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A  few months ago I received a book, “Folk Songs of the American Negro,” published in 1907 by Fisk University Press. Compiled by John W. Work and Frederick J. Work, it was sold by H.A. French at 408 Church St. in Nashville for 60 cents.t was sent to me by attorney Van R. Michael of Sweetwater. We had earlier talked on the phone, and when I heard the name Michael and knew he was in Sweetwater, I asked if he was kin to former state Rep. W.E. Michael, with whom I had served in the 85th General Assembly, 1967-68. He said the representative was his father.

Attorney Michael told me about the book and asked if I’d like to have it. I knew it would be a wonderful addition to the grade-school music books I have collected over the years. It would also complement my other books on American music. As I looked through it, I was not disappointed.

In the introduction, John W. Work discussed the organization of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who in 1871 began to travel the United States and Europe to sing the music of blacks who had been held in slavery. At first, this music was not universally accepted. Work wrote: “This resentment sprang from the idea that these songs were very closely connected with slavery and all that slavery meant. Plantation music and slavery have always been so intimately interwoven that it has been impossible for the first generation after slavery to separate them.”
As I leafed through the book, I spotted several songs I remembered from my childhood at Tabernacle Baptist Church: “Lord, I Want to be a Christian.” I then saw “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” The third one to get my attention was “A Little Talk with Jesus.”
The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, in his book “Somebody’s Calling My Name,” says, “The manner in which the Fisk Singers presented the antebellum songs of faith was a far cry from the original rendering in the praise house and the cotton fields of the South. The domestic and international audiences were treated to what can be called a ‘concertized’ form of the Spirituals in order that ears trained to the discipline of Europeans would not find the inherent repetitive quality boring.”
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How The Old Black Church Songs Tell The History Of The Black Church  was originally published on