American Folk Music

(Part 2)

 

This regional philosophy fashioned two physically distinct, yet very similar, close and interdependent cultures, one black and one white. The two remained segregated by what Van den Berghe calls a “highly symbolized system of racial etiquette” which permitted familiarity at the relational level. An intricate class system, introduced in slavery and continued by Jim Crow, upheld clear position differences despite bodily imminence, sharing, neighboring, mutual support and similar professional, spiritual and communal values. The two subgroups, in turn provided growth to two musical traditions: white country (“Hillbilly”) and black country (`Blues’). White country music is characteristically British, in its American form it is founded on the balanced tough diatonic scale, and standard four/four, three/four or six/eight time in a mono-rhythmic pattern. The traditional European custom occupied a “music-as-speech” approach to its vocal and contributory preparations. The African custom, by contrast, was not bound by these organizational limits. Chapellie and Garofaloe detect that African philosophy was integrally more melodic than the European in that “.the meaning of some melodies depended upon the field at which they are spoken; this gives African language designs their individual musicality.” This concept of “language-as-speech” is appropriate to contributory as well as to vocal preparations. The instruments industrialized in the African tradition, both stringed and drumming, “spoke” and vocal feeling as well as philological content. Additionally, African music made wide use of `call-and-response’ and distinct rhythms.

On the plantations, slaves usually provided the musical amusement for balls, marriages and other social meetings where they played the common reels and square dance melodies of the day. It is commonly decided that slaves brought the banjo from Africa and familiarized it into the American folk custom where it took its place together with the fiddle and guitar. Wherever blacks and whites shared common terrestrial space, they have also shared their music and prejudiced each other’s music. As Bill Malone states, black-white interaction began so early and was so universal in American life that it is almost unbearable to know who earned most from the resulting musical interchange. From the time they first saw them on slave ships, white spectators have remarked frequently on blacks’ unproven fondness for music. In the four centuries that have passed, white performers have repeatedly drawn on black bases for alteration and sustenance. Anywhere that blacks and whites spread in the United States, `in city parks, in sweatshop, or pubs,’ the latent occurred for joint social spread.

Throughout southern history, black and white music has interrelated at the relational level. However, just as the two subgroups were physically separated, their musical traditions were structurally isolated by the music business through its advertising practices. These rules not only make a declaration about the “influence of racism on the commercial world in America” they also make a deep declaration about race relationships in America. The advertising of “race music” is understood to be one of the `undercover rise to prevalent folk music’. Upon learning, around 1920, that there was revenue in the advertising of “hillbilly”, cultural music, recording establishments introduced the practice of advertising black music underneath a special series number and catalogue designated exclusively for black viewers. Omala Records began the practice in 1923 and most of the major labels followed their lead in the late 1920s. The segregation process was further supported by the music industry’s practice of differential charting of black and white music The two primary skill magazines, Billboard and Cashbox, have factually upheld distinct chart listings for Rhythm `n’ Blues, Popular and Country. To the degree that such a practice merely reflects sincerely different musical forms and decently rapid purchasing practices; a good case can be made for its legality. There is reason to be doubtful, however, that it has reproduced something more; the race of the artist. In the early 1950s when rhythm `n’ blues began to dominate the pop charts, the record corporations assumed policies that started a clearly segregated distribution and promotional effort. And, it was not until 1960 that a black artist, Ray Charles, was effective in jumping into the country and western charts, and it was 1968 before the achievement was repeated by Charlie Pride. The upkeep of separate raise departments inside the industry reproduces a sustained musical separation.

 

 

American Folk Music