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[Detail] Wayne Perry playing fiddle, Crowley, Louisiana.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Southern Mosaic's images and fieldnotes provide a context for its songs that can be used to help students learn how to analyze and interpret songs. Students can access the full significance of work songs by considering them in conjunction with related images and texts. Have students listen to songs listed in the Audio Subject Index under work songs, field hollers, hollers, and mule-driving songs. Then, to find related lyrics and fieldnotes, students can do a full text search of work, calls, or leader. For images of men singing as they work, search workers . Students can use these materials as a starting point for analysis and interpretation with the following questions:

  "Prayer" | "New Buryin' Ground"

  • What can you learn from the fieldnotes and images about who sang work songs, how they were sung, when, and why?
  • What kinds of tasks are mentioned in these songs?
  • What do the voice parts, mood, rhythm, rhyme, speed, repetition, assonance, and alliteration indicate about what kind of work was done to these songs?
  • What attitudes toward work are reflected in these songs' lyrics and tones?
  • While many of these songs are about work, they are often about other things as well. What are some of the other subjects of work songs?
  • How are these subjects related to work? Why might laborers have sung about these subjects while working? What does this suggest about the work and workers' attitudes toward it?
  • What roles did work songs play in workers' lives?

Similar exercises may be done with songs listed under any number of headings in the Audio Subject Index, including spirituals, blues songs, ballads, and lullabies.

Researching the collection for images and texts about those who sang folk songs provides enough historical and cultural context to begin asking questions about the uses and significance of these songs, which came not from professional musicians on the radio, but out of the everyday needs and joys of communities.

 "Steel Driving Song"