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I never had a man, black or white, kiss me dead on the mouth before, but that's what he done. He say 'Lord, man, you done 100 percent. I've been on this job 35 years and I never seen a man do what you done in 2 days' - Bukka White, on Lester Melrose's reaction to his having written 12 new songs, Chicago, March 1940

Author Topic: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield  (Read 1033 times)

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Offline Slack

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The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« on: December 22, 2017, 08:13:57 PM »
How I learned to fiddle my way through America?s deeply troubling history.
Thanks to Peter McCracken for linking this on facebook.

Offline ninodusty

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2017, 02:22:49 AM »
Great article. Thanks for sharing it!

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Offline Jersey Jack

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2018, 11:23:12 AM »
When I do songs with unacceptable lyrics, I simply say upfront that this is a problem for those of us who perform old-time music. I usually tell the audience that when I say negro or colored man, the original performer did not--they can figure out the rest.

In my case, the unacceptable lyrics come from the blues tradition, which poses an additional dilemma: Do I stay true to the vision of the African-American artist as originally recorded or do I censor the language?  I figure that the best thing in most cases is to tell people I'm changing the language.  In "Bourgeois Blues," for example, Leadbelly liberally sprinkles around the n-word, and I make sure that the audience knows where and when I'm changing the language.  For Charley Patton's "Pony Blues," on the other hand, I simply omit the stanza that makes a pretty harsh distinction between light-skinned and dark-skinned black women.

Offline revellfa

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2018, 06:41:31 PM »
As a clergyman and a performer I find this to be challenging.

If the song has disparaging terms or racial slurs I change them.  However if it employs a dialect like Gullah I sing in that dialect.

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Offline arlotone

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2018, 03:57:40 PM »
Unless your performance is intended to be a history lesson (which is appropriate in some situations), I don't have a problem changing some lyrics to their modern-day equivalent. For example, changing "yellowskin" and "brownskin" to "redhead" and "brunette" in some songs seems to have approximately the same meaning, using the current language of the day.

Regarding the n-word, it seems clear that it didn't have the same meaning it does today, especially when used by African-Americans, so it doesn't seem wrong to swap that out for a different word.

I tend to make more creative edits with lyrics about domestic violence since that's more than just a matter of evolving language and connotations of words. I usually find it necessary to change the meaning entirely, or at least lighten the tone, or even flip it so the singer is the victim (a tactic I might or might not have learned from Spinal Tap).

Offline snakehips

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2018, 04:55:25 PM »
Hi there !

Yes, I wouldn't feel all that comfortable singing Robert Johnson's lyrics "I'm gonna beat my woman, until I get satisfied", in front of an audience !

Offline Booker Matches

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Re: The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield
« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2018, 07:40:03 PM »
I've always sung "I'm gonna love my woman, until I get satisfied"