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Lyr Add: How the Banjo Was Invented (B Kincaid)

Jim Dixon 26 Sep 16 - 09:19 AM
Jim Dixon 26 Sep 16 - 09:22 AM
leeneia 26 Sep 16 - 10:22 AM
Jim Dixon 26 Sep 16 - 11:48 AM
Jim Dixon 26 Sep 16 - 01:08 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: How the Banjo Was Invented (B Kincaid)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Sep 16 - 09:19 AM

You can hear this at YouTube:

As recorded by Bradley Kincaid

Now it's about the possum's tail; I'll let you ladies listen,
Whilst the hair it is not there and why it is so missin'.

"It's going to come an overflow," said Noah lookin' solemn.
Then he took the Ark Gazette and read the river column.

And then he put his men to work a-clearin' timber patches;
Swore he's gonna make a boat to beat the steamer Natchez.

Old Noah kept them hewing, a-choppin' an' a-sawin',
And all the wicked neighbors round kept sassin' and a-jawin'.

But Noah didn't mind them; he knew what was gonna happen:
For forty days and forty nights the rain kept on a-drappin'.

The ark it just kept sailin', a-sailin' and a-sailin'.
The lion got his dander up and busted through the railin'.

Now Ham, the only colored man a-runnin' on the packet,
Got lonesome in the barber shop and couldn't stand the racket.

And so just for to 'muse himself, he steamed some wood and bent it,
And soon he had a banjo made, the first that was invented.

He took some tin and twisted him a thimble for to ring it,
And now the mighty question is: how's he gwine to string it?

The possum had as fine a tail as this that I'm a-singin'.
'Twas big an' long an' thick an' strong, fit for banjo stringin'.

He clipped that possum's tail as close as wash-day dinner graces,
And made the strings in proper keys from little E's to basses.

He tuned 'er up an' struck a jig; 'twas "Never Mind the Weather."
It sounded like a dozen bands a-playin' all together.

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Subject: Lyr Add: THE ORIGIN OF THE BANJO (Irwin Russell)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Sep 16 - 09:22 AM

From The Speaker, Vol. 4, No. 4 (New York: Hinds, Noble & Eldredge, Sept., 1909), page 389.

By Irwin Russell (From "Christmas Night in the Quarters")

Go 'way, fiddle! folks is tired a-hearin' you a-squawkin'.
Keep silence fur yo' betters!—don't you heah de banjo talkin'?
About de 'possum's tail she's gwine to lecter—ladies, listen!
About de ha'r what isn't dar, an' why de ha'r is missin':

"Dar's gwine to be a' oberflow," said Noah, lookin' solemn—
Fur Noah tuk the "Herald," an' he read de ribber column
An' so he sot his hands to wuk a-cl'arin' timber-patches,
An' lowed he's gwine to build a boat to beat the steamer Natchez.

Ol' Noah kep' a-nailin' an' a-chippin' an' a-sawin';
An' all de wicked neighbors kep' a-laughin' an' a-pshawin';
But Noah didn't min' 'em, knowin' what wuz gwine to happen:
An' forty days an' forty nights de rain it kep' a-drappin'.

Now, Noah had done cotched a lot ob ebry sort o' beas'es—
Ob all de shows a-trabbelin', it beat 'em all to pieces!
He had a Morgan colt an' several head o' Jarsey cattle—
An' druv 'em 'board de Ark as soon's he heered de thunder rattle.

Den sech anoder fall ob rain!—it come so awful hebby,
De ribber riz immejitly, an' busted troo de lebbee;
De people all wuz drowned out—'cep' Noah an de critters,
An' men he'd hired to work de boat—an' one to mix de bitters.

De Ark she kep' a-sailin' an' a-sailin' an' a-sailin';
De lion got his dander up, an' like to bruk de palin';
De sarpints hissed; de painters [panthers] yelled; tell, whut wid all de fussin',
You c'u'dn't hardly heah de mate a-bossin' 'round an' cussin'.

Now, Ham, de only nigger whut wuz runnin' on de packet,
Got lonesome in de barber-shop, an' c'u'dn't stan' de racket;
An' so, fur to amuse he-se'f, he steamed some wood an' bent it,
An' soon he had a banjo made—de furst dat wuz invented.

He wet de ledder, stretched it on; made bridge an' screws an' aprin;
An' fitted in a proper neck—t'wuz berry long an' tap'rin';
He tuk some tin, an' twisted him a thimble fur to ring it;
An' den de mighty question riz: how wuz he gwine to string it?

De 'possum had as fine a tail as dis dat I's a-singin';
De ha'r's so long an' thick an' strong,—des fit fur banjo-stringin';
Dat nigger shaved 'em off as short as wash-day dinner graces;
An' sorted ob 'em by de size, f'om little E's to basses.

He strung her, tuned her, struck a jig,—'twus "Nebber min' de wedder,"—
She soun' like forty-lebben bands a-playin' all togedder;
Some went to pattin'; some to dancin': Noah called de figgers;
An' Ham he sot an' knocked de tune, de happiest ob niggers!

Now sence dat time—it's mighty strange—dere's not de slightes' showin'
Ob any ha'r at all upon de 'possum's tail a-growin';
An' curi's, too, dat nigger's ways: his people nebber los' 'em—
Fur whar you finds de nigger—dar's de banjo and de 'possum!

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: How the Banjo Was Invented (B Kincaid)
From: leeneia
Date: 26 Sep 16 - 10:22 AM

Thanks, Jim. You've done a nice job - two versions AND the tune.

I puzzled over "wash day dinner graces", decided it means that on a laborious wash day, dinner is nothing much, and grace is equally short and skimpy.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: How the Banjo Was Invented (B Kincaid)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Sep 16 - 11:48 AM

There is another version of the text, called OLD NOAH, in Folk Songs of the South: : Collected Under the Auspices of the West Virginia Folk-Lore Society by John Harrington Cox (Harvard University Press, 1925), page 508.

It contains the notation:

Contributed by Mr. Decker Toney, Queens Ridge, Wayne County, January 20, 1916; learned from his mother, who learned it from her uncle, Riley Vance.

Like Kincaid's version, it seems to be derived from Russell's poem, but it has several awkward turns of phrase, no doubt based on mishearings or misrememberings.

If you want to sing this song, I recommend you learn Kincaid's version, and if you want to lengthen it a bit, take some couplets from the poem and drop or moderate the intense dialect.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: How the Banjo Was Invented (B Kincaid)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Sep 16 - 01:08 PM

Here's the poem in a larger context, in Poems by Irwin Russell (New York: The Century Co., 1888), page 11, where it is printed without its own title, but as part of a longer poem "Christmas-night in the Quarters."

I have found other sources that call Russell "the first Southern writer to master Negro dialect in verse" who died in New Orleans in 1879 at age 26; and that refer to "Christmas-night in the Quarters" as an "1878 poem" and an "operetta in verse." (I doubt that "operetta" is meant to be taken literally.)

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