Monday, January 04, 2021

Deep River: Like a Bird: The Art of American Slave Songs by Cynthia Grady

"The fare is cheap and all can go.

The rich and poor are there.

No second class aboard this train.

No difference in the fare.

Get on board, little children, get on board.

We're heading for the Promised Land.

The real "Songs of the South" were the folk hymns and stories created by African American slaves longing for release. In the earlier days of slavery when escape seemed almost hopeless, their songs spoke to the wish for the release of the "motherless child... a long way from home," through death, and into a heavenly place, and in the nineteenth century they also became metaphors for escape to the North, across the deep river, the Ohio, where the "bands of angels coming after me...," were the abolitionists and perhaps even Harriet Tubman, "the Moses of her people," herself, who would help them "row the boat" to the free states of the North. Later in that century the folk songs spoke of railroads, the Underground Railroad, that would take them to freedom.

Cynthia Grady's Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song (Millbrook Picture Books) (Millbrook Press) is a remarkable and moving resource for art, music and history education, illustrated in stunningly beautiful acyrlic paintings done in the style of quilting creations, which portray the lyrics of the thirteen well-known folksongs of slavery and its abolition in American history. Double page spreads feature the striking illustrations of a folksong's message on the verso page and the exposition of its origin in scripture and longing for freedom on the recto page, so that that "heavenly train" or "ladder" can be seen both as a religious hope and the promise of liberty in this world. Included are well known spirituals such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," "Michael, Row the Boat," and "Motherless Child," and lesser known songs such as "Ezekiel Saw a Wheel," "Get on Board the Gospel Train," and "Ring Them Bells." With a strong appendix containing author's notes, song lyrics, glossary, bibliography,, and additional readings and websites, this book is a major source for music and art teachers, and teachers of American history, an excellent resource for January African History Month.

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