Mudcat Café message #2044263 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #64600   Message #2044263
Posted By: Azizi
05-May-07 - 08:34 PM
Thread Name: Falsetto
Subject: RE: Falsetto
I found this thread by doing a bit of Mudcat archive surfing. I'd like to thank its posters-many of whom are still here and others who are not-for a very interesting read. Here are some random thoughts I have on this subject:

I agree with the comments made early on in this thread that falsetto was/is a familiar African vocal technique. However, I believe that that there is no historical basis for the theory that M Ted shared in his 19 Nov 03 - 05:06 PM post that falsetto..."come[s] to Black Gospel music by way of JuJu from the old African religions, where they occur in religious rituals when the singer is possessed by the spirit of a particular god"... While falsetto singing may have occurred {and still may occur} during these types of religious ceremonies, that type of singing also occurred and still occurs in Africa apart from religious ceremonies.

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The connection between falsetto singing and yodeling is noted in some articles I've read. See, for example this excerpt from an online article on "The African Tradition" by Ben S. Austin:

"Yet another Africanism which deserves attention is the extensive use
of the "falsetto wail" or "falsetto leap" in which the voice was raised an octave "generally in the last syllable of a word, at the end of a line" (Russell, 1970:67). It is generally believed that this trait was preserved in the field hollers and work songs of the slavery period and found its way into the early blues form. Some scholars (Russell, 1970:67; Morthland, 1984:57) have suggested that the "blue yodel " popularized by Jimmie Rodgers and his many imitators may have been an intentional blend of Swiss yodeling and the African falsetto leap."

http://www.mtsu.edu/~baustin/afrtrad.html

**

Finally, here's an excerpt from the article "The African Heritage of White America" by John Edward Philips, included in "Africanisms In Amrican Culture" {Joseph E. Holloway, editor; Indiana University Press, 1991}:

"Sanuel Chartiers, who went to West Africa a few years ago looking for the roots of the blues, found that traditional mountain banjo music was "certainly closer in style to African sources" than was the blues. "Sadly the era of recording began after the banjo was largely taken over by white performers", he noted. [8- Samuel Chartiers, "The Roots of the Blues: An African Search {Boston, Marion Boyars, 1981} 122, 126] But why sadly? Had the instrument not been taken up by white musicians the African musical heritage of the United States would be that much poorer. Surviving styles of Appalachian banjo music are likely the most authentically African music in the United States, but few musicologists have ever considered, much less investigated, the question of African elements in white Appalachian folk music. One of the few who have considered the question concluded that the structural characteristics of camp meeting songs showed strong black influence, presumably including African characteristics. [9-W. H. Tallmadge, "Tje Black In Jackson's White Spirituals," Black Perspective in Music {Fall 1981} 9 {2} 129-60]

Yodeling is known to be common in many areas of Africa in addition to being similar to the "field hollers" of African-American folk tradition. Thus we can postulate a partially African origin for Jimmie Rodgers's "blue yodel" style of singing, so important in the development of country music. Rodgers grew up where blacks were in the majority, and his singing shows profound black influences in other respects as well as his yodeling. Although some musicologists try to draw a distinction between the "true" yodel [found among whites and of European origin] and the falsetto leap [found only among blacks and from Africa], the use of falsetto leaps by such white country musicians as Jimmy Martin and of true yodels in African and among African-American singers shows that the distinction, if valid at all, is not relevant to race. [Nolan Porterfield, "Jimmie Rodger {Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979}, mentions that many Swiss yodelers toured the United States but fails to consider whether European yodeling was influenced by contact with black yodeling. For falsetto leaps by Jimmie Martin listen to among others, "The Sunny Side of the Mountain" on the album "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" For African-American yodeling listen to early Pharoah Sanders albums] "