Work Songs

Field Hollers

Field Hollers first developed in the cotton and rice fields during the slavery era. Desired for their familiarity with rice cultivation, as they had been doing it on " the Waccamaw [a plantation district] since the eighteenth century," Low Country slaves cleared plantation land that resembled Africa (Joyner 1984:41). In an attempt to fulfill the overseer's rigorous demands, slaves continued efficient African practices of harvesting when they came to America. Field Hollers emerged from this context. In order to enforce cooperative work and help numb the mental pain of their bondage, slaves sang group work songs, known today as field hollers.

Similar to spirituals, field hollers followed the "call and response" model. One of the more respected field hands would lead the workers in a song, while others responded in sync with the rhythmic tone of the call. The task at hand determined the tempo and work pace. During slavery, Africans (those born in Africa) sung songs that remind them of their homeland, while African-Americans (those born in America with African ancestry) sung about the hardships during and after enslavement. This a theme seen often in the lyrics of blues songs, a form that developed at the turn of the 20th Century. Blues incorporated both the rhythmic patterns of field hollers and their subject matter to form its unique sound.