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Dr. Chase, a journalist, editor, critic, schohr, and teacher, has served as consultant to the Music Division of the Library of Congress and has lectured at numerous American and Latin American universities . Since 1951 he lias been active in the Foreign Service, attached as Cultural Affairs Officer to the American Embassies in Lima, Buenos Aires, and, starting this year, BrusseL·. His numerous publications , particularly on Spanish, Latin American, and American music, include The Music of Spain and America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present. A Note on Negro Spirituals GILBERT CHASE on November 20, 1862, almost two months after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by Lincoln, a Northern school teacher named Charlotte Forten wrote a letter describing her experiences at St. Helena's Island, South Carolina, where she was teaching Negro children (and some adults). A granddaughter of James Forten of Philadelphia, she had received her educational training atthe State Normal School in Salem, Massachusetts , and, Uke many other teachers, had come to the South in the midst of war to help educate the emancipated slaves. In her letter she wrote as foUows: St. Helena's Island, on which I am, is about six miles from the mainland of Beaufort. I must teU you that we were rowed thither from Beaufort by a crew of Negro boatmen, and that they sang for us several of their own beautiful songs. There is a peculiar wildness and solemnity about them which cannot be described , and the people accompanying the singing with a singular swaying motion of the body, which seems to make it more effective. How much I enjoyed that row in the beautiful, brilliant southern sunset, with no sounds to be heard but the musical murmur of the water, and the wonderfully rich, clear tones of the singers ! But all the time I did not realize that I was actually in South Carolina! And indeed I believe I do not quite realize it now. But we were far from feeling fear, —we were in a very excited, jubilant state of mind, and sang the John Brown song with spirit, as we drove through the pines and palmettos. Ah! it was good to be able to sing that here, in the very heart of Rebeldom! There are no white soldiers on this island. It is protected by gunboats, and by Negro pickets who do their duty well. These men attacked and drove back a boat261 262GILBERT CHASE load of rebels who tried to land here one night, several weeks ago. General [Rufus ] Saxton is forming a colored regiment at Beaufort, and many of the colored men from this and the adjacent islands have joined it . . . Miss Forten then goes on to teU about her school, where, together with two companions, she taught some eighty to ninety pupils. It is a great happiness to teach them. I wish some of those persons at the North, who say the race is hopelessly and naturally inferior, could see the readiness with which these children, so long depressed and deprived of every privilege , learn and understand. . . . The children have just learned the John Brown song, and next week they are going to learn the song of the "Negro Boatman." The Uttie creatures love to sing. They sing with the greatest enthusiasm. I wish you could hear them.1 This letter corroborates the testimony of other writers, including Thomas Jefferson and John Davies in the eighteenth century, concerning the musical aptitude and vocal enthusiasm of the Negroes. Frances Anne Kemble, the English actress and writer who was married to Pierce Butler, wrote at considerable length and in some detail about the singing of the Negroes in herJournal ofa Residence ona GeorgiaPlantation in 1838-1839.2 Ten years later another English writer, Sir Charles LyeU, visited a southern plantation , and like Fanny Kemble and Charlotte Forten, mentions in his account the singing of the Negro boatmen, of whom he writes: "OccasionaUy they struck up a hymn, taught them by the Methodists, in which the most sacred subjects were handled with a strange famiUarity."8 The Rev. William W. Mallet, an EngUsh clergyman who visited the South in the summer of 1862, wrote about his impressions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 261-267
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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