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Gaelic Soul?
A Reader Query on the Origins of American Folk Music

I am not into music much, but the more research I do on Plantation America the more I wonder how much of our music has Gaelic and not African roots. The total number of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish enslaved in this land far exceeded the number of Africans brought here. It's a thought and I'd be grateful for anyone who could point me to a source for music origins in America.

For instance, how many of the instruments used in American music as of 1865 were of African origin as opposed to European?

Sea Chanty

This has got to be the most masculine musical mode in existence:


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Sam J.August 25, 2018 11:03 AM UTC

Rounder Records has a great assortment of blues, folk, country, etc. They recorded George Thorogood. Not their usual thing but one of the RR guys saw him in a bar with a hand full of people and said he played like he was in a stadium in that little bar so they recorded him.

Some good ones are Georgia Blues, Mississippi Blues and I think I have a few more RR artist records but can't remember off hand what they are.
Nero The PictAugust 21, 2018 4:15 PM UTC

A man I used to know in a galaxy far far away...

probably one of the foremost scholars on this subject. Seems to be much of what would be classed as early American music is a pretty muddy mix of African and the jumbled mass of pale unfortunates. The banjo in its purest form is an African instrument. It took Americans to modify and change its material and to a degree the sound. Same goes for the "Jews Harp"...The Romans reportedly used some variation as did the Chinese. They were pretty popular in the pre 1865 era here in the US.

A bunch of stuff was published years ago on the old Smithsonian folkways label that might be of interest. Same goes for Yazoo records...An archival blues label who had a vast and varied catalogue.

If you want to actually hear some of the old coal miners songs you'll have to find the vinyl next time you are in Baltimore. The Enoch Pratt used to have in their collection a series of records that each highlighted mining songs by region (ie Songs of the Anthracite Coal Miners, Songs of the Bituminous Coal Miners etc). It has been over ten years since I heard these but they are worth the dig...First time I put them on my turntable it was otherworldly. I felt as if my great grandfather was in the room with me. The men's accents were much like his. I have tried to track these down on youtube so that you can hear what I speak of. To no avail. Mostly recordings of 21st century suburban moms playing at being "the coal miners daughter".
responds:August 22, 2018 2:37 PM UTC

Thanks for the lead.