Category:Folk hymns

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"The folk-hymns were, on the other hand, bound up genetically with the protestant evangelical activity which followed John Wesley's lead in England and then in America. The Wesleyan Revival began as an ordered small-group affair and spread and developed ultimately into a movement whose aspects and practices were completely free-affairs of the uninhibited masses. In the same way the song of that movement, beginning with merely the taste of textual freedom offered by Watts and the Wesleys, and of musical freedom offered by those who furnished the melodies, spread ultimately far beyond the "allowed" tunes and hymn texts of the authorities until religious gatherings were musically completely liberated.

"When John Wesley picked up a popular melody here and there on his travels through England and set it to a good hymn text, he little realized that he was setting an example and starting a movement which was to bring into existence hundreds of folk-hymns ; that is, songs with old folk-tunes which everybody could sing and with words that spoke from the heart of the devout in the language of the common man. With the spread of this movement to America a fertile soil for its further development seems to have been found. Here it became known as the Great Southern and Western Revival. Here its store of songs, made after the pattern used in England, was greatly enlarged. In fact the masses took the matter of what they were to sing so completely into their own hands that the denominational authorities, especially the Methodists, though they tried to control it, became helpless.

"It is impossible to date the beginning of folk-hymn making and singing in America definitely. But on the assumption that they were a part of the Wesleyan movement, we cannot place the beginning of their general use in America before the 1770's. The part of the land where they first attained popularity — again judging by their Wesleyan affinities — was the upland and inland South; for during the last two decades of the eighteenth century (the time of the first spread of the Methodist movement) four-fifths of the adherents to this sect were to be found in that section....

"The revival spiritual songs represent a further advance of the song movement which brought forth the folk-hymns, toward the folk level. As the eighteenth century expired the post-Wesleyan religious tide was high and the camp meeting, the significant institution which became the cradle of the revival spiritual songs, was born. One may therefore get a clearer insight into this new song development if one recalls the character of its early environment. One might well remember, for example, that the camp meetings

began and remained in nature surroundings, in the wilderness; that they were immense holiday gatherings; that they thus took on the free-and-easy aspects of the pioneers as a whole rather than of any particular class; and that they were completely free from denominational and all other authoritarian control.

"Bearing all this in mind it is perhaps easier to understand how the folk-hymns — grown up in a less boistrous environment — failed to satisfy the new conditions. At the camp meetings it was not a question of inducing every one to sing, but of letting every one sing, of letting them sing songs which were so simple that they became not a hindrance to general participation but an irresistible temptation to join in. The tunes of the folk-hymns were adequate. But the texts (Watts, Wesley and their schools) still demanded a certain exercise of learning and remembering which excluded many from the singing. The corrective lay in the progressive simplification of the texts ; and it was in the main this text simplification which brought about and characterised the type of camp-meeting song which was called, in contradistinction to all other types, the spiritual song. ...

"The text simplification in religious folk-songs began modestly. The variety of spiritual song which is closest to the folk-hymn is that in which each short stanza of text (four short lines usually) is followed by a chorus of the same length, as for example:

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand
And cast a wishful eye,
To Canaan's fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie.
I'm bound for the promised land,
I'm bound for the promised land;
O who will come and go with me?
I'm bound for the promised land.

The verse was mastered probably by comparatively few singers, even though it may have been "lined out" by the song leader. But the whole assemblage had its chance to join lustily in singing the chorus" (Jackson 1953a, pp. 5-7)


  • Buchanan, Annabel M. 1938. Folk Hymns of America. 94 pp.
  • Jackson, George Pullen. 1933. White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina. 444 pp. Reprinted 1965 by Dover, New York.
  • Jackson, George Pullen. 1944. White and Negro Spirituals: Their Life Span and Kinship. New York, New York: J. J. Augustin. 351 pp. Reprinted 1975 by Da Capo Press, New York.
  • Jackson, George Pullen. 1952. Another Sheaf of White Spirituals. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida. 233 pp. Reprinted 1981 by Folklorica, New York. Index to all five Jackson books.
  • Jackson, George Pullen. 1953a. Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America, Second Edition. Locust Valley, New York: J. J. Augustin. 254 pp.
  • Jackson, George Pullen. 1953b. Down-East Spirituals and Others: Three Hundred Songs Supplementary to the Author's "Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America", Second Edition. Locust Valley, New York: J. J. Augustin. 296 pp.
  • Music, David W., Editor. 2005. A Selection of Shape-Note Folk Hymns From Southern United States Tune Books, 1816-61. Middleton, Wisconsin: A-R Editions. 91 pp.

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The following 90 pages are in this category, out of 90 total.