Field Hollers and Work Songs


Field hollers are types of work songs created and sung by enslaved people who worked long hours in the fields.  They have emerged between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries when the era of slavery was at its peak in the United States. They were eventually carried to the twentieth century by African Americans and were recorded after the abolition of slavery in 1865.


The enslaved people sang the work songs while working on Railways, cutting woods and clearing bushes for their masters. They sang these songs to relieve boredom during labor by expressing their emotions, frustrations, and dreams of freedom. Their lyrics included reflections on deaths, punishments, starvation, and family division, giving insight into slave life. They also used these songs to communicate with each other in the form of code not understood by their masters and mocked them through these songs. The slaves were intensely connected by these work songs and performed in groups, with the leader singing the first line and everyone repeating it as a chorus. Singing together enabled them to coordinate their efforts better and increase the effectiveness of their tasks. They also used to sing these songs in religious gatherings.


A field holler and a work song are the same, except work songs have a steady beat, and field hollers have no precise rhythm. Hollers are mostly solo, unlike work songs sung in groups. Field hollers were important in black music because they depicted urban environments using amplified sounds. Work songs and field hollers have significantly impacted the development of musical styles such as Dixieland, blues, and jazz. These styles were all influenced by African rhythms and created by enslaved Africans. They have set the blueprint for blues, spirituals, and eventually R&B; otherwise, we might have lost African Roots and might not be able to develop such coordinated and rhythmic music styles.

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