Mudcat Café message #907784 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #34323   Message #907784
Posted By: Joe Offer
11-Mar-03 - 07:18 PM
Thread Name: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Subject: RE: The origin of Sea Chanteys
Here's something Cranky Yankee asked me to post. It comes to you straight from Rhode Island (by way of California).
-Joe Offer-
I hereby, and without reservation, renounce any claim to the title, "chanteyman", nor will I, in future, put forth any definition of the word, "chantey", nor will I attempt to spell it correctly.
It seems that people who love music, as I do, and derive great pleasure from its performance have an entirely different concept of what these two terms mean. Some of these fine people have taken umbrage, and rightly so, at the way I've been using these two words.

"ARS GRATIA ARTIS" art for arts sake has nothing to do with what I am about to propose, until later when I again use this phrase.

               THE FOLLOWING

In the last three centuries, there has been a great demand for "Boxes" throughout the world. The companies that made boxes were known as "Boxing companies" and the people hired to make the boxes were known as "BOXERS".
The way boxes were made (hypothetically) absolutely required a good deal of cooperation between boxers when they assembled boxes. There was a standard operation procedure or "SOP" for these assembly methods. Anyone who's ever been in the military knows what "SOP" means.
The price that a boxing company demanded for its boxes depended entirely upon the number of boxers a company employed.
For one reason or another, American and British boxing companies began hiring boxers from a different part of the world. Let's call this different part of the world, "Gussie" and its people were known as "Gusses"
The gussers had a method doing SOP that was known as co-ordination. Coordination required fewer boxers than the old SOP methods and produced the same quality of boxes. Coordination was immediately accepted by the boxers and boxing companies, who could then employ fewer boxers to do the same job, thereby lowering the price of their boxes. Boxers who were good at coordination were paid extra money to use their expertise when doing SOP. THEY WERE KNOWN AS COORDINATORS.
Did the boxers spend their leisure hours, at the local pubs, coordinating? Don't hold your breath.
However, there is a great deal of good art inherent in coordination, and, the general public got a good deal of pleasure in coordinating and watching the process, aside from it's use in the manufacture of boxes.
The artists who performed coordination were, of course, known as coordinators.
ARS GRATIA ARTIS? You bet your life.
Now, substitute terms as follows:

Shipping companies for boxing companies

Shipping for boxing.

Sailors for boxers.

Singing for coordinating

and above all CHANTEYMAN (shantyman) for coordinator.

There is far greater musical expression and enjoyable singing in the performances of artistic Chanteymen than ever was heard on board a ship. Shipboard chantey singing is dull and boring, seldom involving more than one verse and chorus per job and sometimes involving the same line over and over again.   Except for scholarly endeavor I don't recommend it as a "spectator sport". It's only by coincidence that I am a boxer-coordinator as well as a sailor-chanteyman. My shipboard chanteying is as dull and boring as it could possibly be. But aside from that, my singing in public is as good as anyone else's. Louis Killen is not the world's greatest sailor but he is a tremendous performer of sea chanteys putting a lot of nautical flair into his performance. It was Louis' singing that inspired me to take up sailing to find out what sea chanteys are all about. My conclusion is: on board ship in actual use Pfooey (and that includes me). At a chantey sing or gathering I heartily recommend it.

African sailors deserve the credit for starting this and introducing the tradition on board ships though they are, in no way, solely responsible for its evolution into what we now call "Sea Chanteys".
The Great Huddie Ledbetter's (Leadbelly) recording of "Haul away Joe", though he did it properly for shipboard use, is a good example of how bad a chantey can sound when in actual use.

Nobody seems to want to hear about the multitude of free Africans, mostly sailors, who settled in the Seaport towns of North America by choice. The civil rights activists (of which I am one) with few exceptions, only want to hear about the horrors of slavery. I'm going to try to correct this situation. Don't yell at me, should I succeed, for emphasizing the African contribution for the development of the sea chantey.


Jody Gibson