Before there was jazz or blues or gospel, there was Black folk music, the foundation of American music today.
Folk First: Black Roots Music is a show that celebrates early African American music – Spirituals, Work songs, Prison blues – and the often overlooked contributions of women to it. These are songs from a time when you had to make music to hear it.
Spirituals you heard in your Granny’s country church down South, or you hear in the little church you pass by right in your Harlem neighborhood.
Work songs came from the fields or other team work. They were often group sings, to keep the rhythm or uplift the spirit in monotonous work. Later, they were the calls from the farmer who came to town every Thursday, to let you know what was on the wagon. Today, they are the patter of the young men selling candy on the NYC subway.
The first video is NYC Subway Candy Man, Alex “Tracks” McFarland. The second video is of Vienna Carroll singing “Strawberries & Glory” about the experiences of a fruit seller.
Prison blues helped our ancestors endure prison. Parchman Penitentiary was the first and most notorious work farm, prison, extension of slavery. You could be arrested for anything – spitting, loitering – and you were in for your lifetime, providing free labor. The hopelessness, the bitterness, the injustice, these are the prison blues.
And these songs are still with us. There is a direct rhythm, lyric and tonal through-line from the prison blues of the ancestors to the music of contemporary artists like Biggie Smalls
Vienna and Folk First share those relationships and grooves, with you.
Harlem Field Recordings, a CD created from Folk First and produced by Keith Johnston is now available!
Featuring Vienna on vocals with Newman Taylor Baker (Henry Grimes) washboard; Stanley Banks (George Benson) bass, percussion; Keith Johnston (Lisa Lisa) guitar, vocals, percussion and guest artists: Nioka Workman, cello; Melanie Dyer, viola; Henrique Prince, violin