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Songs of Sorrow

Songs of Sorrow: Lucy McKim Garrison andSlave Songs of the United States

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Songs of Sorrow
    Book Description:

    In the spring of 1862, Lucy McKim, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a Philadelphia abolitionist Quaker family, traveled with her father to the Sea Islands of South Carolina to aid him in his efforts to organize humanitarian aid for thousands of newly freed slaves. During her stay she heard the singing of the slaves in their churches, as they rowed their boats from island to island, and as they worked and played. Already a skilled musician, she determined to preserve as much of the music as she could, quickly writing down words and melodies, some of them only fleeting improvisations. Upon her return to Philadelphia, she began composing musical settings for the songs and in the fall of 1862 published the first serious musical arrangements of slave songs. She also wrote about the musical characteristics of slave songs, and published, in a leading musical journal of the time, the first article to discuss what she had witnessed.

    InSongs of Sorrowrenowned music scholar Samuel Charters tells McKim's personal story. Letters reveal the story of young women's lives during the harsh years of the war. At the same time that her arrangements of the songs were being published, a man with whom she had an unofficial "attachment" was killed in battle, and the war forced her to temporarily abandon her work.

    In 1865 she married Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and in the early months of their marriage she proposed that they turn to the collection of slave songs that had long been her dream. She and her husband--a founder and literary editor of the recently launched journalThe Nation--enlisted the help of two associates who had also collected songs in the Sea Islands. Their book,Slave Songs of the United States, appeared in 1867. After a long illness, ultimately ending in paralysis, she died at the age of thirty-four in 1877. This book reclaims the story of a pioneer in ethnomusicology, one whose influential work affected the Fisk Jubilee Singers and many others.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-534-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Samuel Charters
  4. 1 With Voices to Sing!
    (pp. 3-11)

    In his groundbreaking workThe Souls of Black FolkW. E. B. Du Bois introduced in his chapter titled “Of the Sorrow Songs” the circumstances of the discovery of black song in the South in the early years of the Civil War.

    … in war-time came the singular Port Royal experiment after the capture of Hilton Head, and perhaps for the first time North met the southern slave face to face and heart to heart with no third witness. The Sea Islands of the Carolinas, where they met, were filled with a black folk of primitive type, touched and moulded...

  5. 2 Come Liberty!
    (pp. 12-26)

    For children like Lucy McKim who grow up in a closely knit family, it is their mother and father who are the background against which the adventure of their lives will be played. The years before her parents’ marriage and her own childhood—the 1830s and the 1840s—were a period of rapid change and expansion, ferment, disputation, and uncertainty in the United States. For her father it was a period of challenging demands on his skills and his commitment to his abolitionist principles, but he also felt it as a period of optimism, however strained, and he never questioned...

  6. 3 Schooling of a Different Nature
    (pp. 27-44)

    On June 23, 1856, Theodore Weld wrote a hurried letter to Lucy’s father in answer to his question about visiting Eagleswood school at an “exhibition” of his school’s offerings in the summer. With his wife, Angelina Grimke, Weld was directing an experimental school on the outskirts of the town of Perth Amboy on New Jersey’s Atlantic coast.

    Eagleswood, Perth Amboy

    June 23 ’56

    My dear friend

    I have just received your note—our exhibition is to be on Tuesday the 1st of July,not on the 2nd as you suppose. It will begin at 2 o’clock PM, continue till six—...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 4 Scattering the seed
    (pp. 45-63)

    In the spring and summer of 1859 Eagleswood filled the days for Lucy and her younger brother, Charlie. In the confusing procession of the Wrights and the McKims at the school, Annie, their older sister, was not there for the spring term, nor was Ellen Wright, though Ellen’s younger brother, Willie, was. Away from home for the term, Charlie, now eleven years old, was beginning to make himself heard in the family. In answer to a letter from Annie in Philadelphia he produced an earnest account of his membership in one of the school’s boat clubs, and his carefully studied...

  9. 5 Beat! beat! drums!
    (pp. 64-81)

    It is possible today to stand in the center of Germantown, a neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia that still retains much of its past, to walk in its Market Square and feel that you’re seeing how it might have looked when Lucy and her family moved to Germantown in 1860. Along the narrow, uneven sidewalks that enclose the square, three- and four-story houses from the Colonial era still sit in stern solidity. Some have carefully tended facades of wood, brick, and stones, uneven under old paint, with rectangular outlines of small-paned windows and ornate carved wooden door lintels. In the small...

  10. 6 De Northmen, dey’s got massa now
    (pp. 82-96)

    For the northern press, hungry for any positive news, November 7, 1861, was a welcome opportunity to print banner headlines proclaiming a victory. For the Confederacy it was another discouraging sign that the southern victory, though certain, still lay in the distance. For the slaves on the islands around the broad bay at Port Royal in South Carolina, it would always be known as a day of jubilee, “the day of the gun-shoot at Bay Point.” The day was warm and bright, a sunshine-filled Sunday morning. The waters of the vast bay lay empty, the usual light haze clouding the...

  11. 7 How little we knew!
    (pp. 97-114)

    To Lucy’s intense disappointment she and her father didn’t leave the night that Ellen wrote to her brother. Little in those early days of the war went as planned, and she waited at Hilltop for some news. On June 1 Ellen wrote a hurried note to Beverly Chase in Philadelphia¹:

    June 1

    Lucy sent me a sweet note Thursday morning, which was cordial to me in the hot cars. How I do miss that young woman! I wrote to her today, & shall have to repeat a great deal in this, but you will never be the wiser—

    I feel sorry...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 8 Poor Rosy, Poor Gal
    (pp. 115-134)

    The summer heat that Lucy had expected in South Carolina lay in wait for them when she and her father returned to Hilltop. Though the house was on the crest of the hill they never felt the sea breezes that had cleared the air under the oaks around the Pope Plantation house on St. Helena’s Island. They missed the torment of the mosquitoes that plagued the island later in the summer, but Philadelphia on their return was hot, sticky, heavy, and numbing. On the hottest days Lucy sometimes didn’t come downstairs for breakfast. As long as she stayed in her...

  14. 9 It is so hard
    (pp. 135-155)

    The year 1863 would be a time of despair, of death, of victories, hopes, uncertainties, and loss as the war ground on. The struggle seemed now to have become something that would never be finished. For many who were caught up in it, it had become almost as difficult to remember how it had begun as it was to imagine how it might end. For Lucy it would bring a moment of tragic despair. For the newly freed slaves it brought a swelling outburst of joy.

    The Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. For those who were now...

  15. 10 A Simple Leaf
    (pp. 156-175)

    When Wendell, his younger brother, Frank, and Lucy’s brother, Charlie, reached Philadelphia, Wendell followed the boys to the McKims’ house in Germantown where Lucy and Annie were alone to greet them, since their mother was away on a short visit. Lucy hadn’t seen Wendell since March, when she had kept him at a distance, but months had passed. She was not aware that Wendell had helped arrange the pedestrian excursion as a way for him to meet her again, but she responded more pleasantly this time. During the weekend they were joined by Fred Dennis, who would marry Annie a...

  16. 11 I am no good at last words …
    (pp. 176-193)

    With their engagement now openly acknowledged, Wendell and Lucy could let themselves put aside the conventions and polite restraints that had inhibited their correspondence in the first months of their courtship. They could indulge themselves in the playfulness of lovers. Wendell was working in New York as a staff writer and fledgling editor for theIndependent, a journal published by a family friend, and he was living in a room in downtown Manhattan. He was also intensely lonely, and as he wrote her on July 17, certainly with considerable hyperbole, his week centered on their exchanges of letters.¹

    … before...

  17. 12 The Making of Slave Songs of the United States
    (pp. 194-214)

    In a letter to his brother William on April 29, 1866, Wendell discussed at length William’s criticisms of what had been accomplished withThe Nationin its first months of existence. To his spirited defense of the magazine’s many achievements Wendell added as a separate note:

    … She [Lucy] has furnished me an idea which I shall acknowledge in its place.

    The idea was almost certainly the book that was published a year and a half later asSlave Songs of the United States. It fulfilled the dream that Lucy had already expressed of publishing a collection of slave songs...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. 13 Sweet, Wild Melodies
    (pp. 215-222)

    Although the publication of their book went unnoticed by eitherAtlantic MonthlyorHarper’s, the nation’s leading journals, it was widely reviewed elsewhere. As was the usual custom the reviews were unsigned, but it was generally understood that authors took advantage of anonymity to promote their own work. Lucy reviewed it herself and with Wendell wrote a longer second review. Another of the St. Helena Island group, Charlotte Forten, who was cited in the book, was also among those who responded warmly to its publication. Lucy’s review, “The Hymnody of the Blacks,” appeared on November 24, 1867, inThe Independent,...

  20. 14 Now do not disappoint us!
    (pp. 223-238)

    Lucy was now busy with her new life as a young mother with her first child, and she was as distracted from thoughts of the work on the book as the others who had shared the effort. William Allen was in the early months of his new academic career, and Charles Ware was now helping with the cotton crop on St. Helena. Wendell was committed to his fledgling magazine and was also helping his wife with their new baby. In the late spring Lucy wrote to Ellen to congratulate her on the birth of her second child, a son, Charles,...

  21. 15 My dear Luxie
    (pp. 239-247)

    Whatever Lucy experienced, as a wife with young children, with a working husband often away and not enough money for the servants that wealthier people had to help with the children, there was never a question that she hadn’t found her love for her husband and for her children fulfilling. At the end of the summer in 1871 Wendell was in Boston with his parents, and Lucy wrote him a long letter from Llewellyn Park, where Wendell’s sister Fanny was staying for a visit with her young children.¹

    Llewellyn Park

    Sept. 1, 1871

    My dearest husband,

    Is a live letter...

  22. 16 Autumn Leaves
    (pp. 248-254)

    For both Wendell and Lucy’s mother it was clear that what they had so feared was relentlessly pressing upon them. As they realized that Lucy’s death was imminent, her mother took charge of the children, managing the household so that Wendell could continue to attend to his office work atThe Nation. Sarah McKim was sixty-seven, frail from her own illnesses, and Lucy’s children still were young, only ten, seven, and four. Without complaint her mother turned to giving the children what help she could, and the family’s life could go on. Many years later, at the moment of Lucy’s...

  23. APPENDIX A Slave Songs of the United States: A Description and Commentary
    (pp. 255-272)
  24. APPENDIX B “Poor Rosy, Poor Gal” and “Roll, Jordan Roll” for Voice and Piano; Collected and Arranged by Miss Lucy McKim, 1862
    (pp. 273-280)
  25. APPENDIX C Unsigned Reviews by Lucy McKim Garrison, Lucy McKim Garrison and Wendell Garrison, and Charlotte Forten
    (pp. 281-288)
  26. NOTES
    (pp. 289-296)
    (pp. 297-300)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 301-306)