A railroad song sung by Rich Amerson, and recorded by Harold Courlander in Alabama, is typical of those frequently heard in southern areas of the United States in the past. It might be compared with the Hausa song played earlier in its use of the solo voice in alternation with sounds of labor (in this case, the shaking "rattledattle" of track laying). The insolence which is tolerated in folk song is obvious as Amerson comments freely upon the illiteracy of the "captain" (foreman) and boldly suggests that he would like to marry his daughter. Listen to this recording:


Folkways AF2691. Music Down Home.

Side 2, Band 6. "Railroad Song."

The rather lengthy ballad about the grey goose in the next recording is in fact a prison work song, and it is much more serious in tone than the railroad song described above. Here, we find call-and-response between the soloist and the group which answers "Lawd, Lawd, Lawd," to each phrase. Like their West African ancestors, American Blacks carry their religious beliefs into everyday life, calling upon their God even in the most secular undertakings. The ballad of the goose who would not be destroyed is in reality a protest song which dramatizes the Black American's determination to survive all hardships. This survival instinct operates at the personal level, as well as the group level, among Black people throughout the world.  The "Grey Goose," was recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax at Central State Prison Farm, Sugarland, Texas, in 1934.

Library of Congress AFS L3. Afro-American Spirituals,

Work Songs and Ballads .

Side B, Band 5. "The Grey Goose."


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February 2001