that it believe intent is all that matters, or that you can't hurt people if you have good intentions. Just that I believe a lot of people, on hearing those words, would understand what it was referring to and in what context the word was being used. I would probably still use an introduction though.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: SharonA
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 10:39 AM

MorwenEdhelwen1, I admire your tenacity with respect to your attempts to keep this thread conversation on topic! However, I'm sure you've noticed that Mudcatters are fond of "thread drift" and of working multiple sub-topics into a thread, just as people would do in a face-to-face conversation, so please don't be disgruntled when folks take the conversation in new directions!

With that said, let's get back to your topic. Your original questions (in your first post) were: "Has anyone ever sung a song in first person where the narrator was of a different race? How did you handle it?" Since then, you've made it clear that you are concerned specifically with discomfort when singing lyrics that are denigrating to people of a different race, and with the possibility of giving offense to those people as you are singing these lyrics.

So, how do you handle it? Well, my answer, as an American of Western European Descent, or European-American, or Anglo-American, or Caucasian, or any term but "white" (which I think is just as divisive and objectifying a term as "high yeller" in identifying one's race by referring to the color of one's skin), is: It all depends on the venue in which you are singing the song.

Here's an anecdote, as an example...

The local folk song society of which I am a member (and current President) is located in a part of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that is semi-rural -- you have to drive past the farms to get to the McMansions, and vice versa -- and we have monthly meetings that often include a song circle where each person sings one song based (however loosely) on the theme of the month. Usually it is a song that that person has chosen beforehand and rehearsed. Virtually all of the members, with few exceptions, are Americans of European Descent (some Jewish, some Protestant, a Quaker or two, etc.). We feel comfortable singing songs in which the narrator is of a different race or gender or religious orientation, and we have some members who sing sea chanties, etc., that include offensive references to people of a different race or gender. We all understand that we would never walk up to someone on the street and say such offensive words to that person but, in the meetings, we create a "safe" environment in which we can keep traditional songs from being forgotten forever by singing them as they were written. Nobody from that group would think of going to North Philadelphia or West Philadelphia and announce that they were about to play "Coonie in the Holler" while busking on the street -- it would be a good way to get yourself beaten up or shot, because those places are not safe environments in which to say anything with "coon" in it, whether it's about a raccoon or not. (Segue: On the other hand, "Oh dem golden slippers" is the unofficial theme song of the Mummers bands who parade through "bad" sections of Philly every New Year's Day, and audiences of all races cheer them on loudly when the song is played.)

One month, a couple of our folk song society members brought a guest to the meeting who is of African descent (African-American, I think, though he may have been a citizen of another country). He had been visiting this couple, and he was at the meeting specifically to hear the song they would sing in the circle. While the circle was in progress, another member sang what is commonly called a "coon song" (this one was about how a woman's dancing on stage was exciting to men). Let me emphasize that the woman chose this song several days before the meeting and had rehearsed it (and I should mention that she is Jewish), so she wasn't singing it with the intention of offending our guest... and I'm sure she never thought there might be a "person of color" at the meeting when she chose the song! Our guest never said a word or even looked angry or upset; he just listened politely, as everyone else did. I think he understood that when one goes to a folk song society meeting, one is going to hear folk songs, and I think he understood that the lyrics of any folk song sung at such a meeting do not automatically reflect the sentiments of the singer.

The Planning Committee of the club did receive one email of complaint afterward, from an elderly man who said he was horrified, but no one else thought the situation was that terrible. Still, we had a long conversation about which was more offensive, authentic lyrics or censorship, and this resulted in an article we put in the club's newsletter about using "good taste" when choosing songs for the circle. Here is an excerpt of that article:

"[Name of the Society] as an organization, and the Society's Planning Committee, decidedly do not want to censor anybody, and we will not tell people what they can and cannot sing. Still, we are a family-friendly group, and we want to make people of all ages and backgrounds feel welcome in our community. So, in general, it is wise to refrain from sharing songs that are overtly sexual in nature, or that denigrate any particular social classifications of people. Of course, we all enjoy a little innuendo, and we all like satire, which is bound to insult somebody. So, it requires some consideration to decide what is 'in bounds' and what is not, and sometimes we will disagree among ourselves about levels of offensiveness. Please use good judgment and at least make certain that YOU think your song is appropriate.

"Despite all these suggestions, if you, personally, are offended by someone else's song, please draw that individual aside after the meeting and discuss the song with him/her one-on-one. We trust that each person in such a discussion will be respectful of the opinion of the other.

"The Circle is a fabulous time of sharing and enjoying an astounding variety of music. Each Circle is a unique experience that enlivens our meeting, and keeps us coming back time after time. Let's all nurture it as best we can. Thanks."


Personally, I felt that such a capitulation made our "safe" environment a little less safe a place to sing the folk song of one's choice. I would have preferred that we simply ask people to preface their chosen song with a comment such as: "This song has a lyric you might find offensive, but the lyric is authentic to the song and to the time in which it was written." This could be followed by a thank-goodness-those-times-have-changed sort of disclaimer, if necessary. That, to answer your question, is how I would handle it.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Jul 11 - 10:45 AM

Thanks, SharonA!


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST,Don Wise
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 06:24 AM

@MorwenEdelwhen 1:
surely it also depends upon what your 'take' on what is obviously a mans' song is, and on how you 'sell' it to your audience. Looking at the text it's a case of "I wish I was Single Again" meets "Billie Jean" with a hefty dose of prejudice and discrimination thrown in for good measure. On the surface, it's a 'black/white' story, but underneath it's representative for a world-wide problem. Whether Asian,native Australian, native American,jewish,moslem, christian etc. etc.,the basic story is the same, whether we're talking about the Caribbean, Australasia, Europe or wherever. The story/problem is well known in western Europe where immigrants with very conservative, almost tribal, backgrounds from Turkey and the arab countries are faced with modern, permissive, western society. However, the outcome over here is often much more serious- if she's lucky, the woman suffers serious GBH and is thrown out of the family/tribe, the worst case is a so-called 'honour murder'.(I will never understand why male/family honour depends so much upon the virginity of the daughters...)If the woman survives the GBH and the family rejection, she still has to face the possible/probable rejection by the lover and/or his family. If I were to sing a song like this then, irrespective of its origins, I would plug it as the best song I'd come across which illustrated the problems of discrimination and prejudice ( and male attitudes?) on a communal level. Otherwise- see SharonA.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 06:28 AM

Matt's post raises another interesting point. "Jean and Dinah", another song with similar themes, is also one of my favourites- the melody as well as the words. I happen to like singing it as well and I feel that when I sing it, it takes on a whole new meaning, emphasising the context. "Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina, round the corner posing, bet your life it's somethin' they sellin. "


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 06:40 AM

For added "something", pair up "Jean and Dinah" with "Fan Me Soldier Man" and "House of the Rising Sun" or "Marianne". DonWise, I suppose you mean the anti-American sentiment of the song. I'd say pretty much the same thing that you said.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:02 AM

I confess that I see no problem. I wrote, and perform, "Thieves of Innocence" in the first person, supposedly as an African child soldier. I find that being a middle-aged caucasian Greek poses no obstacle, as I feel strongly enough about the subject that I can associate and empathise with it. Heck, as far as I am concerned I am an African child soldier. I even know what I look like - the scared Congolese 10-year old that I once saw being interviewed (which led me to write the song in the first place).

I thing the key is one's ability to empathise. Not simulate, not pretend, not dress-up-as, not act. Empathy is the answer.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:07 AM

Political correctness gone mad.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:08 AM

Er... ?


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:19 AM

Reply to Don Wise's post- Don, do you mean "Rocking The Cradle?" I checked the "I Wish I Was Single Again" threads and can't see any link in theme between this song and those. George, I don't know what you are trying to say about actors- at least the good ones I've seen in stage productions, TV shows, and movies, can empathise with a character well enough to make you believe they are that person.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:24 AM

What is the racial origin of the standard rock and roll accent? e.g. Bono doesn't sing in his natural middle class Dublin accent and Mick Jagger... well he sings in one accent and speaks in another


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:27 AM

In my post above I am not referring to actors(the profession), but to "acting something out", as we often do to highlight or explain something. I agree, good actors do indeed empathise with the character they play, it is part of what they do. The rest of us, most of us simply act something out superficially tomake a point, it's a means to an end.


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:44 AM

Bonzo3legs, what does political correctness have to do with this? Are you saying that it is better to sing lyrics without giving any consideration to the possibility that people might be offended? Sure, the lyric from this piece which is quoted uses the word "Negro" in a historical context, but that doesn't mean that some people would not be offended by its use. Are you saying that you (I'm assuming you're White) would not care if after a performance of a song such as this from another "racial" perspective, someone of Black or other non-White racial origin told you they were offended by the use of that word in a first-person song? That you'd just wave it aside and go on singing the song in concert halls or wherever without caring, even if others made the same objection? I don't know about the rock and roll accent, but I think it's a combination of Southern Black and White American influence.
*Waiting for Azizi to give her perspective on this issue*


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Subject: RE: Singing a song in first person- racial issue
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Jul 11 - 07:47 AM

BTW, thanks for the clarification, George.


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