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The Vernacular Tradition

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Julie Stedman

on 26 August 2013

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Transcript of The Vernacular Tradition

The Vernacular Tradition
Secular Rhymes and Songs, Ballads, Work Songs, and Songs of Social Change
Borrowing heavily from Spirituals and work songs, The Blues emerged in the South at the beginning of the twentieth century (48).
W.C. Handy is called "the father of the Blues" because he noted this new sound and transcribed its beginnings (48).
The Blues are called such because of their use of "the blue notes". The Blues "are all about improvisation, whether it be timing or emphasis" (49).
What is the Vernacular Tradition?
Put simply, the Vernacular Tradition is the primarily oral traditions of African American Literature.
While the African American's literature history is unconventional compared to those of European decent, it is not less rich in content or history. The common thread throughout most of the varying types, is often an attempt to deal with the harsh realities of being a black American.
"Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison have argued that vernacular art accounts, to a large degree, for the black American's legacy of self-awareness and endurance" (4).
"Through it African Americans can attempt to humanize an often harsh world, and to do so with honesty, toughness, and often humor" (4).
Sacred vs. Secular
Sacred Tradition
is composed of spirituals, gospels and Sermons and Prayers.
Secular Tradition
is composed of Secular Rhymes and Songs, Ballads, Work Songs, Songs of Social Change, the Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop, and Folktales
Spirituals usually sang about a caring Jesus, alluded to the Jewish sufferings, or of deliverance from oppression.
Spirituals were sung in the interactive "call-response" pattern (9).
Gospels and spirituals are often times indistinguishable.
The music was primarily developed during the 1930s with pioneers such Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson.
Gospel music seems to be fluid and to absorb the music styling of the day (20).

Spirituals and gospels are very similar. "Both are black sacred songs, born and nurtured in the context of of ritualized Christian worship, and both comment widely on the trying circumstances of black life in white American" (19).
Secular Rhymes and Songs
"As persuasive as were the sacred forms of expression among African Americans, secular forms were nearly as important for the slave. Perhaps over time such forms have become more important" (25).
Secular rhymes and songs often times tried to humanize the slaves' harsh existence.
Ballads often had characters such as John Henry, who were wish-fulfillment avengers, bragging, daring, ready for war, or troublesome (26). These characters could offer inspiration to the singer.

"These hero and man forms have had a strong impact on the blues, that other stronghold of secular expression, and, in current times, on rap music" (26).
Work Songs
Primarily intended to simply pass the time, to synchronize the work pace, and to reflect on the scene the workers witnessed.
"Doubtless their energy and and unofficial artistry are part of the story of how Africans in America have managed to survive and even to prevail" (26).
"They expressed with humor the bitter disappointment of slave existence" (26).
Songs of Social Change
During much of the twentieth century, Songs of Social Change rallied African Americans to demand equality and justice.
"black Americans deployed sacred and secular forms to voice their insistence of radical change in their political status in the United States" (26).
Spirituals and Gospels
The Blues
"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful detail and episodes of a brutal existence alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it..."(49).
"Jazz emerged in the early twentieth century as a hodge podge of ragtime, marching band music, opera, Native American musics, spirituals, work songs, and especially the blues" (64).
Jazz tends to be strongly instrumental and not an art of unaccompanied solo making(65).
"And yet with the deep sea blue tragic sense of life that underlies the music comes an overwhelming impulse to celebrate human experience" (65).
Rhythm and Blues
"The designations rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and soul are inventions not of musicians or scholars but of the marketplace where labels are categories promote sales"(69).
While R&B has a wide variety of content and message, more often than not, lyrics are highlighting a need for change and equality.
"Rhythm and Blues emerged following World War II by blending boogie-woogie bass and melody, blues, jazz, Latin, and Gospel"(69).
"by adding layers of complexity and social awareness to songs of love and loss, and by having fun" (70).
Hip Hop
Hip Hop seems to be a hybrid form from speech and songs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Hip Hop is influenced by The Blues and R&B.
Hip Hop influenced Jazz by the stylistic emphasis on syllables to fit into the framework of performance (79).
Hip Hop emerged in uptown New York in the late 1970.
"Hip Hop is a music that makes room for young black performers to address black audiences concerning serious matters of disempowerment and the urgent need for fundamental change" (80).
Sermons and Powers
While sermon and prayers differ dramatically from denomination to denomination, a specific formula of "disclaimer, the statement of theme, the interpretation, the body of the sermon, and the closing statement"(94).
It has been said that sermons and prayers follow many of the same stylistic elements of Jazz (95).
"With their improvisations, dramatic call-recall patterns, pauses, and polyrhythmical insistence, prayers, bespeak the continuing resonance of the black vernacular tradition" (96).
"Since their arrival in the New World from Africa (and elsewhere), the tales have been a key part of the African American's equipment for survival and sustenance" (130).
African American stories include characters, motifs, and styling (130).
There is no way to take one simple meaning from the folktales (130).
"But whatever the sources -- Old or New World; black, white, or red -- African Americans hammered these myraid tales into unmistakeably black American shapes and themes" (131).
Gates, Henry Louis and Nellie Y. Mckay. "The Vernacular Tradition." "The Norton Anthology of African American Literature". New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. 3-149. Print.

This book by Henry Louis Gates explore in detail the different genres of the Vernacular Traditions. This is a mind map of this broad overview.
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