|:: Description ::
||Alan Lomax discussing white 1950s Popular Music: Les Paul and Mary Ford, Nat King Cole, the Mills Brothers, and the Ink Spots. Some reflections on Charles Joyner's "Down By The Riverside" (1986); reflections on cowboy songs.
|:: Project ::
||Cantometrics, Choreometrics, The Urban Strain
|:: Date Range ::
||01-01-1986 to 01-22-1995
|:: Particpants ::
|:: Subjects ::
|Cowboy songs and the cultural melting pot in Texas|
|World cultural regions revealed by Cantometrics and Choreometrics; educational uses of|
|Popular music - predominant characteristics of white pop music of 1950s|
|Les Paul and Mary Ford's "Vaya Con Dios"|
|Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa"|
|Ink Spots - analysis of|
|Charles Joyner's Down By The Riverside|
|Black-white cultural exchange in the American South|
|Mills Brothers' "Paper Moon"|
|:: Cultures ::
|:: Holdings ::
|:: Notes ::
||Predominant characteristics of 1950s white pop music are very rapid tempo, percussive all the way through, in spite of the use of guitars as the main instrument, breaking of longer phrases into shorter ones, and the use of nonsense syllables "boop-booping." Calling out, yelling, use of playful voice. All these were a response to black stylistic influences. In the fifties you did lively tempos and boop booping in the background later on there was more use of high volume, rasp, and polyrhythm.
Les Paul's "Vaya Con Dios" with Mary Ford singing and a chorus of women in strict unison and harmony with Les Ford's electric guitar and orchestra with occasional use of chimes - like cleaned-up hillbilly. Les Paul's improvisations are an early introduction of the electric guitar as a virtuosic leading voice of the orchestra. Mary Ford's voice has touches of rasp and nasality, giving it a smoky quality. She sings with lots of syncopation. There is much repetition in the refrain. Orchestra shadows singer. Theme of travel in foreign lands was important in 1953, when triumphant Americans scattered all over the world.
Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" takes over Bing and Frank Sinatra's style. The singer opens up with a tremendous feeling of relaxed masculinity. He varies the dynamics and engagingly pauses as he sings the conventional phrases of this song.
The Mills Brothers in "Paper Doll" sing in the close harmony of the barbershop quartet. The song has a leisurely, gentle introduction and up-tempo main section with lots of swing and syncopation. Their attack is markedly playful. Leader is raspy, jaunty, and masculine. Wonderful laid-back quality to the whole piece. Pauses (holes) where they shouldn't be in the music are an African quality and give it a sense of ease. The crisp enunciation and the extremely precisely organized and controlled diatonic harmony in the orchestra are European. Quartet singing in harmony is one of the oldest European forms. This is a big achievement.
The Ink Spots perform a seductive, slow-tempo song. The lead singer works against a background of humming and cooing nonsense syllables from his companions all the way through. Passages of talking. The chordophone orchestra, guitar and piano sharing the lead. Syncopated breaks by the orchestra. Orchestra shadows the singers. Passage of talking in a deep voice. Voices are changeful, but not truly playful. The effect is of black style taking on white role, using tricks of white vocal presentation - expressive variation of dynamics, rather than tone quality. Putting in tremolo, precise enunciation, gliding into notes, effect of drama instead of subtler, seductive effects of the Mills Brothers. The moderate-length phrases are broken into shorter phrases by pauses in the black manner.
Performance and brief explanation of the anti-war song "Suppose They Gave A War And Nobody Came," with vocal imitations of band instruments.
January 22: A quick review of some concepts that would make the data and findings of the project of general interest and usefulness.
One: the South an encounter between an amalgam of largely West African black [style?] and a select set of Anglo-Americans. I was struck by how the author of "Down By The Riverside" intuitively perceives the solidity of the black community and its general healthiness even under conditions of slavery. [Charles Joyner, "Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community" (1986)]. The author shows the importance of role of the whites in disciplining and regimenting the slaves so that they conform to European standards, appallingly cruel though it might have been. The book that would have been of revolutionary importance if he had characterized the group from which the black slaves came, one in which women tended the crops and men did the heavy groundbreaking, transport, military, and political activity. Women maintained a status-giving role and marriage changed from polygamy to (serial) monogamy. On a non-verbal level, role of the Aristocratic women of Great Britain from which Southern planters derived provided an attractive model for black women. There was also the intrusion of people from other orders of British culture, lowly Scotch-Irish types and others. Special cultural characteristics of models held up to blacks by their hard-driving masters, sun-to-sun work requirements, organization, the building up of guilt by a system of rewards and punishments. On the other hand, on the non-verbal level whites immediately picked up things from the slaves. Cultural exchange went both ways.
Number two: the collection of cowboy songs. My father portrayed the West as a cultural meeting place. Chorus "Tay yippie aye" came from a French voyageur songs. "Get Along Little Doggies" related to Irish come-all-ye and a Gaelic lullaby. There were German hymn tunes drinking songs ("Rye Whiskey," etc.), lyrical Scotch Irish, and the pan-British narrative ballad all transformed by the black and white cowboys who sang them. I should find a young scholar to make a new edition of John A. Lomax's Cowboy Songs would clarify their multi-cultural roots.
Three: World Cultural Regions. Next big move for my work is to find a stenographer that would collaborate with me on a book that would characterize the ten cultural traditions discovered in the performance studies and put bones and structure into the back of the non-verbal material. Perhaps I have almost enough in the big style studies with the characteristics, contrastive, and distinctive, profiling of singing, of orchestras, and speaking styles for an outline of world cultural types. Must try to enlist Lee Herring into this work. Murdock profiles can be pulled out of data that we have and given a rounded treatment by a scholar like Conrad Arensberg. Perhaps a good idea to pick one culture out of each set.
This morning I am eager for the task. Must make contact with both Russians and Chinese to fill in big gaps: western China and new recordings from hunter Siberia.
Number four: I'm beginning to get a sense of what a rich contribution an understanding of these cultural regions can make. For example, in American popular music. One can feel the strong influence of Midwest and New York-based (Central European) big band polyphonic tradition on déclassé black musicians of New Orleans and St. Louis. One can see how this tradition converted it into a new, neo-Austrian, neo-Birmingham [sic] jazz amalgam with a lot of syncopation and colors for the horns.
The Mid-European-Slavic contribution through the activities of the East Side group on the development of the U.S. musical and Hollywood film and their injection into the system of specific tunes, themes from mid-European sophisticated music. The strong Yiddish and Slavic influence of the melodic writing.
The Scotch-Irish syndrome gradually found its way back into the pop market via Nashville, entertaining a whole nation of guilt-ridden Protestant, tormented, born-again Americans with sad songs of love and parting, backed by a highly Germanized kind of string band. Each of these American enterprises burst in new waves on the shores of jazz, washing away homes, backed by a huge, ancient European tradition that hides somewhere in the urban sprawl. It pokes around until it finds its way and suddenly charms the culture by learning the vocabulary of jazz or rock and giving it new color.
What is needed is to decorate this very generalized picture with the rich findings of musicology, folklore, and ethnography - actual data from our culture - so that it will be a healthy and appealing dish for the readers and make every branch of the human species say, "Hey, here are my folks."