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Songs of Sorrow - Lucy McKim Garrison and Slave Songs of the United States

Songs of Sorrow

Lucy McKim Garrison and Slave Songs of the United States

By Samuel Charters
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781628462067, 324 pages, 40 b&w photographs; 10 color illustrations, April 2015
Paperback : 9781496852106, 352 pages, 40 b&w photographs; 10 color illustrations, March 2024

Table of contents

1. With Voices to Sing!
2. Come Liberty!
3. Schooling of a Different Nature
4. Scattering the seed
5. Beat! beat! drums!
6. De Northmen, dey’s got massa now
7. How little we knew!
8. Poor Rosy, Poor Gal
9. It is so hard
10. A Simple Leaf
11. I am no good at last words . . .
12. The Making of Slave Songs of the United States
13. Sweet, Wild Melodies
14. Now do not disappoint us!
15. My dear Luxie
16. Autumn Leaves

Appendix A
Slave Songs of the United States: A Description and Commentary

Appendix B
“Poor Rosy, Poor Gal” and “Roll, Jordan Roll” for Voice and Piano; Collected and Arranged by Miss Lucy McKim, 1862

Appendix C
Unsigned Reviews by Lucy McKim Garrison, Lucy McKim Garrison and Wendell Garrison, and Charlotte Forten


The untold story behind the creation of the classic songbook Slave Songs of the United States


In the spring of 1862, Lucy McKim, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a Philadelphia abolitionist Quaker family, traveled with her father to the Sea Islands of South Carolina to aid him in his efforts to organize humanitarian aid for thousands of newly freed slaves. During her stay she heard the singing of the slaves in their churches, as they rowed their boats from island to island, and as they worked and played. Already a skilled musician, she determined to preserve as much of the music as she could, quickly writing down words and melodies, some of them only fleeting improvisations. Upon her return to Philadelphia, she began composing musical settings for the songs and in the fall of 1862 published the first serious musical arrangements of slave songs. She also wrote about the musical characteristics of slave songs, and published, in a leading musical journal of the time, the first article to discuss what she had witnessed.

In Songs of Sorrow: Lucy McKim Garrison and “Slave Songs of the United States,” renowned music scholar Samuel Charters tells McKim's personal story. Letters reveal the story of young women's lives during the harsh years of the war. At the same time that her arrangements of the songs were being published, a man with whom she had an unofficial “attachment” was killed in battle, and the war forced her to temporarily abandon her work.

In 1865 she married Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and in the early months of their marriage she proposed that they turn to the collection of slave songs that had long been her dream. She and her husband—a founder and literary editor of the recently launched journal The Nation—enlisted the help of two associates who had also collected songs in the Sea Islands. Their book, Slave Songs of the United States, appeared in 1867. After a long illness, ultimately ending in paralysis, she died at the age of thirty-four in 1877. This book reclaims the story of a pioneer in ethnomusicology, one whose influential work affected the Fisk Jubilee Singers and many others.