(02/04/2015) Singing The Master: The Emergence Of African America Culture In The Plantation South by Roger D. Abrahams. New York. 1992. Pantheon Books. hardcover. 342 pages. May 1992.  Jacket art: ‘Study for Aspects of Negro Life: An Idyll of the Deep South,’ 1934, tempera on paper, by Aaron Douglas. Jacket design by Marjorie Anderson.  keywords: Black History America Folklore African American. 0394555910.




   In the American South before the Civil War, a harvest celebration developed surrounding the shucking of the corn each autumn. This event brought together both slave and master, with the slaves encouraged to perform. Thanks to the reports of visitors and foreigners, the corn- shucking ceremony became a representative scene of plantation life. In SINGING THE MASTER, Roger Abrahams reconstructs the genesis of the celebration - and offers a controversial and radical interpretation of the occasion. Tracing the origins of the ceremony to the English custom of harvest home Abrahams shows how the slaves, encouraged to express their African cultural heritage, transformed a chance for performance and self-expression into an opportunity for moral and social commentary – an occasion to mock and ridicule their masters. Abrahams also analyzes the corn-shucking ceremony’s fascinating dual cultural legacy - how the African American performance style influenced white culture as it was adapted and - imitated by whites in minstrel and vaudeville shows; and also how the bardic role of the performer, the subversive treatment of authority, and interplay with the audience are present in African American performance style today.


  Roger D. Abrahams is Professor of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He holds a B.A. from Swarthmore College, an M.A. from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a past president of the American Folklore Society, a former chairman of the English Department at the University of Texas, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. Professor Abrahams has done fieldwork in a range of African American communities from a ghetto neighborhood in Philadelphia to the Caribbean. He has also studied arid written about Anglo-American folk songs and children’s lore.



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