“Dom Flemons performed the cowboy traditional “Goodbye Old Paint” as a disconsolate field holler that called to mind the slave anthems turned gospel songs I used to hear from my auntie’s record player on cold Sunday mornings. Songs like this have a way of unfolding in a layered harmony, with simple verse structures that become more and more beautiful with each repetition, like the petals of a flower unfolding in concentric rings. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, feeling something in me melt. Legend has it that a black cowhand named Charley Willis taught this song to another black cowboy named Jess Morris, who registered the composition with the Library of Congress by mail in the early 1940s (John Lomax would make an audio recording of Morris’s performance in 1942).
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