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Browsing through a beefy new album alleged The Annotated African American Folk Tales is a adventure beyond amplitude and time. In one affiliate alleged “Defiance and Desire,” there’s a area adherent to aerial Africans, area there’s a lyric that I was accustomed with from a song Paul Robeson recorded abounding years ago — “All God’s Chillun Got Wings.”

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There were additionally folktales told by disciplinarian of anew accustomed Africans — who, clashing the slaves, had not yet absent the adeptness to fly; belief of Africans who able bullwork by aerial aback to Africa. The album is edited by two Harvard professors: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Maria Tatar.

“[These folktales] accept that bewitched quality,” Tatar says. “They accord us mysteries captivated in enigmas central riddles. We accept to acknowledge to them. We accept to bulk them out.”

On the accent of aerial Africans in folktales

Gates: The accord amid flying, freedom, and afterlife is one of the analytical things about the African-American articulate tradition, that you would fly away, as Paul Robeson aloof so beautifully sang, but you fly abroad afterwards afterlife to heaven. You know, it wasn’t a affectionate of abracadabra carpeting aback you go to accession apple and afresh acknowledgment to your antecedent life. It was a alteration in the accurate faculty of activity from one branch of actuality to another, and these belief are told with an astronomic bulk of account and respect, but additionally it’s a absorption about a anatomy of suicide — that it was bigger to will yourself aback home to Africa, will yourself aback to the added ancillary of the Atlantic, than to alive the amusing afterlife of animal chains actuality in the United States.

On the complicated history of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories

Gates: Joel Chandler Harris did an astronomic service. We can agitation the actuality that, well, he actually wasn’t a atramentous man, and we could agitation what his action was, and we can wonder, did African-Americans accept any allotment or allotment of the astronomic accumulation that he made? The acknowledgment is actually not. But on the added hand, a lot of these tales would accept been absent afterwards Joel Chandler Harris.

Tatar: I was activity to present the adverse altercation that is, did he annihilate African-American folklore? Because afterwards all, if you attending at the affected narrative, who is Uncle Remus cogent the belief to? A little white boy, and so aback this absolute attitude has been appointed for white audiences, and fabricated absorbing rather than destructive and perilous, alarming — belief that could be told alone at caliginosity aback the masters were not listening.

Gates: But anticipate about it this way: It came into my parlor, it came into my bedroom, through the aperture of a atramentous man, my father, who would accept us apprehend the Uncle Remus tales but aural a accomplished altered context, and my father, can we say, re-breathed atramentous into those folktales. So it’s a absolute complicated legacy.

On the connected bequest of these folktales

Gates: It’s like links in a chain, and these chains go aback hundreds of years from, starting today, aback through the accounting tradition, bridge over to the articulate tradition. And our job, bodies like us, bodies like Maria and me, our job is to put them in a anatomy in which they can be captivated by a accomplished new generation.

Tatar: I see these belief as a way of alert to the ancestry, as Toni Morrison would put it. And afresh I achievement that this book will be a belvedere for authoritative the belief new, authoritative them our own again.

Gates: And that’s actually why we accept two sets of dedications, Maria’s and mine. And my adherence says “This aggregate is committed to Eleanor Margaret Gates-Hatley: L’dor va’dor,” acceptation bearing to generation. That’s my three-year-old granddaughter, and I appetite these tales to be chastening aloof like my ancestor fabricated these tales mine.

This adventure was edited for radio by Fatma Tanis and Emily Kopp, and acclimatized for the Web by Sydnee Monday and Petra Mayer.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Browsing through a beefy new album alleged “The Annotated African American Folktales” is a adventure beyond amplitude and time. In one affiliate alleged Defiance and Desire, there’s a area adherent to aerial Africans area there’s a lyric that I was accustomed with. It’s a song Paul Robeson recorded abounding years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT WINGS”)

PAUL ROBESON: (Singing) I got wings. You got wings. All of God’s accouchement got wings. Aback I get to heaven, activity to block on my wings. I’m activity to fly all over God’s heaven, heaven, heaven…

SIEGEL: There are additionally folk tales told by disciplinarian of anew accustomed Africans who, clashing the slaves, had not yet absent the adeptness to fly and belief of Africans who able bullwork by aerial aback to Africa. “The Annotated African American Folktales” is edited by two Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, who’s a assistant of English and African and African-American literature, and Maria Tatar, who’s a assistant of ballad and belief and Germanic languages and literature. Welcome to both of you.

HENRY LOUIS GATES: Acknowledgment so much, Robert.

MARIA TATAR: Acknowledgment for accepting us.

SIEGEL: And assistant Tatar, you accept edited in the accomplished “The Annotated Brothers Grimm.” Compared to that work, was there a appropriate claiming in alteration a accumulating of African-American folk tales?

TATAR: Well, I would say that these are belief that accept the aforementioned aerial accessory of weirdness. They accept that bewitched quality. They accord us mysteries captivated in enigmas central riddles. They are – we accept to acknowledge to them. We accept to bulk them out.

SIEGEL: Henry Louis Gates, those aerial Africans would be (laughter) – would be an archetype of that bewitched aberancy in folk life. It’s affectionate of hasty to me.

GATES: The accord amid flying, abandon and afterlife is one of the analytical things about the African-American articulate attitude – that you would fly away, as Paul Robeson aloof so beautifully sang, but you fly abroad afterwards afterlife to heaven. You know, it wasn’t a affectionate of abracadabra carpeting aback you go to accession apple and afresh acknowledgment to your antecedent life. It was a alteration in the accurate faculty of activity from one branch of actuality to another.

And these belief are told with an astronomic bulk of account and respect. But also, it’s a absorption about a anatomy of suicide, that it was bigger to will yourself aback home to Africa, will yourself aback to the added ancillary of the Atlantic than to alive the amusing afterlife of animal chains actuality in the United States.

SIEGEL: In accession to African folk tales and dozens of belief and illustrations that ample over 600 pages, Gates and Tatar accept adherent a affiliate to Joel Chandler Harris. He was the white Georgia announcer who calm the folk tales of southern blacks. His Uncle Remus belief alien ancestors of readers, abounding white readers to Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox.

Gates and Tatar do agenda that Joel Chandler Harris was a agent for what’s been alleged the Arcadian South of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. His belief were afterwards acclimatized by Disney for the cine “Song Of The South.” And I asked the editors of this new album about including African-American folk tales that had been repurposed absolute profitably for white audiences.

GATES: Joel Chandler Harris did an astronomic service. We can agitation the actuality that – well, he actually wasn’t a atramentous man, and we could agitation what his action was. And we could wonder, did African-Americans accept any allotment or allotment of the astronomic accumulation that he made? The acknowledgment is actually not. But on the added hand, a lot of these tales would accept been absent afterwards Joel Chandler Harris.

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TATAR: I was activity to present the counter-argument. That is, did he annihilate African-American ballad because afterwards all, if you attending at the anatomy narrative, who is Uncle Remus cogent the belief to – a little white boy. And so aback this absolute attitude has been appointed for white audiences and fabricated array of absorbing rather than, you know, destructive and perilous, dangerous, belief that could be told alone at caliginosity aback the masters were not listening.

GATES: But anticipate about it this way. It came into my parlor. It came into my bedchamber through the aperture of a atramentous man – my ancestor – who would accept us apprehend the Uncle Remus tales but aural a accomplished altered context. And my ancestor would – can we say, re-breath atramentous into those folk tales.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

TATAR: Fair enough.

GATES: So it’s a absolute complicated legacy.

SIEGEL: There is a affiliate of the book that is adherent to ballads, including John Henry, Railroad Bill and this song that was recorded by anybody from Lead Belly to Mae West to, in this instance, Taj Mahal. It’s either “Frankie And Johnny” or “Frankie And Albert” depending on…

GATES: Yeah.

SIEGEL: …On the choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FRANKIE AND ALBERT”)

TAJ MAHAL: (Singing) Frankie and Albert were sweethearts. Lordy, how they could adulation – vowed to adulation one another, baby, below the stars above. It was her man, and he was accomplishing her wrong.

SIEGEL: But he did her wrong.

GATES: He did her amiss (laughter).

SIEGEL: He did her wrong. A – not a folk song. I mean, is it aloof a absolute old, accepted song, no?

TATAR: Well, it was aggressive by an absolute story. And these ballads absolutely accord us belief about bodies who breach the law, who are transgressive, who do abhorrent things. They are abounding of melodrama, treachery, betrayal. And again, all the – it’s a story. The adventure of “Frankie And Johnny” gets us talking about this relationship, about murder, about how alliance is an institution. Well, let’s say alike relationships are apparitional by the blackmail of murder. There is abandon at the amount of these stories.

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GATES: And I anticipate it was Leslie Fiedler, if I’m canonizing correctly, who said basically the two abundant capacity of abstract were adulation and afterlife (laughter). And adulation and afterlife acknowledgment over and over afresh not alone in the folktales but in the ballads – in the ballads that are all about – I’m in love; I acclimated to be in love; I adulation my baby, and my babyish doesn’t adulation me, and so I’m activity to annihilate somebody.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

TATAR: I’m activity to get my revenge, yeah.

GATES: I’m activity to get my revenge.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: That’s the absolutely reductionist adaptation of an album of…

GATES: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: …Of ballads.

GATES: But it’s accurate – and that they alive through altered iterations. And I adulation it. It’s like links in a chain. And these chains go aback hundreds of years from – starting today aback through the accounting tradition, bridge over the – to the articulate tradition. And bodies like Maria and me – our job is to put them in a anatomy in which they can be captivated by a accomplished new generation.

TATAR: I see these belief as a way of alert to the ancestry, as Toni Morrison would put it. And afresh I achievement that this book will be a belvedere for authoritative the belief new, authoritative them our own again.

GATES: And that’s actually why we accept two sets of dedications – Maria’s and mine. And my adherence says, this aggregate is committed to Eleanor Margaret Gates-Hatley – l’dor va’dor, acceptation bearing to generation. That’s my 3-year-old granddaughter (laughter). And I appetite these tales to be chastening aloof like my ancestor fabricated these tales mine.

SIEGEL: Maria Tatar and Skip Gates – Henry Louis Gates Jr. – editors of “The Annotated African American Folk Tales,” acknowledgment so abundant for talking with us today.

GATES: Thank you, acceptable brother.

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TATAR: Acknowledgment for agreeable us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAJ MAHAL SONG, “FRANKIE AND ALBERT”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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