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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Gibb Sahib Origin: Johnny Come Down to Hilo (88* d) RE: Origin: Johnny Come Down to Hilo 09 Mar 15


I guess earlier parts of this thread have been somewhat forgotten.

While today viewed as an important item in the deepwater sailor chanty genre, this song does not appear quite so prominently in the historical record of that trade. Terry's publication of a version in the 1920s, and subsequent recordings and other renditions by enthusiasts based off of that, seems to have increased its stock.

The "John comes down the hollow" appears to be likely a pre-Emancipation plantation song of African-American culture. Thus it is one of many songs of this provenance that came to be adopted and/or adapted by non-Black seamen. I personally am more interested in discovering exactly how that happened (among the several possibilities that need not be stated now). My hunch is that in the case of this particular item, minstrel music had some role in helping to *mediate* it, even though the song does not originate with minstrels. But that's another story.

There is nothing inherently racist about it —though I suppose one could add racist lyrics to any song, on a whim.

The couplet pattern that begins "I never seen the like since I was born" looks to have been a stock pattern in African-American song. The rhyme varies.

Michael, I have no idea what a "true folksong" is, but Black Americans sang the word "nigga" often enough in the 19th century, just as many Black people sing it today in certain genres. The meaning or usage in those cases of the past seems to me more or less the same as in the present, and this is one reason that when we see that word in chanty-type songs we have good reason to suspect the song either has an African-American origin or a minstrel ( = representation of "Blackness") origin. And it's for that reason that removal of such language presents a paradox: while removing offense to Black people, it also removes evidence of Black people's "ownership."


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