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Joseph Maurer


Songs used to coordinate labor among the African American fishermen of Virginia and North Carolina who worked the Chesapeake menhaden fishery. The chanteys came to broader public prominence through the performance careers of two singing groups composed of retired fishermen: the Menhaden Chanteymen of Carteret County, North Carolina, and the Northern Neck Chantey Singers, based on the Northern Neck peninsula of Virginia. Folklorists working for the North Carolina Arts Council brought together the Menhaden Chanteymen in 1988. William Hudnall organized the Northern Neck Chantey Singers in 1991 at the request of the Greater Reedville Association for a July 4th event. Public interest led both groups to increased prominence and performance careers stretching into the early 2010s, including concerts at various public folklore events and maritime music festivals. Members of the groups had used the songs during their work in the local industry from the 1930s through the 1980s. As in other chantey contexts, the songs were used to coordinate labor, particularly hauling aboard heavy nets full of fish. The chanteys developed from 19th-century land-based African American work contexts to their application in the 20th-century fishing industry. The precise historical relationship between African American fishing chanteys and the more popular and well-known ‘sea chanteys’ is a subject of study and debate. While 20th-century scholars tended to view the menhaden chantey tradition as relatively distinct, more recent scholarship suggests that the menhaden fishing chanteys and the deep-water chanteys were both ultimately derived from similar land-based African American work song practices in the American South....