The Negro Spiritual of Saint Helena Island: An Analysis of its Repertoire during the Periods 1860-1920, 1921-1939, and 1972-present
The Negro Spiritual of Saint Helena Island: An Analysis of Its Repertoire during the Periods 1860-1920, 1921-1939, and 1972-PresentEric Sean CrawfordDirector: Grayson Wagstaff, Ph.D.The Negro spiritual was the central medium by which the slave expressed the suffering of an inhuman existence. Since Reconstruction, the Sea Islands region, comprised of the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia coastal areas, offered a geographical isolation that fostered songs with a cultural distinctiveness as part of the Gullah traditions. Saint Helena Island, one of the largest of the Sea Islands, has provided the most studied body of Negro spirituals over two main periods of active research: 1860-1917, when William Allen, Natalie Curtis Burlin, and Carl Diton made their collections; and 1922-1939, when The Society for the Preservation of Spirituals and the N.G. J. Ballanta-Taylor, Samuel Lawton, and Guy B. Johnson collections were assembled. Yet in recent times, with the exception of a few efforts by Sally Plair (1972) and William Dargan (2006), the songs from Saint Helena Island have been virtually ignored by scholars since Lawton published his study, and now the survival of these songs in the repertoire is in question since the performance tradition is becoming scattered. Although transcriptions may differ from the actual performance, the availability of multiple renderings of many of the island's spirituals makes it possible to identify and examine important changes to the melodic, rhythmic, and textual makeup in the island's songs. In addition, transcriptions from both archival and fieldwork recordings have been compared to written sources to develop a clearer understanding of song retentions and alterations throughout the three targeted periods of concentration.In the first part of this study, I provide an analysis of the educational, social, and economic factors influencing the Saint Helena Island spirituals. Following a review of previous research conducted on the island's songs in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 begins with a discussion of the Penn School's educational and musical curricula that affected the use of Gullah in song texts and the singing of shouting songs. In Chapter 3, I concentrate on the Penn School's outreach efforts, such as the Saint Helena Quartet, house blessings, and the Community Sings that broadened the school's musical influence on the island. In Chapter 4, I examine the contrafacta and musical alterations made to the Saint Helena Island songs during the World Wars and Prohibition. In these periods, the island's songs gained national attention because of their effectiveness as patriotic songs, but they also offered social commentary to those islanders selling illegal alcohol. Chapter 5 opens the second part of this study with a musicological analysis of the Saint Helena Island spirituals extant from 1860-1917. I identify eighteen spirituals from the original Slave Songs of the United States collection and show resultant alterations and retentions that have occurred. In Chapter 6, I focus on 1922-1939, the most active period of scholarship on the island. I present a comparative analysis of transcriptions by Carl Diton and N.G.J. Ballanta-Taylor--the earliest collections--and include later contributions made by The Society for the Preservation of Spirituals, Guy Johnson, and Samuel Lawton. Finally, Chapter 7 concludes the second half with an analysis of the spirituals existing from 1972 to the present. Recordings, both from the Southern Historical Society at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and my own fieldwork, are used throughout this chapter.
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