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Black Virginian Chantey Group

meself 23 Feb 12 - 11:05 AM
Desert Dancer 23 Feb 12 - 11:24 AM
Charley Noble 23 Feb 12 - 12:43 PM
Gibb Sahib 23 Feb 12 - 05:47 PM
John Minear 24 Feb 12 - 07:12 AM
Greg B 24 Feb 12 - 12:09 PM
Gibb Sahib 24 Feb 12 - 03:55 PM
wysiwyg 25 Feb 12 - 09:37 AM
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Subject: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: meself
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 11:05 AM

This is from a few years back, but I don't recall it being mentioned here, so: here's the story.

There are sound samples with it. Here's the text:

December 10, 2006 - Along the eastern seaboard 50 years ago, African-American fishermen used to sing as they worked. That work song tradition went by the wayside when machines replaced manual labor. But it's being kept alive by a group of aging former fishermen in the northern neck region of Virginia.

The men, all in their 70s and 80s now, rehearse each week in Dr. Elton Smith's living room. Smith is the manager of the Northern Neck Chantey Singers.

Chanties are songs that the fishermen would sing while working on the boat, Smith explains. The chanties would give the workers a sense of togetherness in pulling in the nets and hauling in the fish.

In 1957, Christopher Harvey worked on a boat called the Pocahontas near Greenport, Long Island. He learned the chanties from some of the old fishermen he met on the boats.

"It helped us as a crew of men to work together as one and to take some of the weight off each other," Harvey says. "If you sing chantey and coordinate yourself to come in at the same time, we know everybody have their share of work."

The fishermen would be at sea for weeks at a time on a large fishing vessel in search of menhaden, an oily fish used in animal feeds, fertilizers and industrial lubricants. Their time away affected what they sang about.

"If you young, you sing about your girlfriend," Harvey says, adding, "You also sing about your loved one you missed from home. Stuff like that."

It looks like you can listen to a radio show (NPR) on the group; I haven't checked that out yet.

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 11:24 AM

previous thread from that NPR story

They've also gotten some mentions from their appearances at the Mystic Festival and National Folk Festival.

Anymore, I find the best way to search for prior threads on a topic is to use Google, this way (without quotes and substituting in your actual search terms, of course): "search terms"

~ Becky in Tucson

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: Charley Noble
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 12:43 PM

Yes, I've seen the Northern Neck Chantey Singers at the Mystic Sea Music Festival several times over the years. Great traditional style singers.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 23 Feb 12 - 05:47 PM

It's my opinion that Black "chantey" groups -- namely this one, the North Carolina menhaden group, and the Barouallie Whalers -- have done a bit to change the discourse around chanteys. Well, the recognition of their *existence*, by revival and other "mainstream" audiences, has. Funny thing though, rather than add much more to the idea of African-American influence on the genre, there has been more of an idea of a "Black" chantey type or *style*.

I am still waiting to see a group of African-American singers who presents "deepwater" chanties, especially within the revival setting. That should make things interesting. Because while it shouldn't matter, the visual and conceptual impact of seeing Black singers embody the genre really would go towards envisioning the history differently.

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: John Minear
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 07:12 AM

I haven't had the opportunity to see the three groups that Gibb mentions, although I have heard some of their music. I very much agree with his interest in seeing " a group of African-American singers who presents "deepwater" chanties" from the perspective of the history of African-American involvement in the making of chanties. This would definitely "make things interesting".

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: Greg B
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 12:09 PM

Remember, the African American groups we're talking about are themselves primary and secondary resources. Any such thing in the way of black deepwater sailors probably died before Stan Hugill reached middle age.

At best, deepwater African-American (and by "American" I'm going to include the islands of the Caribbean) are probably filtered by collectors such as Hugill. Stan mentions at least one black man as a primary resource for him, but that was probably well over 50 years ago at this point.

Perhaps some of the inshore guys who perform inshore work songs now are the grandsons or great-grandsons of blue water sailors.

But you have to figure that when the deepwater sailoring profession went away, those African American sailors came ashore and did something else.

Lots of other factors, including socio-economic, probably mitigated against their songs being preserved in original form. Illiteracy, short life-expectancy (meaning they're more generations removed), a general lack of interest in things in black history and culture by academia, and just plain being too busy scraping out a living to think too much about grandpa's old songs must all be factors.

Of course, you can hear the black influence in some of "our" songs. "Johnny Come Down to Hilo," "Hogeye Man," "Stowin' Sugar in the Hold Below," and "Old Moke Pickin' on a Banjo" come to mind.

As Hugill points out, segregation before the mast wasn't the norm. So if you want to hear the results of African American involvement in the making of deepwater chanties, just listen to the ones we have in hand. It's there.

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 24 Feb 12 - 03:55 PM

Yes, these groups are primary and secondary resources. Interesting you should mention that, because now who are the White resources like that? Interesting how Hugill gets called the "Last Shantyman," but these folks outlived him. The nature of their chanties is/was different, but that speaks to the fact that they were actually singing for their work in a current profession.

Black deepwater sailors died before Hugill reached middle age? So did most of the White ones! Were all these Black sailors really gone, or was it that not many folklorists were going to interview them?   

Hugill named 3 primary Afro-Caribbean informants, and others he did not specify. These contributed at least 57 songs to his volume.

Yet why is it that only the songs contributed by the recently living Black resources get the association as "Black" songs? Why do earlier familiar songs (to revival singers) get treated as a White default or only have Black "influence"?

But in noting the desire to see a Black group singing classic deepwater chanties -- which, I admitted, is a rather awkward desire, like wanting to see a Black president -- I am not interested so much in the reasons why we don't have this. Because I understand the reason why we don't, and it's not because Blacks were not a significant presence as chanty singers and creators of the genre. It's that, 1) being that they *were* an important part of the history and 2) being that the vast majority of revival singers are not part of any continuous oral tradition that makes their ethnicity relevant, then: 1) There is no reason there should not be Black *revival* singers and 2) if there were, it might the change the conversation which tends to present a main "trunk" of chanties as "basically a White genre" with marginal branches of Black traditions. That is, if "anyone" truly could and did sing chanties, "side by side" and regardless of their color. let us see that represented in "our" Revival.

Again, I am not calling for any kind of contrived or deliberate creation of an African-American revival group, just saying that things may get very interesting indeed if and when we start to see such groups. We may start to see some of the ethnic and national baggage that has accrued to chanties, since Cecil Sharp and company started presenting them, shedding off...and allowing us to envision the historical chanty singing without it.

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Subject: RE: Black Virginian Chantey Group
From: wysiwyg
Date: 25 Feb 12 - 09:37 AM

Allen Slave Songs contains a number of rowing songs collected from slaves at and around US South plantations:

I have a number of MIDIs of the songs in that collection, thanks to Mudcat volunteers-- maybe all of them. I never sent them in to Mudcat because life happened here at the same time Mudcat's DB got screwed up. If I had an intern I could get them here in short order-- some file cleanup is needed.


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