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Sailors' songs (shanties, chanteys).

The practice of singing such songs is very ancient, as some of them indicate by their obsolete technical details. During the 18th and early 19th centuries the American merchant marine experienced a great growth, and shantying became an art. Forecastle songs, not sung as work songs, are largely variants of old English, Irish, and Scottish ballads. Other types with cadences adapted to the work at hand were referred to as short-drag shanties, halliard [halyard] shanties, and windlass or capstan shanties. Even on American ships Irish sailors were considered the best shantymen, though in time they were outstripped by African Americans. There was little partsinging, except occasionally among African American crews.

Lincoln Colcord made the first collection of American sailors' songs, Roll and Go (1924), later revised by his daughter Joanna as Songs of American Sailormen (1938). Other collections are Frank Shay, Iron Men and Wooden Ships: Deep Sea Chanties (1924); Fannie H. Eckstorm and Mary W. Smyth, Minstrelsy of Maine (1927); Robert W. Neeser, American Naval Songs and Ballads (1938); and Frank Shay, American Sea Songs and Chanteys (1948).

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Publication:Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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