Music Form and Music From

“O feed me Jesus feed me,

Feed me all my days. 22

 

O bye and bye, bye and bye

I’m going to lay down my heavy load.

Hell is deep and dark despair.

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load

Stop po’ sinner and don’t go there

I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load. 23

 

“Our father, who is in heaven,

White man owe me eleven and pay me seven,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

And if I hadn’t took that, I wouldn’t had none.”

Music is described as “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.” (Dictionary.com) A key component of this definition that I look at is an “expression of emotion.” It’s important to really look deep into African American slavery and think about why music was such a big part of the lives of slaves.

I grew up in a rather musical family. I have siblings who play the violin, piano, guitar, ukulele, drums, recorder, and have all grown up being singers. Personally, I began to learn how to play a trumpet since I was eleven. Since then, I have learned how to play the guitar, beginning piano, and have been involved with singing through musicals and as a worship leader at my church. What I’m trying to say is that music has just been a very big part of my life. When I look and reflect over the lives of African American’s through the time they were going through slavery until even today, I see how big music has been through their history as well and I feel a sense of instant connection.

Music is a way for all people to connect, no matter how they are defined or even at times looked at in a racial way. What I mean by racial is not only by color, but the idea of “othering” (Professor LaShawnDa Pittman, AFRAM Studies, Nov. 7, 2015) which is separating people by any means that makes them different. African American slaves are known widely for their soul music. These songs held stories that we can look back on today that talk about the tragedies they faced, the hardships they went through… Though one thing that really caught my attention while reading many of these lyrics was how so many of them were written with a biblical sense, and singing to the Lord. Slaves were known to be, for the mass majority, illiterate. They didn’t get together at a church on Sundays with the rest of the black community and discuss the Word. The only time they would have church on Sundays is if they got together with their slave owners. And the way the white people and slave owners made Jesus sound, you would sense that Jesus was for slavery. Their slave owners actually used the scripture to declare that the bible gave them the authority to be their owners. Yet, we see slaves putting their hope in this Jesus they heard about.

That is something very significant to me. I grew up in Christian home. We went to church every Sunday. Actually, we went every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. So learning about how strongly African American’s felt to the same Jesus that I feel connected to, that makes me really astounded as to how white people could even think they could have any authority over them. Especially since this era was very religious. There was a time before slavery where white people actually gave them the chance to follow their religion, and if they did not they would enslave both their own color and the blacks. But it drifted from a spiritual connection of the two, and they completely decided to separate the African American’s from their religion so they felt power over them.

With this now powerless black community, without even being able to be safe by following the Jesus that the white community did, they found a way to be connected through “Negro spirituals.” Negro spirituals were the religious songs they sang. It is an incredible thing because it actually has evolved and played part to what we call Gospel music today. But aside from the spiritual connection that lyrics read, it amazes me how much we get to learn about their lives as well. Many of their lyrics not only tie to singing to God, which many of them do, but together, the African American’s sang about the “tragedies they faced, the hardships they went through” as I mentioned earlier.

One song I look at is,

“Our father, who is in heaven,

White man owe me eleven and pay me seven,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

And if I hadn’t took that, I wouldn’t had none.”

This is a very interesting song because it showed how during slavery, African American’s couldn’t really do anything about the case of not being paid the dues they earned. The complete powerlessness they had was unbelievable. Imagine being owed on your next paycheck $500 for the work you did. Once Friday rolled around, you look at your check and realize that that it says $300. Now you can pay the rent bill, but you can’t buy you next meal or pay for everything your family needs. But you can’t say anything because, who knows? Maybe you would lose your job for speaking out. Or even worse, get beaten or whipped. I’m writing this and I actually can’t imagine that happening to me. Because we live in such an evolved world from that time, that we can’t comprehend something like that happening to us. But it was real, and in some places, it’s still real. That is just one problem that hasn’t completely vanished, and it is just one of many problems that we can go back and reflect over because of these songs that the African American’s sang and were saved.

I wish I had the name of author or creator of these lyrics, but the names of many of the slaves have been lost over the years. The numbers of the slaves is so significant, yet it is unbelievable how so many of them will never be remembered because of how worthless they were represented as. Today, we keep trying to recover as many of the artifacts that let’s us remember the people, the African American’s, who have played such an incredibly huge part in the creation of our country. Trying to give worth to as many of those we can’t remember. To try to rid of as much of the whitewashed, Eurocentric view that some even hold today over our people. But because I did not have the author of the songs, I decided to also attach a drawing of a small gathering of slaves who are singing together.

This piece, “Slave Quarters, Louisiana” by Adolf Carlsson Warberg is very incredible. I could not find any single website that tells us who Warberg was though. But many of his photos are curated among multiple websites that talk about African American slavery. This is a big deal because it lets us see deeper into the actual lives of African American’s by a person who was able to capture these moments. In this particular picture, “Slave Quarters, Louisiana,” we see a picture of one way that a black community gathered together. This picture really stood out to me because in the background we see a grandmother taking care of a young child, a woman with a broom in the front, and a few kids goofing off in the front. A man sits in the center with a fiddle, as everyone listens in.

Being able to look at this picture is bigger deal to me after having learned about the lives of slaves during this era through my African American Studies class. In class, we learned how grandmothers were often the ones to care for the children, which this picture shows. We learned about how mothers and women were often doing house duty chores, which is represented in the photo. We learned how children rarely got to play or goof around, so seeing how a few children are sitting quietly and one child is playing around instead of all, in a way represents how they didn’t dare to all cause any commotion. And finally, there is the man playing the fiddle. Many men had skills, like playing instruments that were used outside of their everyday chores with extra work they did at night. (Professor LaShawnDa Pittman, AFRAM Studies, Oct. 9, 2015)

Through class, we also got to see this by watching a film called “12 Years a Slave.” There was a man by the name of Solomon that played a fiddle, and he was captured a free man but forced into slavery. His identity was changed, but one thing he held on to was his fiddle. In a way, it was something he had that he could be prideful of because he had that skill and instrument that he loved to play when he was a free man. But through slavery, we got to see how the instrument actually caused him pain. Pain because he had to play it to white people that used unbelievable power to torture and abuse the black community of slaves around him. The one thing that made him feel alive and connected to his memory of freedom, music, now was something he no longer wanted.

These different examples are about the different ways African American’s were connected to music. And the personal connection I have with music, as well as the connection I feel towards the music with African Americans. No matter what was torn apart from them, music was always there. Community was always there.

Music is something that will never die.

Music will never stop evolving.

And it always goes back to the African Americans that show us what connecting through music in bad times and good is about.

By, Peter Paul Fedorchuk III, African American Studies 101

 

Bibliography

  1. Wright, Jeneva, and National Endowment for the Humanities. “[SOUL SONGS: ORIGINS AND AGENCY IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN SPIRITUALS].” [SOUL SONGS: ORIGINS(2013): n. pag. SOUL SONGS: ORIGINS AND AGENCY IN AFRICAN-AMERICAN SPIRITUALS. National Endowment for the Humanities, 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
  2. Brown, Sterling A. “”Negro Folk Expression: Spirituals, Seculars, Ballads and Work Songs”–An Essay by Sterling A. Brown.” Negro Folk Expression: Spirituals, Seculars, Ballads and Work Songs. Modern American Poetry, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
  3. Saruday, Barbara Wells. “19C American Women.” : 19C African Americans Continued to Sing & Dance. Irginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
  4. com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/music&gt;.
  5. “The Official Site of the Negro Spirituals, Antique Gospel Music.” The Official Site of the Negro Spirituals, Antique Gospel Music. Spiritual Workshop, Paris, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

 

 

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