ROOTS TO RAP

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones

 

Story Summary:

 Rev. Jones gives a rousing illustration of how today’s Rap Music has evolved from the Blues and earlier musical forms.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Roots-to-Rap

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Rap music has roots in jazz, blues, R&B and zydeco. How did these earlier art forms influence the beginning of hip-hop as well as today’s rap music?
  2. Rap is a musical art form but also a culture. What do you think are the positives and negatives of this culture?

Resource:

  •  Hip-Hop in Houston: The Origin and the Legacy by Maco L. Faniel

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

You know, the blues really forms the basis of all of the music that we listen to now. There are a lot of great blues performers that people may not know their names but you know their music. And, in fact, their music becomes the source of our music. For example, one of the most important blues men of all time, one of my favorite blues, was a guy by the name of Eddie James House, Jr. They called him Son House. And Son was amazing.  Son was like your uncle, who knows everything. He would look at you and say things like, “There ain’t but one kind of blues. The real blues. The B-L-U-E-S blues. That’s the kind of blues that exists between male and female. Everything else is mucky junk. Now when you get that letter bordered in black, man, that’s bad news. They calls that the death letter. Now you do too much of the death letter blues, you’re liable to jump in the river and drown y’self.” (Silly Son House giggle) Then he’d take that old National steel guitar and play a couple licks on it like. (Guitar playing some blues)

(Singing)

I got a letter this mornin, how you reckon it read?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead”
 I got a letter this mornin, oh, Lord, how you reckon it read?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead.”
 
You know I packed up my little suitcase, took off down the road
 When I got there, you know, she was layin’ on a coolin’ board
 I packed up my suitcase, I took off down the road
 You know, when I got there, yeah, she was layin’ out on a coolin’ board

Now this song could go on for a really long time depending on how Son feels and how he wants to stretch out those verses. What I found out when I was in a school one time, talking about the blues, that you can do something else with this song. So, I always wait ‘til almost the end of the assembly and then I wrap up the song Iike this after a couple of verses. (Guitar playing some blues)  I’d tell the kids, “You know I would love to do this whole song for you but I don’t have time. You know, it’s got so many verses but if I modernize it. If instead of doing each verse twice, I’d do each verse once. If I sped up the song and faded the music out, it might become a little bit more familiar to modern audiences. So then we do “The Death Letter Blues 2010 Remake.” (Guitar playing some modern blues)

(Singing with ever increasing speed until becoming rap)

I got a letter this mornin, how do you reckon it said?
 It said, “Hurry, hurry, ‘cuz the gal you love is dead”
 You know, I packed up my suitcase,  I took off down the road
 When I got there she was layin’ out on a coolin’ board

I ease up closer to look down in her face,

I say, “Hey, you know, I love you but I just can’t take your place”

You know, it seem like stars were standing in front of me on the ground

I didn’t know how much I love you ‘til they put my baby in the ground

 

For my arms and legs, I walked away

I say, “Hey, I love you, have to see you Judgment Day”

You know, I woke up this mornin’, it was about the break of day

And I was huggin’ on a pillow where my baby used to lay

I went to church, bowed down, I tried to pray

But the blues come along and they blow my spirit away

 

Woke up this mornin’, it was about the break of day

I was huggin’ on a pillow where my baby used to lay

I said, “Hush” I thought I heard her call my name

She ain’t call so loud, but she called so plain

Yeah, boy.

PRECIOUS LORD

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones with Sister Bernice Jones

 

Story Summary:

 Robert Jones talks about the roots of Gospel music and the influence of Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript: Precious-Lord

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Gospel is a blend of spirituals, blues and African rhythm. How do musical forms morph into their next evolution?
  2. What was happening in the U.S. and for African Americans as Gospel music evolved? How did Gospel music provide comfort and artistic expression for African Americans?

Resources:

  • People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden
  • Thomas A. Dorsey Father of Black Gospel an Interview by Robert L. Taylor
  • Mahalia Jackson: Born to Sing Gospel Music by Evelyn Witter

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

You talk about the development of American roots music and how much wonderful music came out of the blues. But probably one of the most… least, understood styles to come out of blues would be gospel. That you had piano players like Georgia Tom Dorsey who played these little ditties like… (Singing)

I got a gal who’s crazy about me.

She’s just as crazy as a gal can be.

Well, she ain’t crazy. She’s just funny that way.

And this was in the 1920s – a kind of music called hokum. It had a lot of really suggestive lyrics and double entrendres and stuff like that. But he went back to church in the midst of the Great Depression. He went back to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago and started playing for his father off doing the revival. He had settled down, he had married the girl of his dreams, and they were waiting the birth of the first child when he got a telegram that told him to come home. Your wife has died. And he comes home. And, already devastated by the fact that his wife was gone, he found out that the baby, who they had managed to save in childbirth, had died as well.

And he talked about putting them both into the same casket and being devastated. Not being able to play anything. Blues, nothing. Spirituals, nothing. And then one day, he’s sitting diddling around on the piano, and following those same old chord changes that he played for blues. But he slowed them down and sort of gave birth to another style of music we call gospel.

Those chord changes weren’t enough. Thomas Dorsey had a kind of a light, high voice. He needed a powerful voice in order to sell his music. So he found a woman by the name of Mahalia Jackson. And Mahalia and Georgia Tom Dorsey, now known as Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, made gospel music what it is with songs like this.

(Guitar playing and singing)

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, I am worn

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home

 

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m so tired, I am weak, (I am weak) I am worn (Lord, I am worn)

Lord, I am worn

Through the storm, (Through the storm) through the night (through the night)

Lead me on (lead me on) to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home

DOGS & HOUNDS

By Storyteller Rev. Robert Jones

 

Story Summary:

Rev. Jones describes how American Roots Music tells a story. He plays a harmonica piece by Sonny Terry called Lost John. Lost John tells the story of a man who escapes a chain gang trying to get home to see his family. In the song, you hear the hounds chasing and the train a’ coming.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Dogs-and-Hounds

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does Rev. Jones mean when he said that American Root Music (gospel, blues, country, western, Cajun, zydeco, folk, tejano, Native American) needs to be simple so that people can change it?
  2. What kinds of changes to this song would other musicians make?

Resources:

  • American Root Music by Robert Santelli
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music by Benjamin Filene

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History

Full Transcript:

When you think about American roots music, one of the things that makes it American roots music… makes it so cool… is that not only is it simple, has to be simple so you can change it…  you can remember it and you communicate it, but also it’s gotta tell a story. And one of my favorite storytellers just didn’t use words to tell the story. He was a guy named Sonny Terry, great harmonica player. And he used to do a song called “The Lost John.”

The idea about “Lost John” is while John is on a chain gang trying to get home to see his mama.  And there’re dogs around, big dogs, (harmonica sound), little dogs, (harmonica sound), Chihuahuas, (harmonica sound), and hounds, you know. And as he runs for this train, he hears this train slow down. He starts running forward. And if you listen real close, you can hear the train. You can hear him running. You can hear the dogs. You might even hear his mama.

So he called it “Lost John.”  I call it “Dogs and Hounds.”

(Harmonica playing)

All smoke.

(Harmonica playing)

I love you, Son.

(Harmonica playing)

I know you do.

(Harmonica playing)

Come on home.

(Harmonica playing)

Coming mama

(Harmonica playing)