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Minstrel Show Or Not?

Ref 12 Jan 09 - 07:46 PM
masha 12 Jan 09 - 08:22 PM
M.Ted 12 Jan 09 - 08:52 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Jan 09 - 08:58 PM
Ref 12 Jan 09 - 09:03 PM
Ref 12 Jan 09 - 09:06 PM
Joe Offer 12 Jan 09 - 09:11 PM
Joybell 12 Jan 09 - 09:18 PM
M.Ted 12 Jan 09 - 09:52 PM
Ref 12 Jan 09 - 10:03 PM
M.Ted 12 Jan 09 - 11:24 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 Jan 09 - 11:49 PM
Dead Horse 13 Jan 09 - 10:03 AM
Joe Offer 13 Jan 09 - 02:40 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 13 Jan 09 - 02:59 PM
The Villan 13 Jan 09 - 03:12 PM
Phil Edwards 13 Jan 09 - 06:22 PM
Joybell 13 Jan 09 - 06:59 PM
Ref 13 Jan 09 - 10:00 PM
Azizi 13 Jan 09 - 10:50 PM
Azizi 13 Jan 09 - 11:05 PM
Azizi 13 Jan 09 - 11:24 PM
Azizi 13 Jan 09 - 11:35 PM
Azizi 13 Jan 09 - 11:47 PM
breezy 14 Jan 09 - 04:04 AM
Phil Edwards 14 Jan 09 - 04:57 AM
Ref 14 Jan 09 - 06:30 AM
Phil Edwards 14 Jan 09 - 06:53 AM
GUEST 14 Jan 09 - 12:53 PM
Phil Edwards 14 Jan 09 - 12:56 PM
mg 14 Jan 09 - 03:20 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 14 Jan 09 - 10:46 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 07 Jul 11 - 08:36 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 07 Jul 11 - 08:55 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Oct 12 - 02:05 AM
LadyJean 13 Oct 12 - 11:27 PM
Bert 14 Oct 12 - 12:24 AM
MGM·Lion 14 Oct 12 - 01:04 AM
GUEST,Stim 14 Oct 12 - 03:21 AM
MGM·Lion 14 Oct 12 - 09:43 AM
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Subject: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 07:46 PM

I welcome any opinions folk folks might have about a musical moral quandary. Is it inappropriate for groups made up of white people to publicly perform music written "in the voice" of African Americans? I'm talking about local choruses and church choirs.

I just don't feel right about it, particularly when the lyrics contain what is supposed to be "Black" slang or "dese, dem, dose" kind of vernacular. It seems to me that what may have been written affectionately fifty years ago is now just racist and mocking. I'm uncomfortable as an upper middle class white guy to sing about my or anyone else's experiences as a slave or descendant of slaves. I'm not referring to the music of the civil rights struggle in which whites did play a part.

Am I being overly sensitive (Yes, I know. Not a word many would apply to me!)?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: masha
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 08:22 PM

Another question: Does anyone have any thoughts about the same material being performed by black performers? Is it more acceptable for a black performer to use "dese, dem, dose" or to use minstrel-era material (song, dance, costume, etc.) which some might consider racist? Less acceptable? No difference? Does it matter if this is presented in a historical context, or with explanatory information first?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 08:52 PM

If it's any comfort, "dese", "dem", and whatever really just correspond to real pronunciation-- people still say "gwine" all the time, just because that's the way they pronounce the word, so don't worry too much about that. An' dey'ze whaht folks! Sho nuff!

As to the songs themselves, it is possible to pick out songs that don't have offensive references in them. And, of course, a lot of songs that originally had offensive references in them have been tidied up, and you can find lyrics to everything on line nowadays.

Stay away from the face painting and the minstrel show characters, and it can work.

By the way, you do realize that "fifty years ago" was 1958--when the big hits were "At the Hop", "All I have to Do is Dream", "To Know Him is to Love Him", and "The Chipmunk Song", don't you? It takes a while to get used to it;-)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 08:58 PM

A fair few discussions here have touched on the subject over the years. It may be worth indicating two in particular which potential contributors to this new thread might usefully read before posting, covering as they do a reasonably wide spectrum of opinion. They also contain links to other related discussions.

Minstrel Shows
Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 09:03 PM

M. Ted:

In Re: 1958, unfortunately, yes.

I'm not referring, in my question, to actual minstrel shows. I've even dropped out of a group that wanted to do a Copeland piece based on minstrel shows. I was making a point that I see white groups singing music from the African or Afro-American tradition as being tantamount to a minstrel show, even if it is not meant as mocking. This I see as especially true when it involves attempts by non-dancers to "move with the spirit." I'd like to know if any persons of color can weigh in on this. Is their tradition being disrespected? Maybe we just look and sound silly?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 09:06 PM

Malcolm D:

Thanks for the links but, as noted, that's not really what I'm asking about.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 09:11 PM

I've been listening to the five American Favorite Ballads CD's by Pete Seeger - they were recorded on the Folkways label, mostly (I think) in the 1950's and 1960's. I noticed that Pete used "gwine" and other aspects of so-called "dialect" quite frequently on those recordings, and that it made me uneasy. I think that nowadays, it's better to sing them without the "blackface" accent, which was always at least partially contrived and caricaturized. But hey, even Pete Seeger went along with the caricature for a time in his life.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Joybell
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 09:18 PM

It's worth noting that Stephen Foster stopped using these words very early in his song-writing. He also spoke out against using them as caricature -- something he never intended. Of course many of his most well-loved songs were already out there. Many choirs still sing them the way they first appeared. I can't see any reason not to substite the words -- these, those, them. It doesn't change the way they sound musically speaking.

Joy


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 09:52 PM

Well, if that's your point--if we all stopped singing songs drawn from the African-American tradition, we wouldn't have much music. Or at least much good music.

I shudder to think what you must think of guys like me, who play and sing old jazz and blues, and even ragtime, and guys like Jerry Rassmussen, who sings with a black gospel group.

The most disturbing thing about your idea is this: If you say that white groups should not sing songs from the African-American tradition, then   that means that whites should only sing music from the white tradition, which is a really horrifying idea--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 10:03 PM

That is a valid point. My own situation now is with a church choir. Perhaps it's just me and this group, but I remain uncomfortable about an all white group singing about their experiences as black slaves. Of course we should celebrate the heritage since, as Americans, we share each others' histories. I'd differentiate your friend who sings WITH people of color. Maybe I'm justifying my distaste for the chosen pieces where we've got better choices available. I maintain my point about the dancing, when some of us just...can't.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 11:24 PM

I lean toward the idea that it is just you and the group.

When people perform material that they have no real feeling for, it can seem stilted, comical, and even embarrassing. I still remember a school assembly, back in those "Chipmunk Song" days, when folk music was still the rage--a classical pianist, and operatic duet, performing "Drill Ye Tarriers, Drill!"--the fact that they were singing a work song with operatic posturing seemed comically inappropriate even to sixth graders--

So whatever you're singing, I think you have to be careful not to over reach--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jan 09 - 11:49 PM

Does this mean that the accents and word usage of the semi-literate white people of the 19th c. - most of them- also are out-of-bounds?
Ignorance and immaturity is behind much of the 'correctness' in today's practice.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:03 AM

No using any Irish brogue whilst singing shanties?
Only correct Queens english to be spoken when singing cockney songs?
Germans only policy to be imposed for Wagnarian Opera?
?????????????????????????????????????????????????????


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:40 PM

"accents and word usage of the semi-literate white people"

Well, I think it's hard for white, middle-class singers to sound like Appalachian singers. If you're from another culture, I think it's wise to put no more than a hint of another accent into your singing. If you put too much, you'll sound like a caricature.

As for Wagner, I do think that if you sing in a foreign language, your pronunciation should be credible (even if some nuances aren't perfect). If you're going to sing "Edelweiss," don't go pronouncing it "Idlewise."

Maybe it's wise to note the difference between accent and pronunciation - pronunciation should be correct, but accent may be another matter.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 02:59 PM

"Ignorance and immaturity is behind much of the 'correctness' in today's practice. "

Not at all. Ignorance is someone who feels that a song has to be sung in a dialect in order to be effective.   It is laughable to hear people putting on these dialects - singing as if they just got off a boat from Ireland or have lived in the deep south all their lives. It is phony, it doesn't capture the original spirit of the song and loses the history of the song. Think Dick Van Dyke with his cockney accent and then realize it is no different from other dialects that are attempted by inappropriate singers.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: The Villan
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 03:12 PM

I think that if you are clear about what your objectives are and why you are doing it and that you are doing it exactly as it would have been done, then whoever turns up, knows exactly what they are in for.

You need to be clear that it does not express how you feel about the subject.

I have had a blues singer on at my club, who has talked to me at length about some of the songs he does. He does not condone the songs, but he feels he needs to portray exactly as they were performed in that particular era.
He told me how he had some woman come up to him at the end and have a right go at him for singing a song, using the exact words as was then.
It really concerned him.
So I suggested that before he sang such a song, he should inform the audience that he is doing the song exactly as such and such used to sing it and that he didn't endorse or condone the lyrics, and that he hoped the audience would not get offended with him.

I don't know if I gave him good advice or not, but I felt that if he wanted to sing it as was, then he needed to explain that to the audiience before he did it.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 06:22 PM

I went to a show once on the Edinburgh Fringe, billed as a celebration of spirituals & the roots of the blues. It was very much as you'd expect - re-enacted scenes of plantation life interspersed with song - with the unexpected twist that the company (of three) was white, middle-class & well-spoken, and blacked-up.

We were just horrified - it's hard to convey what an offensive travesty it was. The Edinburgh Fringe being what it is, there were only about six people in the audience - and after about ten minutes we all walked out. My only slight regret (apart from the waste of ten minutes) was that the only black person in the audience had walked out first, on his own, & presumably never realised that the rest of us hadn't put up with it either.

Blacking-up aside, I feel pretty much the same about doing songs from any culture that's not your own. Your folk-singing voice should be your voice; if you listen to yourself singing and it doesn't sound like you, don't do that song. Equally, if you make it sound like you and it makes the song sounds ridiculous, don't do it. As an English singer doing Scots material, for example, you can usually turn 'alane' and 'gane' into 'alone' and 'gone' without doing too much violence to the song. If you can't, well, there are plenty more songs.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Joybell
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 06:59 PM

I'd have been horrified too, Pip.
So this was not billed as a re-enactment of The Minstrel Show?
The songs of the Minstrels from their birth in the 1840s were not the songs of African Americans. They were songs composed by singer-songwriters like Stephen Foster and the early Minstrels themselves. Performers at the time also sang songs in the stage-characters of Cockneys, Irishmen, Scotsmen...
Along with the characters came the accents. Theatre has always dealt with stereotypes. Always there has been the potential for curruption of theatre into personal attacks. The potential for cruel caricature was greater in the case of the Minstrels, because of slavery -- but the Minstrel Show played a huge role in bringing the changes that ended it.
Joy


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:00 PM

I think M.Ted hit the nail squarely above in pointing out that having "a feel" for the music is most important. All this other talk about accents and such is irrelevant.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 10:50 PM

Here is an excerpt of the post that I just added to two other Mudcat threads Lyr Add: Daniel in the Lions' Den (1927 Recording and Jerry R's 'Black/White Gospel Workshop

I added this comment to two Mudcat threads besides this one because I believe that the comment and its hyperlinks are relevant to each of these threads that are separately archived and are separately read at any given time.


..."There's [sic] a number of YouTube videos about the song "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?" Here are links to two of these videos, both of which are performed with concert arrangements.

In the first video, the song is performed by Howard Gospel Choir - "Didn't my Lord Deliver Daniel"

"The Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University sings the Negro Spiritual "Didn't my Lord Deliver Daniel" in Martin, Slovakia [Europe] as a part of our Tour of Slovakia in December 2007".


In the second video, the song us performed by a majority White choir*
Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel - Nashville 2008

"Nashville, USA 2008"


*The racial references [sic]continues the discussion in this thread.

A portion of the Nashville choir's performance of this African American spiritual might also address the question raised by the original poster in this Mudcat thread,Minstrel Show Or Not?

"Is it inappropriate for groups made up of white people to publicly perform music written "in the voice" of African Americans? I'm talking about local choruses and church choirs"
-Ref

-snip-

That's one question which I will not address at this time.

Another question is how effective is the performance by the group who is not singing in "their own voices".

In my opinion, the attempt to sing a portion of this song in what the choir may have thought was a "Black voice" {as well as the choirs attempts to add movements {swaying to the beat and handclapping, and more} to their rendition of this African American spiritual was not at all effective, though there's no question that they sung very well.

**

As an extra bonus, here's a link to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Revelations (part 2 of 5) "
["Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" and "Fix Me"]


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:05 PM

This is not to say that groups or individuals from one race or ethnic group can't effectively sing the songs from another race or ethnic group. And, of course, each person has her or his own definition of what is and is not effective.

As an African American, I happen to think that the performance by that Nashville choir was not effective.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:24 PM

For some reason, when I watch the Howard video, other videos of African American spiritual follow. I don't know how that happened.

One video is a choir made up of White singers:

Auburn University Concert Choir - Didn't My Lord Deliver Dan

Unlike the Nashville video, it didn't seem to me that the Auburn University choir was trying to sing this song isn "a Black voice".
I didn't like their arrangement, but that's just me. It's a matter of taste, which to a large extent is developed and reinforced by cultural conditioning.

Another video that somehow followed the Auburn University video through that Howard University link, is Wilmington Chester Mass Choir- Ride On King Jesus

I like this video the best of all those whose links I shared in these posts {though the sound clip used by the Alvin Ailey dancers is a tie}. Imo, the Wilmington Chester Mass Choir is a good example of African American singing spirituals {although I personally didn't like the video after 4:44.

As to any other videos that follow this one, {how??} I'll just let them speak for themselves.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:35 PM

I chose not to address the comments about minstrelsy on this thread.

However, my comments about this subject and/or related subjects are archived on the Padstow Darkie Days thread.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Azizi
Date: 13 Jan 09 - 11:47 PM

After re-reading my first post to this thread, I think a clarification of my comment is needed.

My comments focus on how effective a choir sings "in the "Black voice", which probably is better described as "Black voices".

I'm not commenting on the appropriateness of using so-called 19th century Black vernacular langage in contemporary performances. Nor am I going to comment on minstrelsy or blacking up.

My positions on these topics are known to most people who post on this forumn and haven't changed from what I wrote on the Padstow thread.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: breezy
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 04:04 AM

a bit like British singers singing with an American accent which dominates almost all commercial music.

good old Billy Bragg

May 1st is the day to go to Padstow

Yep, if yus feel uncomfortable about singing it , then don't,

stay true to yourself your roots and your being.

If you cant empathize with the lyric then why bother ?

Of course some singing teachers and choir M Ds live in cloud cuckooland when it comes to song selection, and many still live on the dark ages


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 04:57 AM

a bit like British singers singing with an American accent which dominates almost all commercial music.

My daughter came home from school the other day singing a song she'd learned called "Nan was a Suffragette" - or, as she sang it, Naaan was a suhhf-ra-jaird... I told her she ought to sing about English subjects in an English accent, and she's never sung it in my hearing since. For her generation it's the voice you put on to sound like a singer - just like the BBC newsreader voice used to be the voice you put on to sound authoritative. I'll have to play her some Tony Capstick (maybe not the live album).


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Ref
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 06:30 AM

Uhhh. Suffragettes were part of English history as well as American. Thanks to Azizi for interesting comments.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 06:53 AM

Uhhh yourself - that was exactly my point. It was an English song about English women fighting for the vote in England.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 12:53 PM

Ah. I see your point upon re-reading. It was the accent!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 12:56 PM

Yes, now I look at it again it was a bit unclear - sorry about that.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: mg
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 03:20 PM

I certainly would sing songs from other traditions. I would stick to the universal theme songs..avoiding comedies, parodies, etc. I would scrub the lyrics for any truly awful words and apologize in advance to the audience for anything borderline. I would sing more or less in the current voice and not try to badly mimic Ole Svenson's accent but like someone said, give it a nod perhaps. I would not try to clap too much because it has been said that we do not clap well...probably don't sway well either...but sing the songs certainly and encourage the audience to look up more original renditions...mg


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 14 Jan 09 - 10:46 PM

It is fine to sing songs from other traditions, and it should be encouraged. I think that singing in dialect borders on the ridiculous and demeans the original song because the singer usually has no clue how awful they sound.   I can't tell you the times I've heard people singing with a southern accent and come off sounding like Stepin Fechit. The sad part is they do not realize what they are doing. It does not honor a tradition to do so, nor does it explain the context of the song.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 07 Jul 11 - 08:36 PM

Well, I think that as a person of colour (but not black), I would be horribly offended by someone white singing in Chinese Pidgin English. But on the other hand, singing in dialect can sometimes be respectful to the culture. Many songs depend on dialect for their sound and rhymes.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 07 Jul 11 - 08:55 PM

Caribbean songs are being posted here in dialect; as Morwen says, the sound, rhymes and the culture would be lost if this was changed.

I would not, however, attempt to sing these songs myself; that would be offensive to the people to whom the songs belong.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 02:05 AM

Ah, but I would.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: LadyJean
Date: 13 Oct 12 - 11:27 PM

When I was in Oxford, in 1986, I heard the Christ Church Cathedral Choir sing an African American spiritual. That choir is amazing. But it did sound a bit odd.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: Bert
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 12:24 AM

Well Lady Jean, I think that any choir singing folk songs sounds a bit odd. Having visited an Eisteddfod at Llangollen one year I developed a hatred of choirs, but I have two beloved skinnens (sisters) who both sing in choirs, so I have since changed my opinions.

As for singing black songs I think that if I do it the it is fine but other people do sound funny.

I sing a couple of black songs without shame, both learned from Cliff Hall of the Spinners. They are Shine Eye Girl and Adam in the Garden. I don't see any need to black up though, but If I were a Morris Dancer I wouldn't have a problem with it.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 01:04 AM

This has at times drifted into a discussion of the appropriateness of assumed accents, a topic to which several threads have been devoted. But no-one has responded to the ref a bit back on Dick Van Dyke's cockney. The objection to it was not that he did it, but that he did it so badly {cf Dr Johnson on women preaching & dogs on hind legs!}. No such objections could be raised to Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn in the stage & film versions of My Fair Lady ~~ a show, along with its source, Shaw's Pygmalion, which could not be done at all except with a middle-class RP-speaking actress as Eliza, who changes from the one form of discourse to the other within the course of the narrative; which is in fact the whole point of the narrative.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 03:21 AM

MtheGM--Please don't forget Wendy Hiller, she was the best Eliza of all.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Show Or Not?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 14 Oct 12 - 09:43 AM

Indeed, Stim. Many thanks for the reminder.


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