It is certainly possible there may be earlier recordings of ex-slaves
than 1930s. If so, I am not aware of any. At UNC we hold approx 70 wax
cylinders of Gullah language, sacred music and sermons recorded by
sociologist Guy Benton Johnson on the St. Helena Island, SC in the
1930s. Johnson was a pioneer in studying African American culture.
A finding aid for this collection is available at:
I believe the Archives of Traditional Music in Bloomington Indiana may
hold additional similar recordings made by Johnson.
Director, Southern Folklife Collection
Univeristy of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
> -------------- Original message ----------------------
>From: Joel Bresler <[log in to unmask]>
>>A recent book by Shane White and Graham White, "The Sounds of
>>Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons,
>>and Speech", attempts to analyze the sounds of American slave
>>culture. The accompanying CD includes 18 cuts, mostly dating from the
>>1930s. The authors note that these selections are "about as close as
>>we are ever going to get" to sounds from slaves themselves. (p. xxii)
>>Given that recording technology had been around for decades by the
>>1930s, is this true? Are any lister's aware of earlier recordings
>>that might shed light on the "field calls, work songs, sermons, and
>>other sounds and utterances of slaves on American plantations"?
>>Many thanks for your thoughts.
>> From Booklist:
>>>With no recordings of slave songs and narratives, the authors have
>>>undertaken the difficult task of bringing to contemporary readers
>>>(and listeners, via the CD that accompanies the book) the sounds of
>>>American slave culture. The impressive work songs, spirituals, and
>>>prayers were compiled from tracks recorded in the 1930s by the Works
>>>Progress Administration. Drawing on WPA interviews with former
>>>slaves, slave narratives, and other historical documents from the
>>>1700s through the 1850s, the authors provide the context for the
>>>field calls, work songs, sermons, and other sounds and utterances of
>>>slaves on American plantations. The authors also focus on
>>>recollections of the wails of slaves being whipped, the barking of
>>>hounds hunting down runaways, and the keening of women losing their
>>>children to the slave block.
>>250 E. Emerson Rd.
>>Lexington, MA 02420
>>781-862-4104 (Telephone & FAX)
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