Johnny Cash, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. New York: Columbia Records, 1964. Johnny Cash was an American country and folk singer who wrote and recorded over one thousand songs during his lifetime. Many of his original songs and covers were about historical subject matter, like “The Battle of New Orleans” about an 1815 engagement in the War of 1812, or “Big Foot” about the massacre at Wounded Knee South Dakota in 1890. In particular, Cash popularized topics of Native American history in a way that many white artists of his generation both would and could not. On this album, Bitter Tears, a song like “The Talking Leaves” tells the story of Sequoyah, a silversmith who created the Cherokee syllabary and made it possible to read and write in the Cherokee language. Today, Cash’s music still provides a way for new audiences to become acquainted with historical subjects. Moreover, his songs are a primary source on American legends and the relationship between History and art.
The McIntosh County Shouters, The McIntosh County Shouters: Slave Shout Songs from the Coast of Georgia, 1984. The McIntosh County Shouters are a group of nine artists from a small community in coastal Georgia called Bolden/Biar Patch. Since the 1980s, they have been sharing the musical traditions of their ancestors through recording and public performance. Most importantly, they preserve the southeastern ring shout, often credited as the oldest surviving African-American performance genre in the entire United States. A unique blend of African and American influences, the shout is known for its percussive rhythms, its call-and-response vocals, and its counterclockwise dancing. Enslaved peoples probably developed the tradition in the Lowcountry throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its contributions to various American musical traditions since then have long been recognized. Described in writing at least as early as the American Civil War, many historians believed that the ring shout ceased to exist. Thankfully, the Bolden/Biar Patch community had kept the tradition alive.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers. Fisk Jubilee Singers In Chronological Order, 3 Vols. 1997. In 1871, nine male and female choir students at a private historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, named Fisk University, came together to create an African-American a cappella ensemble. This original version of the Fisk Jubilee Singers intended to raise money for their young college by touring along the old paths of the Underground Railroad in the United States and singing historical music, most notably slave songs that were called spirituals. Eventually, the choir’s reputation took them across the Atlantic to perform in England and mainland Europe. During this tour, the singers performed songs once composed by anonymous enslaved communities, like “Steal Away to Jesus” and “Go Down, Moses,” before Queen Victoria. Although the group disbanded in 1878, performers have continued to honor their legacy. The recent compilation featured above was recorded in the late 1990s.