Western Africa. Central America. Northern America. Southern America. Central Asia. Northeast Asia. Southeast Asia. Southern Asia. Western Asia. Eastern Europe. Northern Europe. Southern Europe. Western Europe. Australia and New Zealand. And there was no Delta Negro who was not aware of how easy it was for him to find himself on the wrong side of those few strands of barbed wire.
As one of the prison work-songs ironically remarked …. My father, John A. Lomax, and I crossed these fragile prison barriers frequently during the '30's and '40's in our search for American folksongs. Because we were collecting for the federal folksong archive, but, more especially because we were Southerners, we were treated with courtesy and helped by the officials in charge.
Yet, we could not fail to see that most of the guards were untrained men, who were employed because they knew how to "handle and drive niggers. We also met many sincere and kindly men who were trying to better the lot of the prisoners, but they were hampered by the limitations of the institution itself. A comment in the New York Post Jan. The warden is not a penologist, but an experienced plantation manager. His annual report to the legislature is not of salvaged lives; it is a profit and loss statement, with the accent on the profit … ".
Under these conditions the typical Southern prison farm has perpetuated Southern attitudes and traditions which go back to the period of slavery, or the even more cruel system of leased-labor. In fact, many of the songs we recorded in the '30's and '40' s reflect the miseries of those early days. Between and And I feel sure that the recent passage of Federal Legislation, backed by enlightened Southern white opinion and the pressure of the Southern Negroes now fighting for their civil rights, have wrought further changes in the Southern pen.
Nonetheless, penal institutions have a notorious resistance to change, and I can. In any case, these songs are a vivid reminder of a system of social control and forced labor that has endured in the South flor centuries: and I do not believe that the pattern of life can be fundamentally re-shaped until what these roaring and ironic choruses is understood.
One must not forget that the deep South was carved out of the wilderness largely by forced Negro Labor, and to sounds like those recorded here. The tradition of singing at all work, the solo-chorus style, the subtle rhythms, the part singing, even some of the scales and tunes are part of the African musical tradition which the Negro slave brought to the New World.
The listener has only to compare Band 1, Side A, and Band 4, Side B with available African recordings to see that true African polyphony and poly-rhythm have somehow survived in the Southern U. But in language, in content and function, these songs are as American as the Mississippi River.
They were born out of the very rock and earth of this country, as black hands broke the soil, moved it, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies.
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