January 13, 2019

Wales: Land of Song


WALES: LAND OF SONG
Video produced by Monty and Marsha Brown. Reviewed by Bob Roser
When I first received my review copy of this video I must admit that I was highly skeptical.  I thought it would be another amateur production by a vacationing couple. I was most pleasantly surprised after my first screening.
Monty Brown hails originally from Doncaster in England and was raised in western Canada.  He was a professional actor in England and then worked in BBC television. Wales: Land of Song is not his first video and apparently will not be his last either. Marsha was born and raised in upstate New York in the Remsen area, well known for its large Welsh population.  They have produced six other travel videos and are both song writers, two of which were used in “Steel Magnolias”.
But this video is different from the usual travel video.  It is personalized, visiting relatives in Wales and also shows much of Wales’ most beautiful scenery in the course of 80 minutes.  They visit with Sian James, one of Wales’ outstanding song writers and singers as she rehearses with the folk group Parti Cu Lloi prior to their trip to perform at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in 2009.  I interviewed Sian and some members of the group prior to their arrival as well as meeting up with them in Washington and wrote an article for Ninnau about them.  So, I had one of those “Hey, I know these people” moments.
North, Central, and South Wales are each visited. As the website says “We carried a camera from St. David’s to Denbigh, from Anglesey to Caldicot and this is the result.”  There are many visits to specific places rather than just travelogue.  Annie Ellis’ farm in mid Wales with close and personal meetings with her sheep and dogs; a visit to Groggs in Pontypridd famous for their Welsh sports and celebrity ceramic figures; castles; a male voice choir; Sian James; Welsh B&Bs; just to name a few of the highlights.
This video would make the perfect program for any Welsh Society.  Our Welsh society in Fredericksburg, VA will be showing it at our next meeting.  The quality, the positive view of Wales, and the length of the program make it ideal. With Christmas coming up this would also be an excellent gift.  
Wales: Land of Song is available from a number of distributers. Monty and Marsha’s website is www.montyandmarsha.com.  Cost is $20.00 plus postage.
The only thing not realistic about the program is the unusual number of days of sunshine. But then I’m sure the Lord wanted Monty and Marsha to make this film.

December 16, 2018

New York City Blackout

Today is the 13th of July, 2017, forty years to the day that New York City experienced a complete electricity blackout. It happened in the early night, I think sometime after nine. In print and film it is being cast as a moment of truth, when we finally saw the city for what it had become: a pit of filth and a harbor of iniquity. The blackout brought us looting and ravaging hooligans who had been gathering and lurking on the mean streets until that moment when the lights went out and anarchy reigned.

I say it's just too convenient to create such a watershed in New York history. First of all, as the actress said to the Bishop, "You ain't changed all that much, Big Apple." Oh, there are new buildings and it's probably a better tourist experience than it was 40years ago, but that's true of every era of New York's spotted past. It's had to become more competitive and it's come through again. It's (still) the most interesting American city to visit.

It's too expensive, as always. I couldn't live here any more on the money I make, though it was the same feeling forty years ago. I lived near the City Hall on Chambers Street during the 1970's but I was forced out by someone who could afford the rent for the loft I had converted from a work space. I moved to Hoboken and paid $250 a month for a very suitable apartment. Then I went West and that's a story I'm not telling now. I'm talking about my blackout.

The Happy Trails Dance Band, of which I was the rhythm guitarist and principal singer, was playing a gig at the Lone Star Cafe on 5th Avenue at 13th Street. It was a low slung building with a giant armadillo on the roof and all the popular Texas musicians played there when they came to town. Most nights they hired local bands, and it was a prestigious gig for a New York country musician. In those days there weren't a lot of places for a cowboy to play, though there was a kind of Western fad going on. Even Andy Warhol had hired our band to play a gig at a defunct old bank building, downtown. Now there's some historical irony for you.


The summer of '77 was a particularly good one for me, monetarily. A little bar at Penn Station was hiring country musicians for about ten hours a day on weekdays. There were two shifts: the afternoon one began at 1 pm and ended at 7 pm. The the evening shift was 7 to 11. I liked playing in the afternoon: it was a single,  a weekday, a half hour on, a half hour off, and you could still do an evening job with the band, if one came up. Also, I had a regular gig at the Blue Ribbon Inn in Elizabeth, NJ.

Not every musician could play out-of-town gigs because of transportation difficulties, but I had an old Dodge van that had belonged to Ma Bell before me, and I managed to keep it running for years. Anyway, it was about half-an-hour's drive from Chambers Street, through the Holland Tunnel, and out to the Blue Ribbon Inn, which was owned by a colorful character named Freddie the German Cowboy. That's another story. I had two gigs a week there, Wednesdays and Sundays. I mostly played for men who were fans of country music and alcohol. As you might expect. Decades later I thought of this gig whenever I watched the opening credits to "The Sopranos."

The other regular gig I had was just around the corner from where I lived: Morgan's on Duane Street (or was it Reade St.) near West Broadway. Morgan's was two businesses, a grocery and a bar and they were into the meat trade, too, if I recall correctly. I played on Thursday nights and a guy called Bob Horan played Fridays. (Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-Bob Horan. And yes, he'd heard that "joke" before.)

Morgan's was a family-run enterprise and while there weren't really any country music fans in the neighborhood, I was tolerated and sometimes appreciated. My biggest fan was a truck driver who ran an eighteen-wheeler between Wisconsin and Manhattan. He wore a ten-gallon hat and delivered cheese to certain Italian customers. One time his rig full of cheese was stolen while he was listening to me sing. The story made the papers and after a day or two, the cheese was quietly returned. I guess somebody found out whose cheese it was and gave it back.

These regular single gigs each paid about $50, and the Sweet Sue's was a real windfall: you might get three or four of them each week. (We knew that couldn't last forever.) I was there for the commuter crowd the afternoon Elvis died and I played every Elvis song I knew. It included "A Fool Such As I" and "Long Tall Sally," both of which I learned from Elvis albums, though they're not strictly his songs. I knew lots like that.

Then there were the band gigs. They usually paid $200 or less, so I'd make less money but the places we played were more prestigious, and playing with a band was a hoot. O'Lunney's on 2nd Ave. in the 60's, I think, was the number one real country bar; Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin used to come in there with their Yankee pals. O'Lunney was a leprechaun and his bar was long and thin and he always maintained that I was better value as a single than with one of my "experimental" bands. (That's another story, too.) It was a good place to play, as was the City Limits, which came later, like 1978, maybe. The City Limits was a dance hall in Sheridan Square, downtown.

Anyway, we were taking a break after the first set at the Lone Star Cafe, when the lights went out. When the news came that the whole city was black, my friend Carl Lowe and I decided we'd better protect our pay by playing some songs on acoustic guitar and fiddle; the employees brought out some candles and we held onto our crowd; maybe built on it with the addition of passersby looking for something to do. Our bass player was a new addition that very gig and I didn't like the way he'd played in the first set. What a relief that the blackout happened, and what a service we provided to the Lone Star, really. Helped us get more jobs there, too.

So, I loved the blackout. I loved New York in those days. I had a long walk home through Washington Square and Soho and what is now known as TriBeCa. The Triangle Below Canal. But it was a nice quiet summer night and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. In winter this would happen when there was a big snow. Looting? In our sparsely-populated area of artists and lofts, I never saw it.


We got our only mention ever in Rolling Stone Magazine, and we were real proud of it. During an article on what happened to the live music when the lights went out? "The Happy Trails Dance Band" played an acoustic set at the Lone Star Cafe.

December 14, 2018

Play Party Songs

Play Party Songs


The play-party typically used a song like "Skip to My Lou" or "London Bridge" as a game, combined with music. Participants and sometimes bystanders sang the songs. Play-parties took the place of dance parties for children and adolescents where all other dancing was forbidden. Also popular in less restrictive communities, the play-parties continued into the1930s as entertainment for young adults who could not afford to go to a public dance. As public schools developed, play-parties thrived on the playground. In the twentieth century playgrounds likely preserved many of the songs. Play-parties, common in most Oklahoma communities, only began to lose popularity in the 1950s.
A play-party could be held in a front room, on a front porch, in a schoolroom, or in any other open area. Participants dressed more casually than they would have for dances of the same eras, but play-parties that were planned in advance encouraged some girls to "fix up." Often the play-party allowed young women to take the lead in a social situation, as girls usually organized the party.
Oklahoma play-party song themes varied and included a range of references ranging from war, "Had A Little Fight In Mexico," to multiplication tables, "Twistification," and to obscure English history and lore. The words were well known, but the original meaning of the verses was often forgotten. A substantial part of the lyrics were falderal or nonsense. Lynn Riggs, a notable playwright from Claremore, Oklahoma, used several play-party songs in his play Green Grow the Lilacs, which later was used as the basis for the Broadway musical Oklahoma! The musical deleted the play-party tunes but did use some of the old "squares," figures used in play-party games, as a part of the choreography.
Benjamin A. Botkin conducted notable research on play-parties and in 1937 published The American Play-party Song. Conducted almost entirely in 1930s Oklahoma in more than fifty counties, the research has been considered by many to be the most complete collection of play-parties of any American state. The book also included variants of Oklahoma songs and interviews with play-party participants.


Interviewing two of his nieces about 25 years ago — Irene & Viola — I got the idea that he Leadbelly played a lot of children's songs. This is not a new thought; he has often been praised for his communications skills with young people. But to hear it directly from part of that audience was an eye-opener.

My wife and I do a program on Louisiana Music and Leadbelly plays a big part in that program. We've been inserting activities that go with the songs and, after 25 years, I found out what Irene was talking (singing) about with "I measure my love to show you."


An interview with Irene Campbell and Viola Daniels exists in a different place on this blog: "Leadbelly's Nieces"

Irenewe had a wonderful time with our hymns and songs that we sang. . . Games — what you call 

(sings)
I measure my love to show you
I measure my love to show you
We have a game to do. . .

Songs that you can act out. What is this you go "in and out the window?"

“In and out the window”  (This is the same song as “I measure my love to show you” and "Round and round the levee.")

Viola: I forgot that one. 
Irene: And what were some other play songs that we used to have? 
Viola: "Little Sally Walker, sitting in a saucer" - that sort of thing. "Skip to My Lou, my darling." We'd do the skipping. 
Irene: "I measure my love to show you" you know, those were the sort of things he would play for us and we would do them out on the lawn, out in the yard. And we'd have, uh, "Goodbye Mary, I hate to leave you,"
Viola: And then I notice in this children's book they've started this "Wild Goose." . . .
Irene: (takes up the recollection) . . . the bird would come from heaven a certain time of the year. He was so large that his wings would cover the sky. It would get dark. And he would say "QUA, QUA" (laughter) and when you see this bird coming over, you tell him what you want him to tell your loved ones in heaven when he gets back, and you give him what you want him to tell, and he'd say "QUA-K-QUA" and he just pass on over and then it get light again. Cause it was black as night while he was passing over. And I can't sing - can you remember some more songs we would sing when this bird was coming over? But the tale is that the group of them went hunting and the big eagle - big bird - came over and they shot him and it took - how long did it take him to fall? - 
Viola: I don't remember that. 
Irene: So many years, I think it was eight years to fall, and then he fell, and then - eight hours! it took him a long time to fall. And then they decided they would cook him and they put him on to cook and it took that same length of time for him to cook, and they cooked him and they got him boiled, done, and then when they got him ready to eat, he flew away (laughter). That was a tall tale!
Viola: That's what the children -
Irene: That's what Huddie would tell us and we were there spellbound, listening. 
Viola: You were listening, I don't know where I was, I didn't hear that one. I'd get part of it, I didn't get the other part of it. 
Irene: Boiled him and boiled him and he finally flew away. Now he has that in music. That record would get it straight, because I have it all twisted. I know it was a ridiculously long time. Falling and cooking and finally flew away. That was just a tale to make the kids laugh. (Leadbelly) loved children. I think, cause he took so much time with us.

This next part I found online and it's a massive collection of "Ozark" folksongs with many original field recordings at:

The John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection
Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas
 Wolf Collection Homepage
©Copyright 2002 Lyon College


'Marching Round the Levee,' is very interesting. The crowd forms a circle, boy and a girl, boy and a girl, boy and a girl. And some girl takes her place in the center of the circle. And they sing, 'We're marching 'round the levee . . .' [etc.], and then we sing to her 'Go forth and choose your lover . . .',[ etc.] And she chooses some young boy from the circle. That young boy takes his place in the center of the circle with this young girl. Then they sing 'I kneel because I love you . . .', [etc.] And then they sing next, 'I measure my love to show you,' that's with crossed arms, hand to hand, arm to arm. Finally, then, we sing, 'I take a sweet kiss and leave you . . .', [etc.] That winds it up, unless the boy is inclined to kiss the girl goodbye. Is that it?"

Dr. Wolf: "Now go ahead and tell about the others, how they get a new partner, a new one in the circle."

Mr. Jernigan: "Then, when this one person leaves, then the one left in the center chooses another partner, and then it's repeated again."

Dr. Wolf: "Is the outer ring marching all the time, or do they stop?"

Mr. Jernigan: "No, they're standing.")

November 29, 2018

The Jeter Place: Briefly

The Jeter Plantation.

Among the antebellum white settlers in the Shreveport region were the Jeter brothers from Virginia, William and James. They came as part of that southeast migratory pattern that opened up millions of acres of land to the cultivation of cotton in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and, finally, Texas; they came to help establish the Cotton Kingdom. The Jeters were from an affluent family; they brought money and possessions, including some slaves, and bought land in northwestern Louisiana. Their slaves cleared the land, planted cotton, built a large house for the owners and small houses for themselves.


William Nathaniel Jeter, born in 1824, first purchased property in Caddo Parish in 1849. This was a tract of three hundred and twenty acres of wooded land northeast of Caddo Lake; the seller was Richard T. Noel.


During the next three years, William got himself situated and then returned to Virginia in 1852 to marry Lucinda Ford. Later that year, William came back to Louisiana with his new bride and his younger brother, James Addison Jeter, who had just turned twenty-one. For the sum of $1,500, James bought four hundred and eighty acres from one Randolph Martin. This land was to the west of the village of Blanchard, which is halfway between Shreveport and Mooringsport. James Jeter was a surveyor and many maps of this area are based on "Jeter's Country Plat." 

In May, 1860, William bought 160 acres to the south of Caddo Lake. This appears to be the beginning of what was to become the Jeter Plantation, or the Jeter Place. A near neighbor of the Jeters, at the time, was seventy-five year old John Lowe, also a native Virginian. Lowe possessed fifty slaves and eleven slave dwellings; his real estate was valued at $50,000. By this time, a mere twenty-five years since the clearing of the Red River, Caddo parish was shipping record quantities of cotton to the international market in New Orleans.

When the Civil War began, both Jeter brothers went off to defend the Confederacy. James was Captain of an outfit known as the Caddo Lake Boys, who marched a hundred miles east to Monroe, Louisiana, in 1861. Both brothers were captured and then later sent back home in a prisoner exchange.

The Jeters were farmers and businessmen, and they were among the white leaders in their isolated part of the country. They may have been members of the White Camellias. After the defeat in 1865, they returned to raising cotton and dealing land. William and Lucinda Jeter gave birth to nine children, though only four survived to maturity. The eldest was Alice, who was born in 1853; one of her sons, Sam Caldwell, was to serve twelve years as mayor of Shreveport. Virgil Jeter would become a physician and move to Atlanta, Texas, and the second son, Frank, was to take over and operate the Plantation. The youngest of the four Jeter children was Hulda who married locally and stayed in the area all her life.


Like most planters in the region, the Jeter's livliehood had been barely affected by the war. Their slaves were "freed," but most of them "knew their place" and continued to live on the land and work for the Jeter family. Those freedmen who preferred to leave the plantation but couldn't afford to buy land "farmed for halves." Landowners supplied land, seed, and perhaps mules, housing and tools; in return they took half of the crop in lieu of rent. The Jeter holdings grew considerably during the twenty-five years which followed the Civil War. The number of workers increased until the area occupied by blacks on their plantation became known as "the quarter." In the 1880's, the residents of the quarter included Wes and Annie Ledbetter and at least two of their married sons, Wes, Jr., and Bob.



A Choyce Interview.

A Choyce Interview March, 1991. Working on the Plantation.


Liz (L) and Leonard (C) Choyce: M is interviewer, Monty or Marsha.
Leonard Choyce was born on May 22nd, 1911. In a couple of months he would be 80 years old.
Our first question to Leonard Choyce was, "where were you born?" and the answer was immediately controversial. He said, "Jonesville," and Liz contradicted him. "Wascom," she said.
"Well, it was Jonesville then," he said. Jonesville, Wascom — it's a community on the Texas side of the line, east of Shreveport.
Since we're trying to dig out some information about Leadbelly's early life, we asked if and when Leonard's parents moved the family on to the Jeter Plantation? (The Jeter Plantation was Huddie Ledbetter's birthplace, and his home until the age of five when he moved with his parents to East Texas.)

The Choyce family, when they left Jonesville, moved to the Jeter place, and that's where Leonard lived, basically, until he moved down to his current location in Mooringsport.

M:  Did you farm on the Jeter place?
Choyce:  Farmed all my life while I was there. 
M: You moved on to the Jeter plantation about 1920, then?
Choyce: Somewhere like that, yes. About 1920.
M: And your parents farmed there?
Choyce: Yes, my mother did. She wasn't married when she move there. She married afterwards. Married a Lacey. She didn't marry my dad. They wasn't together.
M:  How many brothers and sisters do you have?
Choyce: I had two then. But those are dead.
M: What sort of crops did you raise?




Choyce:  Cotton and corn.
M: Tell me about the raising of cotton . . . how do you start the year?
Choyce: We would start in January when the weather was favorable. We'd start breaking up the crop. We'd get the whole thing planted somewhere in May. Corn and cotton.
Liz:  Old people like to plant that corn and cotton in March.
M:  Where did you get the seed?
Liz: The man you were working for bought the seed.
Choyce: That's where we got feed for the mule. Furnished us food, too. Furnished the whole plantation food. Frank Jeter.  F.F. Jeter.

M: Frank Jeter furnished you the food and the seed, and in return for that,  
you raised the cotton? 
Liz: We worked for him for half. You'd raise the cotton — you'd get half of the cotton and he'd get half. And the corn, too.
Choyce: That was what you call "working for half." When you pull the corn, you carry a load to his barn, carry a load to your barn. Then when the cotton crop come off, he got half of it, and you got half of it.
M: Did he have a gin there?
Choyce: No, we hauled it to the gin in Leigh, Texas.
M:  Who owned the gin over there?
Choyce:  Taylor and Howe. [T.J. Taylor, Lady Bird Johnson’s father]   
M: T.J. Taylor owned a whole lot of Texas, didn't he?
Choyce: He sure did. (smiles) Most of it. (laughs) So that's the way it was . . . but we got along alright.
M: You've got the cotton planted. What do you do next?
Choyce: Like when we ain't planting? Worked around there on the farm. Clean up the farm, clean up the ditches; kept the water draining . . . you know, drained the water off the farm. Kept something to do all the time.
M: Did you have animals?
Choyce: I had cows.Two milk cows.
Liz: Mr. Jeter had horses and cows. Mules and horses.
M: So you got up in the morning and milked the cows?
Choyce: Sometimes my wife milked.
Liz: He didn't get up milking cows. He got up going to the field. See, he'd get up early going to the field, then I'd be getting up doing everything, you see. Cause I'd even fix breakfast and take him his breakfast in the field after I got at the house. I was the one did the milking.
M: Did you use the milk for other things; like cheese?
Liz: No. Didn't use it for no cheese. Just used it for drinking and cooking with. Then butter and stuff, never did make any cheese. When the milk turned, you'd churn it and made plenty of butter. Good old home made butter. That's the best kind.
M: You had your own churn for butter making?
Liz: That's right. Sure did. Had my own churn and had all my milk stuff. Like when you milk you strain the milk up and put it up til it turns, get ready for churning.

M: Okay. Back to the cotton: when the cotton starts to grow, you have to chop?
Choyce: Chop cotton. Plow it. Pick it, too.
Liz: Had to hoe it;  had to do all that. Chop it, hoe it. I'd be hoeing and chopping while he plowed and he had some hands that'd help. Mr. Jeter did. But, you had to do all that before the picking come around. Then you laid by. You're through with it til you go back to pick it.
M: Different people had different parts of Jeter's land?
Choyce: Yes. Different people had different parts. So many acres, each one worked. It was a big-sized place. Was a lot of people on the place. I can't tell you exactly how many, but it was a big place. Plantation. That's what it was.

Liz: He was already on there before we got married (in 1929.) He practically finished growing up there. He was there a long time before I went over there. I can tell what happened while I was there.
M: Where did you come from?
Liz: I come from over Mr. Tilly Kerr's place (?) Not too far from off the Jeter place. Over across the road. Tilly Kerr. He had a big plantation. I was living with my grandparents — Sarah Thomas and Joe Thomas. That's where I got married. My mother was named Willie — Willie Thomas.
M: They came from a plantation, too, then? Were they farming for halves as well?
Liz: Yes. Sure were. Back in them days, that's the way everybody worked.
Working for half. He had a lot of people on his plantation, too.
M: What's the difference between that and "sharecropping?"
Liz:  I don't know about the sharecropping. A lot of people owned it. They had their own land. They're not working for half, you see, that's their own. See, they do what they want and like they want with it. That's the difference. But if you're on somebody else's and working for them, well, they get the half and you get the half. 
M: What did you think about it at the time? Did you like it alright?
Liz: I didn't have no other choice. I didn't like it, but I went on like I liked it. Matter of fact, they started me out at eight years old. And I used to cut bushes, replant cotton, corn...they'd plant it and it'd be cold, wasn't coming up to suit 'em, they'd have us with them pockets on, replanting cotton, corn; if not that, cutting bushes out of the field. And then we had to cut wood, pack it up, us children, us grandchildren. It was rough. We didn't have no easy time. So, no sir, I didn't like it, but I didn't have no other choice.

M: Did you get much time to go to school?
Liz: No sir, not in them times. They robbed us out. They didn't go to school longer than three months. Some of them could go three months, if they were children with their mother and father, they'd send them to school, but you with your grandparents . . . they'd keep you out. Most of the time. It wasn't but three months. I come up the hard way. Ain't seen no easy time,  but I didn't have no other choice.
M: You (to Leonard) didn't go to school much either, then? 
Choyce: No. I didn't. It was just like she said. You had three months. Schooling. And I went to school, had 30 days, and all them wasn't school days out of the month. So I guess I made it to school a little better than half of the time. Had to get out there and cut sprouts. Clean up sprouts out of the way. . . I guess you know what that is?
M: No, you'll have to tell me that. 
Choyce: (Laughs) That's the same thing. Sprouts grow up over the field, instead of me going to school, I had to stop and cut sprouts out of the way. 
Liz: You had to do that to get the land ready, get those bushes out. Then the next thing, they started me out plowing. I wasn't no higher . . . at eight years old I had to hold up on the handle like that (gestures) and that  (?) cross that handle of that plow would touch me and I had to push up on the handle like that. And they had me dragging off and the planter behind be planting. 
M: And the plow was pulled by mules?
Liz:  Yes sir. Horses and mules. It's the way it was.

Liz moved to the Jeter plantation at seventeen years of age. That's when she got married to the seventeen-year-old Leonard. They were married on the 22nd of January, 1929.
It was almost their anniversary.

Liz: Yes. Be 62 years, been married that long.
Choyce: 63, won't it?
Liz: No. You counted too fast.
M: That's right, it's 62. 1929 to '91.
Liz: 62 years.
Choyce: Yes.
M: You're jumping ahead.
Liz: He counted too fast. (Laughter)
Choyce: I know it's been a long time.
Liz: But I keep up with it, you see, it was 61 last past one. It'd be 62. That's after the third Sunday. He's got a doctor's appointment that day. Anniversary Day. (Laughs)

November 28, 2018

Leadbelly's Nieces


Leadbelly's Nieces: an Interview
Several years ago (circa 1990) I went to visit Irene Campbell in Marshall, Texas. She was a retired schoolteacher well into her 80's; she'd attended Bishop College in Marshall and taught at the local schools, starting in the 1930's, before integration, and retiring in the 1970's; which would have been about the time that segregation was ending in Texas.
Irene had caused a bit of a storm with the Louisiana relatives of Leadbelly when she'd requested that his grave site be moved over the line to Texas, because she felt that was really his home. So I went to talk to her about her Uncle Huddie. She was related through Huddie's half-brother Alonzo Batts, Irene's father. She surprised me at the interview by introducing me to her elder sister, Viola. So this is a bit of a interview with the Batts sisters, Irene Campbell and Viola Daniels circa 1990.

Me: Do you remember the songs that Huddie sang?
Irene: Some of them.
Me: When you were kids.
Irene: "Goodnight Irene," I know that.
Me: (With a laugh) Sounds like he wrote that for you.
Irene: Yes he did, he did. Really, this Mr. Myers, we called him Miles - Sterling Miles, but later I found out his name was Myers, said he was there when Uncle Huddie wrote the song. They came through, they'd been out, and passed by my mother - he called her "Big Sister". "Big Sister, I'm drunk, and I'm hungry, fix me something to eat." She told him, "Well, you keep the baby while I fix something to eat." He was keeping the baby and wrote this song. "Goodnight Irene." Now that's what Mr. Myers said.
Me: Who's Mr. Myers?
Irene: He was his friend. Sterling Mi - well, we said Miles, but his name was Myers. He hasn't been dead so long either.
Me: Is there anybody else who's still living who was there?
Irene: There's a man, I think his name is Russell, but I don't know him. He says he knows Uncle Huddie. And he can play something, but he doesn't play it with the same tune that Uncle Huddie had. He can't even play "Goodnight Irene" with the same tune. (Irene turns to her sister, Viola.) Do you know anybody living now that knew Uncle Huddie?
Viola: The one I know would be already dead I guess - Roscoe Jamieson ?
Irene: He's dead.
Viola: He would be the one that would come into the house, regularly. See, all these people would meet him 'down yonder' didn't come to the house, you know. Cause what they had going down there, those songs, he didn't play at the house. So we had a wonderful time with our hymns and songs that we sang. . .
Irene: Games - what you call (sings)

I measure my love to show you
I measure my love to show you
We have a game to do. . .

Songs that you can act out. What is this you go in and out the window?

In and out the window, for we have a game today.

Viola: I forgot that one.
Irene: And what were some other play songs that we used to have?
Viola: "Little Sally Walker, sitting in a saucer" - that sort of thing. "Skip to My Lou, my darling." We'd do the skipping.
Irene: "I measure my love to show you" you know, those were the sort of things he would play for us and we would do them out on the lawn, out in the yard. And we'd have, uh, "Goodbye Mary, I hate to leave you,"
Viola: And then I notice in this children's book they've started this "Wild Goose." . . .

Irene: (takes up the recollection) . . . the bird would come from heaven a certain time of the year. He was so large that his wings would cover the sky. It would get dark. And he would say "QUA, QUA" (laughter) and when you see this bird coming over, you tell him what you want him to tell your loved ones in heaven when he gets back, and you give him what you want him to tell, and he'd say "QUA-K-QUA" and he just pass on over and then it get light again. Cause it was black as night while he was passing over. And I can't sing - can you remember some more songs we would sing when this bird was coming over? But the tale is that the group of them went hunting and the big eagle - big bird - came over and they shot him and it took - how long did it take him to fall? -
Viola: I don't remember that.
Irene: So many years, I think it was eight years to fall, and then he fell, and then - eight hours! it took him a long time to fall. And then they decided they would cook him and they put him on to cook and it took that same length of time for him to cook, and they cooked him and they got him boiled, done, and then when they got him ready to eat, he flew away (laughter). That was a tall tale!
Viola: That's what the children -
Irene: That's what Huddie would tell us and we were there spellbound, listening.
Viola: You were listening, I don't know where I was, I didn't hear that one. I'd get part of it, I didn't get the other part of it.
Irene: Boiled him and boiled him and he finally flew away. Now he has that in music. That record would get it straight, because I have it all twisted. I know it was a ridiculously long time. Falling and cooking and finally flew away. That was just a tale to make the kids laugh. He loved children. I think, cause he took so much time with us.

It's always been said that Huddie Ledbetter was a great children's entertainer and these two ancient ladies gave a glimpse into that aspect of Huddie's life.
POSTED BY MONTY AND MARSHA BROWN AT 2:28 PM 3 COMMENTS LABELS: LEADBELLY, LEADBELLY, LEADBELLY'S KIDS SONGS, LEADBELLY'S NIECES LINKS TO THIS POST

October 16, 2018

Leadbelly : The Titanic

Huddie Ledbetter's Titanic, April 1912.

Buried deep in the mythology of the doomed voyage is the story of  Shine , a fictional character who lives on through the folk traditions of the African American community.
Legend has it that the only black man on board the Titanic was a laborer called  Shine — "shine" being a derogatory term for blacks. Because he worked below deck, Shine was the first to realize that the Titanic was sinking, and thus was able to escape while more than 1,500 passengers perished in the April 14, 1912, disaster.

The Titanic leaving England on April 10, 1912.
Most stories about Shine take place in the form of "toasts," an improvisational oral narrative popular in black communities from the 1920s to the early 1960s. A form of street poetry, toasts were usually performed in the male provinces of pool halls and street corners, and were passed on from friend to friend.
Often as profane as they were misogynistic, the raplike verses reveal a different perspective on historical events. The Shine toast revels in sharing a smug satisfaction that the Titanic — a symbol of white European arrogance and affluence — sank on its maiden voyage. The irony that African Americans were not allowed to make the crossing, thus sparing their lives, inspired a wealth of jokes, toasts and ballads.
Numerous verses of the various Shine toasts, particularly those that refer to the female anatomy, are not suitable for polite society. But the rhyming verses, which could last for up to 10 minutes, go something like this:
Up stepped a black man from the deck below that they called Shine.

Hollerin, "Captain! Captain! Don't you know?
There's forty feet of water on the boiler room flo'.
"The captain said, "Go back, you dirty black! 
We got a thousand pumps to keep this water back."
Because Shine exists solely in the oral tradition, verses would vary from teller to teller. Roger Abrahams, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was one of the few folklorists to record them.
"Most versions of the Titanic fit into the same general pattern," he wrote in his 1963 book "Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore From the Streets of Philadelphia." There's a "prologue about the terrible day on which the ship sank; the introduction of Shine, the mythical Negro stoker on board the ship; a description of his argument with the captain about whether the ship was sinking; his jumping into the water and his amazing swimming ability described; the captain's offer of money to save him, which he refuses; the offer of the captain's wife and/or daughter of sexual relations with him, which he likewise refuses; a conversation with the shark and/or whale where he claims to be able to out-swim them (which he apparently does); and a final ironic twist in which it is mentioned that Shine swam so fast that by the time news of the sea tragedy arrived, Shine was already inebriated in some specific location.

"When the news got around the world that the great Titanic had sunk,
Shine was in Harlem on 125th street, damn near drunk." 

Or:
When all them white folks went to Heaven,
Shine was in Sugar Ray's Bar drinking Seagram's Seven.'
"Shine is the clever black," says Bruce Jackson, a professor of American culture at SUNY-Buffalo who traveled around the country recording toasts in the 1960s and '70s. "He's the only one on board smart enough to save his life, and he's the only one strong enough to physically swim to shore."
Other toasts include stories about a barroom brawl involving Stagger Lee, or tales of the Signifying Monkey, an animal fable in which a clever monkey outwits a lion.
"There are a number of toasts," Jackson says of his field recordings. "But I heard the most toasts about the Titanic. It made an enormous impact on the popular imagination of the time. People knew in the black community that it was an all-white ship -- it was part of the White Star Line. When it went down, that was not lost on the community."
But the sinking of the Titanic was not solely the province of toasts. Numerous musicians, from guitarist Blind Willie Johnson to the New Lost City Ramblers, recorded songs that told the Titanic tale. Some versions, recorded as "God Moves on the Water," were widely circulated in the 1920s and focused on the spiritual aspects of the accident. The Titanic was a symbol of technological prowess, and some people saw the disaster as divine intervention.
It's possible to spend hours listening to Titanic tunes in the majestically dusty archives of the Smithsonian. Ask an archivist  for Titanic songs, and they'll pull out album after album: Pink Anderson's Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Mance Lipscomb. Others recall singing a song about "When That Great Ship Went Down" at summer camp.
The famed blues guitarist Leadbelly also recorded a Titanic song. His lyrics included the common folklore that Jack Johnson, the black man who was world heavyweight boxing champion at the time, was denied passage on the boat.

Captain, he said, "I ain't hauling no coal"
Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well.
"There are a lot of songs about the Titanic, in part because the story itself is so dramatic," says Anthony Seeger, curator of the Folkways Recordings archives. "Versions of songs about the Titanic have been done with rock, gospel and blues. The clarity in which class distinctions were made on the voyage really resonated in folk culture, and by singing about it Americans were able to comment on their feelings."
As Leadbelly sang it: 

When he heard that mighty shock,
Mighta seen that man doin' the Eagle Rock
Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well. 









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