Monday, September 17, 2012

Episode 128 (September 17, 2012): Northern Neck Chantey Singers

Please see below (after the transcript and show notes) for links to news and upcoming events.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of September 17, 2012.

This week, we feature a musical tradition from African-American watermen harvesting fish in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal waters.  Have a listen for about 90 seconds.


You’ve been listening to the Northern Neck Chantey Singers, performing at the 2011 Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Festival in Charlottesville.  Menhaden chanteys are an example of African-American work songs, used in this case to coordinate several watermen in the grueling labor of hauling up nets full of fish.  Atlantic Menhaden are relatively small, oily fish that feed on microscopic plants and animals and in turn are prey for larger fish.  Menhaden have been harvested since the 1800s for a variety of industrial uses of their oils; today, the Northern Neck town of Reedville is home to the Chesapeake Bay’s only remaining industrial Menhaden operation, run by Omega Protein Corporation of Houston, Texas.  Hydraulic equipment now does the net-hauling work formerly performed by watermen, and Menhaden harvest quotas are a controversial issue among Atlantic states.  The Northern Neck Chantey Singers remind us that such current issues are part of the long, challenging history of Virginians on the water.  Thanks to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for permission to use this week’s sounds.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


Hauling in the purse seine net, 1930.  Photo courtesy of the image collection of the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, used with permission; online at (9/14/12).

Acknowledgments: Audio of the Northern Neck Chantey Singers was from a video of their September 11, 2011, performance at the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase in Charlottesville, used with permission of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (145 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903; phone: (434) 924-3296; e-mail:; Web site:  The full performance video is available online at

Sources and More Information:  Information on the Northern Neck Chantey Singers was taken from “Menhaden Chanteys: An African American Legacy,” by Harold Anderson in the Jan.-Feb. 2000 issue of Maryland Marine Notes, from the Maryland Sea Grant Program, available online at (as of 9/14/12). 

Other sources of information on Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) and Menhaden fishing are the following (all accessed 9/14/12):
“Atlantic Menhaden” (August 2012), Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, online at;
“A History of Menhaden Fishing,” Maryland Marine Notes (January-February 2000), Maryland Sea Grant, online at;
“Menhaden Fishing” (2002), The Mariners Museum (Newport News, Va.), online at;
“Menhaden” (undated), Chesapeake Bay Program, online at; and
“The History” (undated), Omega Protein Corporation, online at

Recent Virginia Water News
            For news relevant to Virginia's water resources, please visit the Virginia Water Central News Grouper, available online at

Water Meetings and Other Events
            For events related to Virginia's water resources, please visit the Quick Guide to Virginia Water–related Conferences, Workshops, and Other Events, online at  The site includes a list of Virginia government policy and regulatory meetings occurring in the coming week.