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Shout Because You're Free

Shout Because You're Free: The African American Ring Shout Tradition in Coastal Georgia

Text and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum
Photographs by Margo Newmark Rosenbaum
Musical Transcriptions and Historical Essay by Johann S. Buis
Twenty-Five Shout Songs as Sung by McIntosh County Shouters
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Shout Because You're Free
    Book Description:

    The ring shout is the oldest known African American performance tradition surviving on the North American continent. Performed for the purpose of religious worship, this fusion of dance, song, and percussion survives today in the Bolton Community of McIntosh County, Georgia. Incorporating oral history, first-person accounts, musical transcriptions, photographs, and drawings, Shout Because You're Free documents a group of performers known as the McIntosh County Shouters. Derived from African practices, the ring shout combines call-and-response singing, the percussion of a stick or broom on a wood floor, and hand-clapping and foot-tapping. First described in depth by outside observers on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia during the Civil War, the ring shout was presumed to have died out in active practice until 1980, when the shouters in the Bolton community first came to the public's attention. Shout Because You're Free is the result of sixteen years of research and fieldwork by Art and Margo Rosenbaum, authors of Folk Visions and Voices. The book includes descriptions of present-day community shouts, a chapter on the history of the shout's African origins, the recollections of early outside observers, and later folklorists' comments. In addition, the tunes and texts of twenty-five shout songs performed by the McIntosh County Shouters are transcribed by ethnomusicologist Johann S. Buis.Shout Because You're Free is a fascinating look at a unique living tradition that demonstrates ties to Africa, slavery, and Emancipation while interweaving these influences with worship and oneness with the spirit.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4361-7
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    The McIntosh County Shouters
  5. Introduction: “We Never Did Let It Go By”
    (pp. 1-16)

    The ring shout is the oldest African American performance tradition surviving on the North American continent. An impressive fusion of call-and-response singing, polyrhythmic percussion, and expressive and formalized dancelike movements, it has had a profound influence on African American music and religious practice. The integrity of the early form of the ring shout has survived in unbroken traditional practice from slavery times in the Bolden, or “Briar Patch,” community in McIntosh County on the coast of Georgia. First described by outside observers in the mid-nineteenth century and practiced by slaves and their descendants principally in the coastal regions of South...

  6. 1 “Kneebone in the Wildernesss”: The History of the Shout in America
    (pp. 17-52)

    According to Lawrence McKiver, “every bit of it is an African act. The old people, that’s what they tell me. Nobody does it but our kind of people. The shout . . . it’s just an African act. You can tell by the singing, tell by the song, tell by the beat, it’s actually an African beat. I think they come in 1722 when the blacks came over here. It came down through the generations. It used to be real popular one time. But it fall on back, fall on back. I don’t think no others got it, that I...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. 2 “One Family of People”: The Shouters of Bolden
    (pp. 53-84)

    The shouters of Bolden live mostly within walking distance of each other, on land they own—land where their grandparents and great-grandparents were slaves. The community is also known as “Briar Patch,” after the Briar Patch cemetery. “The Wyllys had a slave [plantation] and the Hopkins had a slave [plantation] and . . . the Hopkins’ slave [plantation] was further away in the section they call Meridian. See, the grave yard sorta briary over that side, so that give it the name of Briar Patch,” Lawrence McKiver told us.¹ He had this information from the previous generation: “You found some...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. 3 Lawrence McKiver, Boss Songster
    (pp. 85-104)

    As Lawrence McKiver approaches his eightieth year, he lives alone in a small house set back off the highway in Bolden—under the live oak trees. With some of his extra earnings from taking the shout out of the community in recent years, he screened in his front porch, eliminating the green and white sawtooth ornamental woodwork that had distinguished the house from several other modest neighboring houses, and added a carport. The interior is dark and sparsely furnished. In the back is a small kitchen; there is an iron heater and a brass bedstead in the middle room; on...

  11. 4 The Shout Songs
    (pp. 105-163)

    Along with the shout itself, the shouters of Bolden have preserved a sizeable and impressive repertoire of shout songs. These are today considered a distinct category of song, used only in conjunction with the shout and related percussion. The shout songs would never be sung in church in place of spirituals, hymns, or gospel songs of recent vintage—nor would these serve the needs of the shout. We have seen that in an earlier time there was some overlapping of the shout songs or “runnin’ spirituals” and other spirituals, and clearly the shout songs have influenced later religious—and secular...

  12. Transcriber’s Note
    (pp. 164-166)
    Johann S. Buis

    Upon first hearing the ring shout repertory, even the sophisticated listener can be fooled by the simplicity of the musical construction. But this simplicity is deceptively complex. The improvisational artistry of the leader’s singing is so fleeting and varied that putting such virtuosity on paper has been an extremely daunting task. Indeed, the agogic glides, falsetto swoops, and highly syncopated gestures that the leader generates in such songs as “Eve and Adam,” “John on the Island,” “Went to the Burial,” and numerous others have not been rendered in minute detail in these transcriptions. Such complex gestures are virtually impossible to...

  13. Historical Essay. The Ring Shout: Revisiting the Islamic and African Issues of a Christian “Holy Dance”
    (pp. 167-172)
    Johann S. Buis

    Lorenzo Dow Turner’s explanation that the word “shout” comes from the Arabic word saut (Parrish 1942; 1965) is one theory of the likely origin of the term. There can be no doubt that the performance context of the ring shout never involves any shouting in the literal sense of the word.¹ Such empirical practice would give credence to an argument that underscores the absence of shouting in the ring shout. However there is another theory which holds that the etymological origin of the ring shout goes back to Norse (especially Scandinavian languages), Middle Dutch, and Middle English, which does confirm...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 173-182)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-188)
  16. Index
    (pp. 189-190)