Category: ethnomusicology

  • The Blues Mode and 12-Bar Form (examples)

    A collection of some of the musical examples referred to by Peter van der Merwe in your reading. As you listen, think about the similarities in these musics from across cultures. What makes them blues or blues-like? Charley Patton, “Tom Rushen Blues”. You’ll be reading more about Charley Patton later. For the moment, pay attention […]

  • The DNA of American Folk Music

    Engraving of Pocahontas (1595-1617). In 2018, in response to pushback against her longtime claims of Native American ancestry (including from President Trump, who refers to her mockingly as “Pocahontas”), Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had her DNA tested, and made the results public. The test indicated that Warren had a Native American ancestor […]

  • Toasts, Signifyin(g), and the Roots of Rap

    Content warning: explicit language and situations. Although the cradle of rap is generally acknowledged to be community-room parties in the South Bronx, the genre draws from multiple threads and locations, from Jamaica to Louisiana to the hobo poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The white Oklahoma-born writer George Milburn, who spent time […]

  • The Voices That Have Gone: Blues Ghosts

    The only known photograph of Delta bluesman Charley Patton. Hari Kunzru based his portrait of mid-twentieth-century collectors of early blues recordings on a loosely-knit real-life group of blues enthusiasts — made up almost entirely white men — who called themselves the “Blues Mafia.” The character of Chester Bly in particular was inspired by the legendary […]

  • Authenticity, part III: White Tears

    As you know by now, White Tears is the story (among other things!) of Seth, a young, white, college-educated sound engineer, who accidentally records a line from an old blues song while picking up ambient sounds in Washington Square Park. His business partner Carter, the scion of a wealthy family whose riches come from running […]

  • Fare Thee Well/Careless Love

    In his memoirs, John Lomax described collecting “Dink’s Song” in Texas in 1904, at a work-camp for skilled black builders from Mississippi who were constructing a levee on the Brazos River. Dink was one of a group of women imported from Memphis by the camp overseers to keep the workers happy and discourage them from […]

  • More Call and Response

    The musical forms brought to the Americas by slaves from west Africa were generally functional: that is, they were used to aid in ritual, work, daily life, and war. Antiphonal singing also facilitated communication across distances. As the Malinke people of West Africa say, “There is no movement without rhythm.” Notice that rhythm aids with the […]

  • Call and Response

    Call-and-response form is a structure imported to the Americas by enslaved African people in the seventeenth century. A brief history: A prison work song: (“Hammer, Ring,” Jesse Bradley and group, State Penitentiary, Huntsville, Texas, 1930s) A spiritual: “Talking ‘Bout a Good Time” (Moving Star Hall Singers, 1967) A sharecroppers’ work song: (“Arwhoolie,” Thomas J. Marshall, […]

  • Calinda

    The earliest-known published book of African-American music, the 1867 Slave Songs of the United States, is primarily devoted to the religious vocal music of the slaves of the eastern seaboard. However, there are several songs at the end that are of a very different nature. These songs are in French and were collected in Louisiana, and […]

  • Tracing the Sources

    [Content warning: racist language and imagery.] In the 1940s, the American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, also a folklorist and musicologist, published a collection of American children’s folksongs she had compiled. One of the numbers in this volume of 43 songs is “Such a Getting Upstairs.” This singer asserts that it is a “going-up-to-bed-song” from Indiana. […]