Thursday, April 30, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 30: The voices of the slaves speak to later generations

I picked a couple of songs by Paul Robeson to close this year's Confederate "Heritage" Month series:

Paul Robeson, John Brown's Body:

I Got A Home In Dat Rock/ Gimme Your Han':

Sterling Stuckey, "Paul Robeson and Richard Wright on the Arts and Slave Culture" in Winthrop Jordan, ed., Slavery and the American South (2003):

Paul's association in youth with relatives constituted his primary means of contact with the singing of ex-slaves, which was immensely important in his case because he sang slave music exclusively over a period of years, a unique development for a concert artist. His sense of the worth of Negro dialect was in marked contrast to negative pronouncements on the subject by critic James Weldon Johnson and, later, by novelist and critic Ralph Ellison. ...

Robeson knew that Negro dialect was the language of the slave artist/field hand, an aspect of slavery not yet touched on by students of slavery. Like W. E. B. Du Bois, he rejected the view, popular among some Reconstruction historians, that modem black culture owes more to developments from Reconstruction than to slave culture. As explicitly and precisely as Du Bois in Black Reconstruction, Robeson, recognizing himself as a direct and natural beneficiary of vital aspects of the artistic heritage of his ancestors, remarked: "The spirituals and Negro dialect were also part of my earliest background. My father was the minister of a small Negro community, and so the spirituals must have been known to me before I was born. I 'learned' Negro dialect and the spirituals as I learned to talk and walk and breathe and sing." Apparently no attempt by others to encourage him to sing spirituals like a white man made much of an impression. Thus, in his voice as he sang spirituals, the world came to hear, perhaps without knowing it, the projection of slave vocal potential and fulfillment, of which his ex-slave father's voice provided a prime example.

No comments: