alfred j. swan

The Editor’s Note

Here is a transcription of the Editor’s Note from Alfred J. Swan.
You can see a photocopy of the actual the Editor’s Note on the front page of this blog.


The few Negro Songs that compose the present little volume have been one of the great delights of my sojourn in Virginia. In the picturesque and forcible execution by their collector, my friend Mr. Francis H. Abbot, they never failed in their most direct aim: to portray to the listener the rich imagery, the racy humour, the naive pathos, and the simple, yet original philosophy of the modern negro’s mind. From a purely musical point of view they constitute a value that cannot be disregarded. Melodically, some of them are on a par with the best there is in folk-song literature. Rhythmically, they possess all the treats of genuine collective creation; (absolute spontaneity of rhythm, irregular time, etc.), and their constant use of syncopation rescues even the more obvious melodies, with great dash, from triviality.

I have put down with such accuracy as musical notation would allow both melody and accompaniment, from the performance of Mr. Francis H. Abbot. Not a note of his has undergone any change, my own suggestions being confined to purely outward matters, such as choice of key, etc. The piano accompaniment in the majority of cases is in imitation of the guitar to which the songs were sung originally. The only exception is the song “Squirl he tote a bushy tail,” which is obviously one of the melodies that stand out unaccompanied in all their glory. I could not resist the temptation, however, to underscore a descending Dorian scale into which the song fitted admirably, for the benefit of the singer who will prefer the most frugal accompaniment to no accompaniment at all.

I may add, in conclusion, that a great deal of the vitality of these songs rests in the Negro dialect, which should be studied by the singer with great care, from Mr. F. H. Abbot’s glossary.

New York,
July 1923
Alfred J. Swan