1. *No More Auction Block for Me
Performed by Odetta (1960).
This song records the determination to put slavery in the past: to tolerate no more the cruel economics that put human beings up for sale. "No More Auction Block for Me" also honors the memory of those who died under slavery's regime: the "many thousand gone." The rich alto-to-baritone of Odetta Holmes—the woman sometimes called the "Voice of the Civil Rights Movement"—gives this 1960 version of the song particular presence and force. In his essay "Many Thousand Gone" (1951), James Baldwin declares that "it is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear." There's little "protective sentimentality" in evidence here.
From Odetta's 1960 Odetta at Carnegie Hall live album. The Choir of the Church of the Master (Choir Director: Dr. Theodore Stent) accompanies Odetta.
2. Another Man Done Gone
Performed by Vera Ward Hall (1940).
3. You May Go but This Will Bring You Back (Halimuhfack)
Performed by Zora Neale Hurston (1935).
In this rare recording, Zora Neale Hurston, interviewed in 1935 by folklore colleague Alan Lomax, responds with a song from her own days of music collecting in and around her native village of Eatonville, Florida. "You May Go" is a juke-joint song, a slyly bawdy dance number in the form of a boast wherein the singer exults in the power to hold her chosen partner in her grasp. This song and the ebullience of Hurston's voice give a sense of how her books, full of songs, might have sounded to her. You may go from this performance to Hurston's keystone essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression."
Following the song, Lomax asks Hurston how she goes about her work as a collector of these songs. Her answer offers a noteworthy explanation of her success: "I learn them. I just get in a crowd with the people and if they're singing and I listen as best I can, I start to joining in with a phrase or two. And then, finally, I get so I can sing a verse. And then I keep on until I learn all the songs, all the verses, and then I sing them back to the people until they tell me that I can sing them just like them. And then I take part, and I try it out on different people who already know the song until they are quite satisfied that I know it. And then I carry it in my memory." Proceeding, in other words, without condescension or scholarly detachment, Hurston was rewarded with songs her colleagues were almost never permitted to hear.