Work Songs

Work Songs

by Ted Gioia
Pub. Date:
Duke University Press Books
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Work Songs

All societies have relied on music to transform the experience of work. Song accompanied the farmer’s labors, calmed the herder’s flock, and set in motion the spinner’s wheel. Today this tradition continues. Music blares on the shop floor; song accompanies transactions in the retail store; the radio keeps the trucker going on the long-distance haul.

Now Ted Gioia, author of several acclaimed books on the history of jazz, tells the story of work songs from prehistoric times to the present. Vocation by vocation, Gioia focuses attention on the rhythms and melodies that have attended tasks such as the cultivation of crops, the raising and lowering of sails, the swinging of hammers, the felling of trees. In an engaging, conversational writing style, he synthesizes a breathtaking amount of material, not only from songbooks and recordings but also from travel literature, historical accounts, slave narratives, folklore, labor union writings, and more. He draws on all of these to describe how workers in societies around the world have used music to increase efficiency, measure time, relay commands, maintain focus, and alleviate drudgery.

At the same time, Gioia emphasizes how work songs often soar beyond utilitarian functions. The heart-wringing laments of the prison chain gang, the sailor’s shanties, the lumberjack’s ballads, the field hollers and corn-shucking songs of the American South, the pearl-diving songs of the Persian Gulf, the rich mbube a cappella singing of South African miners: Who can listen to these and other songs borne of toil and hard labor without feeling their sweep and power? Ultimately, Work Songs, like its companion volume Healing Songs, is an impassioned tribute to the extraordinary capacity of music to enter into day-to-day lives, to address humanity’s deepest concerns and most heartfelt needs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822337263
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 04/13/2006
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction: Why Work Songs? 1

1. The Hunter 13

2. The Cultivator 35

3. The Herder 63

4. Thread and Cloth 79

5. The New Rhythms of Work 99

6. Sea and Shore 115

7. The Lumberjack 137

8. Take This Hammer! 150

9. The Cowboy 169

10. The Miner 182

11. The Prisoner 200

12. The Labor Movement and Songs of Work 225

13. Music and the Modern Worker 242

Epologue: The Calling 256

Notes 261

Recommended Listening 305

Bibliography 313

Index 337

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