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GUEST,KarenH Who started the Delta blues myth? (208* d) RE: Who started the Delta blues myth? 13 Aug 18


Hi Joseph

I think you misrepresent Hagstrom Miller's book. You seem to have done this by pulling a quotation out of context, and, it would seem, by completely misrepresenting what the book does and the quality of its content.

It doesn't seem reasonable to accuse Miller of getting the early story of folklorists wrong when it was as a result of reading that book that I read not only the 1903 Peabody article but also the first ever edition of "The American Journal of Folklore". Miller discusses Peabody in some detail.

What Miller does in fact is go back to the start of 'folklore' studies and situate them in the context of Jim Crow legislation and a segregated society. A society in which views about the different development of different 'races' were used to justify discrimination and segregation on the basis of 'race'. Folklore studies were part of this. This point is worth making and Miller does it well.


Here are some extracts from the first ever edition of the Journal of American Folklore, with my emphasis on certain words:

"Many of the best Scotch and Irish ballad.singers, who have preserved, in their respective dialects, songs which were once the property of the English-speaking *race*, have emigrated to this coun try; and it is possible that something of value may be obtained from one or other of these sources."

"It is also to be wished that thorough studies were made of negro music and songs. Such inquiries are becoming difficult, and in a few years will be impossible. Again, the great mass of beliefs and superstitions which exist among this people need attention, and present interesting and important psychological problems, connected with the history of a *race* who, for good or ill, are henceforth an indissoluble part of the body politic of the United States."

" There is, no doubt, another side. The habits and ideas of *prim itive races* include much that seems to us cruel and immoral, much that it might be thought well to leave unrecorded. But this would be a superficial view. What is needed is not an anthology of customs and beliefs, but a complete representation of the *savage mind* in its rudeness as well as its intelligence, its licentiousness as well as its fidelity. "

To spell it out, the early folklorists saw the music of African Americans as providing an insight into the minds of people of a different race. Miller discusses this sort of stuff in some detail. I hope that sets the record straight on his work.

Peabody is indeed worth reading as it explains how, in 1903, workers sang the commercial songs "Goo Goo Eyes" and "The Bully Song" for hours. Peabody actually moans about this, as he doesn't want to hear about it; it's not what he is interested in.

Luckily for us, he did record the information, so we can see how, as Wald has suggested, commercial music did influence what African Americans were singing at work in the Delta at that period of time. Where Wald is helpful, I believe, is in pointing out that people who came to be seen later as in some sense 'folk musicians', such as Robert Johnson and the Chatmon family, were, or aspired to be commercial stage musicians.

You wrote about Wald:

"He likes that modern-day myth that stage musicians helped invent the earliest blues music,"

I wondered what dates you were thinking of for 'earliest blues music' and also what your definition might be. Interested also in some specific examples of where Wald incorrectly states that a piece of early blues was influenced by 'stage musicians'.

Interesting discussion.


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