Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 12

I took a bit of creative liberty with today's entry. This is actually a medley between two related songs--"King David," a black spiritual I learned several weeks ago from A Treasure of Afro-American Folklore by Harold Courlander, and "O David," a white spiritual from Lomax's collection. "King David" is the song that I use as the verses, with "Good Lord" as the imaginary choral interjection. "O David" is what I use for the chorus, with "Yes yes" as the intejection. The topic and several of the lyrics are identical. Lomax explains the interchange between black and white spiritual music: when shape-note and camp-meeting movements lost steam in the late nineteenth century, a new revival took hold of the rural South--the Holy Roller Church. "White Holiness churches, in the heart of the Jim Crow belt, invite Negroes to participate in their services. Negro churches have white members. Ministers and church officials move with remarkable freedom between Negro and white congregations. In the North and West, where this movement has taken a strong hold in city slums, Negroes and whites, possessed of the spirit, dance and roll on the floors together.... In this people's revival, Negroes and their music were openly received into the white church. 'O David,' a modern Holiness spiritual from Eastern Kentucky, has the shape of the most primitive type of Negro solo-chorus work song." Lomax's explanation is fascinating, but I take issue with the final sentence. "King David" is most likely the "Negro solo-chorus work song" that "O David" takes its shape from, but to call the earlier song primitive is overlooking its amazing artistry. The lyrics of "King David" are complex and poetic, gracefully weaving together Biblical moments and human concerns. "O David" is by far the simpler song, with its 3-5 syllable verses and repetition of phrases. Interesting how racial assumptions have dictated folk musicology through the years. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the spiritual mash-up:

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