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Hard, Hard ReligionInterracial Faith in the Poor South$
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John Hayes

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469635323

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469635323.001.0001

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Singing of Death—and Life

Singing of Death—and Life

(p.48) Chapter Two Singing of Death—and Life
Hard, Hard Religion

John Hayes

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter explores New South folk songs of personified Death, with special focus on the Lloyd Chandler composition “Conversation with Death”—its geographic scope, probable spread over time, and broad community of appropriators. The roots of “Conversation with Death” are traced to the late medieval Dance of Death, and the song is interpreted as articulating a medieval/modernist vision. Folk songs of Death are shown to be strikingly different from the songs of death in the dominant religious culture, where death is a release and the focus is on life after death as one’s true home. In contrast, folk songs of death evoke the terror of death to affirm the value of this life in this world—an affirmation that had special meaning for the poor, who faced denigration and devaluation from the dominant culture.

Keywords:   Death, “Conversation with Death”, Lloyd Chandler, Folk songs, Dance of Death

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