Work Songs and Field Hollers

Intro to Work Songs and Field Hollers

The infamous work and field songs developed between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Work songs which were created by slaves to perform while doing daily tasks became the most indigenous music genre of the African Diaspora. These work songs included stories from the Bible, coded messages, and words of encouragement. Slaves used this as a way to distract from the boredom of their everyday tasks such as harvesting, sowing, and hoeing. Work songs were not just singing, it was a mix of rhythm and body movement as well. Another use of field hollers and work songs would to help a fellow slave if one would doze off or just to express their feelings as they were working. 

Music and Structure of Work songs and Field Hollers

The structure of many work songs was in an acapella style and accompanied by the same rhythm as the beats of an African drum. Both work songs would include shouting or moaning as well in spontaneous ways so people were able to express themselves as they pleased and not be monotone. To create the rhythm they could use their body or actions such as cutting wood created the percussion effect. Other melodies and vocables included in the work songs were yodels, echo like falsetto, tonal glides, embellished melismas, and microtonal inflections. A popular style of work songs would be the call and response where one person sings a verse and everyone comes back with the chorus. This was a popular style because one purpose of field hollers and work songs was to create dialogue which it did because it was a language truly understood only by slaves. These songs represented what we now considered rap or blues because of the continuous dialogue. 


Even though this was created an the era of slavery, it continued into the twentieth century. Railroad users also used songs which were known as songs just in plantations. It carried on this long because during a devastating time, these songs brought joy and encouragement.

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