Gaelic Slaves

An interesting article in the Scotsman (courtesy Robert Black):

The Gaelic speaking slaves of 18th Century America

It was jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who inspired research into the Gaelic speaking black slaves of 18th Century America who spoke in the tongue of their Highland masters.

Gillespie had long shared with his friends stories of slaves who spoke Gaelic, as told to him by his own parents. The musician led Willie Ruff, retired music professor at Yale University, who played with greats such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davies, to investigate further.

Ruff, a bassist and French horn player, had always been mystified by the line singing of hymns he first heard as a child in the Baptist churches of the American south.

Long struggling to pinpoint its origins, Ruff was led to Presbyterian churches in his home state of Alabama and then, ultimately, to the Wee Free churches of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in search of the roots of this emotional, stripped back form of worship.

It has been widely held in the United States that the method of praise, where the congregation repeats back a line of a song to those leading the sermon, originated in Africa and then taken to the plantations by slaves.

But Ruff, following his research, believes that the music originated in the Hebrides and Highlands before being transported to the American colonies along with Scots emigrants, some who became slave owners.

Ruff earlier said: “I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.

“We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it’s more like the book for North Uist.

“We got our names from the slave masters, we got our religion from the slave masters and we got our blood from the slave masters.”

More at the link.

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