The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons, and Speech

Overview

This exploration of African American slavery through sound is a groundbreaking way of understanding both slave culture and American history

"A work of great originality and insight."
-Ira Berlin 

"Shane White and Graham White's book is a joy."
-Branford Marsalis

"A fascinating book . . . that brings to life the historical soundscape of 18th- and 19th-century African Americans at work, play, rest, and prayer . . . This remarkable ...

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Overview

This exploration of African American slavery through sound is a groundbreaking way of understanding both slave culture and American history

"A work of great originality and insight."
-Ira Berlin 

"Shane White and Graham White's book is a joy."
-Branford Marsalis

"A fascinating book . . . that brings to life the historical soundscape of 18th- and 19th-century African Americans at work, play, rest, and prayer . . . This remarkable achievement demands a place in every collection on African American and U.S. history and folklife. Highly recommended."
-Library Journal

"The authors have undertaken the difficult task of bringing to contemporary readers the sounds of American slave culture . . . [giving] vibrancy and texture to a complex history that has been long neglected."
-Booklist

"The book's strongest point is its attention to detail . . . [it] will not only be valuable to young scholars, but . . . to young performers and composers, especially with the explosion of interest in 'roots music,' looking for new sources of original and searing music."
-Ran Blake, Christian Science Monitor

"A lyrical and original treatment of the musical and spoken culture of American slaves. This book is moving testimony to how scholarship can penetrate the transcendent spirit once considered exotic or unknowable, how historians can trace social survival to the human voice in slavery's heart of darkness."
-David W. Blight, professor of history, Yale University, and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

"A seminal study of a neglected aspect of Southern and African-American culture . . . and the approach to the topic is both creative and resourceful. The book is highly recommended."
-Michael Russert, The Multicultural Review

Shane White and Graham White, who are not related, are professor and honorary associate, respectively, in the history department at the University of Sydney, Australia. They are the coauthors of Stylin': African American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginning to the Zoot Suit.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A work of great originality and insight.--Ira Berlin

" Shane White and Graham White's book is a joy."--Branford Marsalis

"A fascinating book . . . that brings to life the historical soundscape of 18th- and 19th-century African Americans at work, play, rest, and prayer . . . This remarkable achievement demands a place in every collection on African American and U.S. history and folklife. Highly recommended."--Library Journal

"The authors have undertaken the difficult task of bringing to contemporary readers the sounds of American slave culture . . . [giving] vibrancy and texture to a complex history that has been long neglected."--Booklist

"The book's strongest point is its attention to detail . . . [it] will not only be valuable to young scholars, but . . . to young performers and composers, especially with the explosion of interest in 'roots music,' looking for new sources of original and searing music."--Ran Blake, Christian Science Monitor

"A lyrical and original treatment of the musical and spoken culture of American slaves. This book is moving testimony to how scholarship can penetrate the transcendent spirit once considered exotic or unknowable, how historians can trace social survival to the human voice in slavery's heart of darkness."--David W. Blight, professor of history, Yale University, and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

"A seminal study of a neglected aspect of Southern and African-American culture . . . and the approach to the topic is both creative and resourceful. The book is highly recommended."--Michael Russert, The Multicultural Review

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807050279
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 2/15/2006
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Shane White and Graham White, who are not related, are professor and honorary associate, respectively, in the history department at the University of Sydney, Australia. They are the coauthors of Stylin': African American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginning to the Zoot Suit.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : the lords of sounds
Ch. 1 All we knowed was go and come by de bells and horns 1
Ch. 2 To translate everyday experiences into living sound 20
Ch. 3 De music [of the slaves] make dese Cab Calloways of today git to de woods an' hide 38
Ch. 4 Sing no hymns of your own composing 55
Ch. 5 He can invent a plausible tale at a moment's warning 72
Ch. 6 Boots or no boots, I gwine shout today! 97
Ch. 7 When we had a black preacher that was heaven 120
Ch. 8 Soundtracks of the city : Charleston, New York, and New Orleans 145
Ch. 9 Soundtracks of the city : Richmond in the 1850s 168
Epilogue : the sounds of freedom 187
The sounds of slavery : recordings of African American field calls, songs, prayers, and sermons 229
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2005

    A fascinating soundscape

    In West African tradition, sound making is functional, part and parcel of daily life, integral to most activities: working, celebrating, praying, mourning, placating, criticizing or just passing time. It¿s a tradition that was carried to the New World on slave ships, a tradition which enthralled, amused, repelled or even terrified white listeners...often simultaneously. This book goes beyond the music created by enslaved Africans/African Americans (such as work songs and spirituals) to explore other forms of sound expression (including sermons, drumming, field hollers and storytelling) placed within a historical context to create a soundscape of African American slave life from the 1700¿s to the 1850¿s. The written sources generally fall into two broad categories: the written observations of whites (letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles by travelers, missionaries, even slave owners themselves) and the testimony of former slaves collected by the WPA Federal Writer¿s Project during the 1930¿s. With only three exceptions, the sound sources on the 18-track CD are field recordings by John, Ruby and/ or Alan Lomax from the late 1930¿s. By that point, the sounds had been ¿tainted¿ by pop culture (many are the times I have tracked down one of my father¿s rural childhood favorites from the 1920¿s, only to discover that this ¿old folk song¿ his grandma sang was actually an 1890¿s parlor tune) but alas, this is as close as we¿re going to get to listening in on a time which preceded sound reproduction devices. And as there are few things more frustrating than trying to understand sound by reading about it, the CD alone would be worth the price of the book. The book is written in a nonlinear style, perhaps reflecting the subject matter which is itself quilt-like: slaves were constantly creating and recreating from the sound materials at hand, materials which often were not even recognized as such by white listeners. This nonlinear style could make the book a bit difficult to use for reference purposes, but fortunately it is well indexed. This fascinating soundscape is recommended for anyone interested in African American music in general, or the era of slavery in particular.

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