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Minstrel Shows

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wysiwyg 01 Jun 02 - 12:21 PM
wysiwyg 01 Jun 02 - 12:25 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 01 Jun 02 - 12:29 PM
Lonesome EJ 01 Jun 02 - 12:48 PM
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Subject: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 12:21 PM

THE MINSTREL SHOW'S CONTRIBUTION TO FOLK MUSIC
By Tom Faigin
Source: http://www.jsfmusic.com/Uncle_Tom/Tom_Article6.html

Although Americans like William Billings wrote revolutionary war songs and hymns, most Americans during the early 1800's tended to copy British and European styles in music as well as clothing and literature. However, after the War of 1812, the American frontier acted as a magnet to Americans seeking land and freedom. This, in turn, helped create a new culture based on new experiences and problems. For example, religious restrictions against dancing helped develop the play party song. When the dancers sang the songs as they danced, they were not considered sinful, and as a result, hundreds of new songs such as "Skip to My Lou" and "Buffalo Gals" were created on the frontier as young people flirted and courted each other to the music.

New itinerant songwriters appeared between 1830—1850, composing new tunes based on existing folk melodies. Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work, Daniel Emmett and Thomas Daddy Rice, all professional songwriters, traveled throughout the South by steamship and river boat, observing and notating song ideas from plantation slaves. The slaves, having learned many of their songs and dances from traveling Irish musicians, modified and played jigs and reels on homemade fiddles and banjos. The banjo itself was a slave invention, but the music became more rhythmic and syncopated as the slaves added African musical techniques. Plantation lore also made rich use of farm and wild animals that the slaves observed and imitated in their daily lives. The juba dance, the cakewalk, the turkey trot and the buzzard lope all had their origin in plantation life.

Thomas Daddy Rice was the first to create the idea of the comical plantation Negro when he observed a black stable groom in Louisville, Kentucky. He was old and bent over as he sang and danced a little song:

Wheel about and turn about and do just so,
Every time I wheeled about I jump Jim Crow.

Rice blackened his face with burnt cork, sang songs in a Southern Negro dialect and became a star overnight. In 1843 the Virginia Minstrels created a sensation at the Bowery Amphitheatre in New York with their snappy songs, dances and comedy routines. This group was followed by many others, all attempting to cash in on a perfect formula for the new art form.

At first there was no set pattern to the minstrel show, but gradually it developed into four sections, consisting of solos as well as ensemble performances. Solos were sung in Negro dialect and they usually poked fun of the ragged, black plantation slave. Sometimes the slave was portrayed as a trickster who outsmarted authority or else he became the butt of other peoples' jokes. He was usually poorly dressed, but often he appeared on stage as a highly—spirited city dandy in Long—tailed blue dress coat and was variously called Old Zip Coon, Dandy Jim or just Jim Crow. Although many minstrel songs derided the Negro, other songs poked inn of the arty, the pretentious and even opera and classical music. The following minstrel verse pokes fun of the great violinists Ole Bull and Paganini:

Loud de banjo talked away
And Ole Bull from Norway
We'll take the shine from Paganini;
We're the boys from Ole Virginny.

Some minstrel performers were active in political and social causes around the time of the Civil War. The Fighting Hutchinson Family, the most famous minstrel family, performed during the 1840's and '50's, sang against slavery and supported women in their struggle to vote. Also against the use of alcohol, they sang songs like "Temperance and Liberty," "Young Man Shun That Cup" and "Father's a Drunkard and Mother's Dead."

Oddly enough, the Southern anthem "Dixie" was written by Dan Emmett, a Northern minstrel composer. He wrote it over a weekend in 1859 for a new show he was putting together, but it became an enormous hit and Southerners began singing it as a patriotic hymn. When the tune became a Confederate marching song, Emmett was attacked by abolitionist newspapers and his group, Bryant's Minstrels, was banned from performing in Northern cities during the Civil War.

Although the minstrel show perpetuated Negro stereotypes, it also helped blacks enter the field of show business after the Civil War. Early black minstrel troupes such as Mahara's Minstrels and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels corked their faces as custom demanded and performed in a self—mocking manner that degraded their race. However, this was the beginning of their entry into professional show business and blacks continued to call themselves minstrels up to the start of World War I. James Bland (1854—1911), a black composer, was the only notable minstrel song writer of the late nineteenth century. Of the 200 songs he wrote, his most famous were "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" and "In the Evening by the Moonlight."

Although the minstrel show became extremely popular in Northern cities, its vitality and folk quality came from its humble Southern folk origins —— the plantations, the frontier and the rivers used for navigation and transportation. Early hillbilly music is filled with many examples of early minstrel songs and even the five—string banjo remained popular in the white rural South long after its demise in the black community.

Uncle Dave Macon, a great banjo player and entertainer, served as a link between nineteenth century minstrel music and modern country music. Born in McMinnville, Tennessee in 1870, Uncle Dave was very early influenced by minstrel entertainers when his parents opened a theatrical boarding house in Nashville. He picked up banjo techniques and comedy routines from the minstrel men, as well as many songs that he later performed on his recordings and personal appearances. The early hillbilly string bands of the 1920's such as the Skillet Lickers and Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers often featured fiddle and banjo versions of old minstrel songs.

All in all, even though the minstrel show created racial stereotypes, it gave professional composers a vehicle for their new material and fed newly—composed songs into an ever—expanding folk tradition. While it gave blacks their first crack at professional show business, it also enriched the repertory of Southern country music. Like the Negro spiritual, the minstrel show was a uniquely American art form.

Tom Faigin is a guitar and banjo teacher in the San Fernando Valley since 1960 and is on staff at many schools, colleges and music organizations. He lectured on American Folk Music from 1982-1985 at Cal. State Los Angeles.

=======================================================

MORE INFORMATION:

THE MINSTREL SHOW extensive discussion and examples online, written by Jochen Scheytt. Includes links to much more.

BLACKFACE MINSTRELSY (from "Mark Twain and His Times" at the University of Virginia)

Two-Minute Wax Cylinder Phonograph Recordings: Vaudeville and Minstrelsy at THE CYLINDER SHOP/TINFOIL Explore out into the site from the sound clip and short discussion at this page.

Daniel Decatur Emmet & the American Minstrel (PBS: I Hear America Singing)

====================================================

~S~


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 12:25 PM

The Development of an African-American Musical Theatre 1865-1910 at American Memory; explore from this page to find much more.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 12:29 PM

Good brief article, Susan. One point that should be added, however, is that beginning with Daddy Rice and his "Jump Jim Crow," minstrel tours went to England. This helped spread American songs throughout the English-speaking world.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 12:48 PM

Wizzy, we have discussed the evolution of Blues from earlier sources, and I think the Minstrel tradition is an essential link. It formalized many slave songs, often mixing them with current popular music forms and appalachian-style traditional music. In formalizing these older musics, it also popularized them and became a form in itself to be imitated. Frankie and Johnny is an example of a song that likely pre-existed the minstrel tradition, was used in it, and contains many of the elements of the subsequent Blues genre.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 01:00 PM

Yup, it brings the spirituals forward and hooks them up with everything else!

I think we, in our racism-conscious culture of today, so often fail to realize how "blue-collar" culture so often transcended (or even preceded) barriers that we assume have always been in place in all times and in all situations. From camp-meetings (where white & black meetings would go on side by side and mix somewhat), through minstrelsy, right through all the blues (and its transformation into rock and roll)-- po' folks' music has always wandered across those "lines." And of course, music CAN do that, and when people are enjoying it, they can too....

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 02:07 PM

Good point. And I think that the American musical heritage is extremely rich. We seem to have inherited a shared tradition despite the presence of slavery and segregation. That in itself is a strong argument for the basic unifying power of music. No where, not in the Blues or in the Gospel forms, are there strong and clear delineations between black and white influences. People like the Skillet-Lickers, Jimmie Rodgers, Dave Macon and Blind Blake all influenced one another and learned from many of the same sources.


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Subject: ATTENTION JOE OFFER
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 03:58 PM

Please follow your ground rules and delete the opening post. WYSIWYG is well aware of your Mudcat edict not to post whole articles. The link would have been enough.

Just because she is part of the Mudcat inner clique, there should be no exceptions for WYSIWYG.
The "edict" applies only to non-music articles. Generally, it is expected that music articles should be posted in complete form, with attribution.
This thread is a discussion of minstrel music. Messages posted which attempt to divert the discussion will be deleted or moved.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 04:22 PM

GUEST has mis-stated what is SOP at Mudcat. Since I ran the article, I will say what my understanding of the situation actually might be.

There is no policy not to run whole articles. We often post entire items when it is not certain the source website will be up and running, particularly when they reflect music scholarship. The item in question is not copyrighted, was attributed properly, and was posted as part of the opening of the thread for the purpose of providing a basis for further, informed discussion. Among all the online resources I had seen, it provided the best summary of why one might wish to discuss the topic at a Folk Music site.

What has been objected to, about posting whole articles, has been the anonymous posting of items written and published by others, or items posted as if posted by the author of the piece, frequently with no source named, and with no musical content. It has been suggested that these sorts of posts have been efforts to ignite upsets or further policital, non-musical agendas. It has further been said that if someone wants to discuss a non-music topic based on someone else's published editorial piece, what is more appropriate is to provide a link to the item and then state one's own opinion, when starting the thread... the idea there would be that people speak for themselves on matters of opinion, rather than hiding their identity behind someone else's opinion so they can sit back and watch the fur fly.

If GUEST wishes to make additional suggestions about thread content or site policies governing same, might I respectfully refer GUEST to the Help Forum where the comment might actually be seen by site volunteers. Posting such comments in threads is not effective.

As far my as being a member of an Inner Mudcat Anything, as a matter of fact I am not praticularly well loved, appreciated, or agreed with, on many matters pertaining to the Mudcat, by many of its leaders and active members. I just don't make a very effective straw horse in that regard.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 05:16 PM

The cheaply printed ephemeral collections of songs put out by the minstrel troupes themselves were as important as the performances themselves to the spread of the songs and their entry into the folk process.
As I understand it, your motive in starting this thread and others on different aspects of African-American music and its history and influence is to end up with a series of "mini-essays" that can accompany and explain the songs, both spiritual and secular. Faigin's article is a convenient starting point for one important stage. Comments and suggestions will lead to the "momentarily definitive" essay that can be preserved in Mudcat. At least that is my take on your intent.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: DougR
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 06:04 PM

Interesting post, Susan. Guest appears more interested in stirring the pot than anything else.

dougR


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 06:13 PM

In The Stephen Foster Story, a play presented here in Bardstown, the story goes that Stephen wrote Old Folks at Home intending it to be a slow, mournful plantation song. It was used in the minstrel shows as a song-and-dance, fast snappy tune, causing Stephen much grief. (Then of course, or so the story presented here goes, he went on to write THE great plantation song, My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight!)

;-)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: greg stephens
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 06:13 PM

Interesting little snippet popped into the original article about black musicians learning their material from itinerant Irish musicians.It would be interesting to see some evidence for this assertion, as opposed to say English or Scottish,or indeed American, jigs and reels. This looks to me like a slice of wannabee Celtic fantasy rather than history, but give me chapter and verse and I'll be very interested...the spread of fiddle music is my favourite area of research. I am not of course denying the enormous influence of Irish music on the American tradition, just querying why the author singled it out in this context.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 06:25 PM

Oh yes, I neglected to mention that The Stephen Foster Story was rewritten several years ago. They took out the minstrel show which was an integral part of the long drama. I personally thought it made the entire play too long, but there are people these days in the interest of being PC that sanitize everything in sight. I'm also firmly on the fence here, one friend refused to see the show because it "glorified" plantation life, etc. dunno.....The music sure is pretty though, even if the story is a bit manipulated.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 08:52 PM

What suprises me is the small number of people who know any of these early tunes.

BTW, thanks for the links. There were two that I had not yet found!

Butch (AKA George)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Jun 02 - 09:32 PM

Thanks, fellas.

I don't worry about what GUESTs who post like that think... but I do think, sometimes, that the impression they leave new folks with should be corrected when appropriate.

Debby McClatchy gave an excellent workshop on old time music at Clarion Folk College, and she talked about how all the music of the time, and much that we now call "old timey," was affected by the early recording industry. She had an angle on old time music's relationship to vaudeville, minstrelsy, and what she called "parlor music" that I only partially understand... so I am fascinated as this discussion moves forward, and as I read some of the stuff in the links.

NEW LINKS are wanted, so Butch (AKA George), spill it! Whatcha got? Wade right in....

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 07:56 AM

I will work on putting up some new links later today.

For the record, this is what I do for a living. I play minstrel tunes on period instruments in the original style. I don't have any recordings yet, I mostly perform and lecture for music gatherings, schools, universities and historical organizations. I have spent the last 10 years researching the music and reproducing the banjos of the era. I do have a museum exhibit on the subject that will come out next fall in New York. When I have the exact dates I will post them here on the Cat.

For reading purposes, I can tell you there are some great books out on the subject right now.

Behind the Minstrel Mask. ( a collection of fine articles)

Demons of Disorder, Dale Cockrell (early minstels in the days before Emmett)

Blacking Up, Robert Toll (Out of print, but still available on the used book market)

For Recordings on the subject the very best are

The Early Minstrel Show on New World Records also Minstrel Banjo Style on Rounder Records and Old Dan Tucker, Tuckahoe Music and Joe Ayers

I hope this is of interest, within the year I hope to have a CD ROM out as an instructor for minstrel style banjo playing and my book will be out with the exhibit next year.

Butch (aka George)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: masato sakurai
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 08:16 AM

MINSTREL SONGS, OLD AND NEW. A COLLECTION OF MINSTREL AND PLANTATION SONGS, INCLUDING THE MOST POPULAR OF THE CELEBRATED FOSTER MELODIES, ARRANGED WITH PIANO-FORTE ACCOMPANIMENT. [Published by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston (1883)] is a good collection (with lyrics & MIDI).

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 09:07 AM

The Minstrel Shows also proved quite influential back in Britain and Ireland, as Dicho mentioned. Some of the standard repertoire of Northern English fiddlers in the 19th century derived from popular "Ethiopian" songs, as they were called, as do a number of Morris tunes if I recall correctly. The shows were also probably originally responsible for the introduction of the banjo into English and, later, Irish tradition (though the American-style dance bands of the early 20th century and the growing availability of cheap instruments were more influential in this respect) and for the adoption of the tambourine (usually a larger thing than the Spanish style instrument we see today) as a successor to the tabor in both England and Ireland. When the bodhran began to be used in Irish music, it was played in the same way that the tambourine had been.

Although I am sure that Irish music exercised notable influence at some stages, I am equally sure that it was by no means alone in this, though it is often the habit to single it out nowadays and to underplay the contribution of other traditional cultures in the development of the new American tradition.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 09:19 AM

]]]]DANGGGG[[[[ (sound of head being struck by metal hammer, like a heavy bell)

Butch, well met! Gee, stick around! *G*

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 10:08 AM

So (revealing total ignorance but keen interest)...

Jug band music?

Same?

Related?

English music hall?

... *G* I don't even know enough to ask the right questions. Just start talking, OK....?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 10:23 AM

"Minstrel" material certainly found its way into the music halls, along with a lot of other styles, and broadside copies of many "Ethiopian" songs were issued in both America and Britain, most particularly during the first half of the 19th century. Many can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadsides, though there doesn't seem to be a specific subject category.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 10:25 AM

Ahem. "Many can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadsides, though there doesn't seem to be a specific subject category."


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Rincon Roy
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 10:58 AM

(appreciate the thread!)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 02:28 PM

In the opening article it stated that "Buffalo Gals" came out of a western heritage. This is the only fault I can find in the article. "Buffalo Gals" is actully the song "Lubbly Fan" written by White. On tour, bands would sing the name of the town rather than the Lubbly Fan. So in Charleston it was "Charleston Gals won't you come out tonight". For whatever reason, when it got to Buffalo NY, the name stuck. Buffalo Gals was thus born.

What I find so important to learn about minstrelsy (and this has been pointed out above) is the fact that almost all traditional music in America has it's roots on the minstrel stage, one way or another. Some people see minstelsy as a fad. In fact it was as big as rock and roll and lasted for almost 100 years. This music was a large part of the soundtrack of America and yet many people sing "Buffalo Gals", "O' Susanna" and "Old Dan Tucker" and yet have no idea the roots of the songs or their real importance in American music history.

What I love is to stand before an audience that thinks "old Dan Tucker" is old time music and hit them with the 1843 version, words, style, dress and all. Most a blown away! The interest in this music is growing, with luck it will bring us to a better understanding of the roots of our most popular musical traditions.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 03:27 PM

Now this thread is a corker, folks; and we've some of the High Priests (and Priestesses) of the Art presiding as well, right out of the gate!

The "Minstrel" genre is one that dosen't get discussed as much as it deserves, IMHO, and that's probably due to our current cultural and racial "sensitivity". Now a little sensitivity is surely a grand thing; don't get me wrong, here... but like most anything it can be overdone, and I think we've seen that sort of thing running seriously amock and going haywire on us over the past several years or so.

Now "Butch" (great to have you aboard, Mate!) and I hang out with people who are known to "black up" and theatrically present, as authentically as possible, a period "Minstrel Show"... to a VERY select audience, with little or no advertizing, and that within a select community... for obvious reasons. I've never seen one that blatantly denigrated anyone's race any more than they apparantly used to, and they are as interesting as they are entertaining... and darn it; it's History!
Let's face it, folks; things were not always as they might better have been; we've come a long way - and pretending that it didn't happen, or coming up with some feel-good fantasy to replace it with (as many of our Government mandated factory indoctrination Centers, AKA "Public Schools" are so wont to do) is doing our Culture no favors. How'd you like to see the Students at your school put on a historically credible Minstrel Show (I can remember our school doing one in the early '60's), then discussing it's artistic, as well as racial implications? I'm not holding my breath here!

Wouldn't the "Minstrel Story" make one heckkuvva controversial motion picture, eh? I'd love to see one if it was competently done.. and anyone dares to do it!

As previously stated, the Minstrel phenomenon gave black and white American Musicians alike a novel oportunity to work creatively together, apparantly as peers in most cases, which I like to speculate opened a lot of doors for mutual respect and appreciation between the races. Who knows; for a white man to "black up" and role-play, even if in jest, it may well have created a new perspective and awareness for him as to the very human issues confronting his black Contrymen.
The stage gave black Artists an opportunity to get off of the plantation and strut his stuff before "de white folk" audiences all over America, England, and probably a few other exotic places as well. Those white folk might have laughed, but they were probably pretty darned impressed by the Performer's skill and artistry as well, regardless of race. Did the Mistrel Show provide the stirrup with which the black entertainer could mount to his well - deserved perch of credibility and acceptance in American Society? Debatable, sure; but I think that the art form probably did more to weaken the walls of racial seperation than to raise them, ultimately.

And This "Old Uncle' would surely love to hear a lot more of the Old Minstrel songs without having to worry about "offending" anyone, or having a hoarde of NAACP and ACLU Lawyers and "Leaders" frothing at the mouth and having conniption fits over it. I'll bet those old Minstrels could teach us all a lot about aquiring and developing a good sense of humor... an' 'dere be a lot o' folk out 'dere could shooore use one! Like dat lil' ol' "Guest" what come down fru' de' hole in de' roof wit' a rope, barkin' orders at ever'body like he own de place. Lawwwd; Hab MERCY, chile!!!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 04:14 PM

As some of you know, I have been thinking about workshops as a paying music/info gig. The church gigs I have pretty well scoped out, at least as concepts.

For schools, though, one workshop idea I am working on is, "Your Black Heritage." Cuz white folks have a black heritage-- we can claim that music as OUR culture too, because it WAS there to be soaked up! (In the same vein as "black history is EVERYONE's history.")

I think it's time white folks stopped feeling bad for "ripping off" black culture--- and a lot of folks do. Embarrassed, apologetic. But it was there in its purely black form to be gobbled up, and we did, and we also made it our own in a million ways, too. Going from the spirituals up to the present, in gospel music, for example, would take us right through all the music we all know. (The gospel counterparts to the popular music were created in those same time periods.)

So these are all fodder for the mind mill as I mull it.

Butch, how do you approach talking about all the race issues, in promoting what you do as well as in doing it?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 04:17 PM

Uncle Jaque, I think it will come. We are still close to the upheavels of the 60s, and our response to much that reflects the 19th and early 20th centuries is immature. The political correctness nonsense will gradually disappear, at least I hope it does. One sign is the accumulation of black "memorabilia" by blacks; prices are jumping upward with the competition for interesting items.
I even hope for the revival of the old Amos and Andy radio shows- the characters portrayed were universal, although projected as blackface. The same was true of the old minstrels, and in that lay their appeal. People could laugh at themselves, and their problems through the antics of the performers.

Much later than the minstrel period came the "barn dances," heard on radio across the United States. A long time ago, I heard a program on the performers of the "Grand Old Opry" and other barn dance shows that were popular in the 30s. A significant number were immigrants from eastern and central Europe who had played rural or folk music in the "old country." They quickly learned the American idioms and made their own contributions to what we call "Country." Racial stereotypes sometimes were played for humor on the shows. The Barn Dance period is a subject in itself.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 04:26 PM

I have heard that the minstrel shows followed some standard forms in their presentation. For example, there may have been a certain seating of the actors that corresponded to their sequence of performing. And were there not some common characters in all minstrel shows, like "Mr Bones" and "Mr Interlocutor"?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 04:58 PM

Yeah, LEJ, I read about it in one of the links, the three usual parts of the show.... but being still such a student and not an expert (much less priestess, sheeshe Jaque!), I would not want to expand upon it myself but rather refer you to the links and ask that you look around and see what you find with which to address that.

I read a lyric this AM that was about a black person doing something bad and tied out to be bird-plucked or something, and the verses go through a succession of near misses that become victories. It ends with the last bird choosing to free him instead, cuz it's the bird of freedom. OK, lousy paraphrase, but the point was-- imagine in the middle of a white audience at a minstrel show, hearing THAT!? But then maybe that one was for the black audience.

And there is the fascination of the dry, cracked sheets of paper so lovingly scanned into our present memories.... just what they heck were they DOING?

It's recent enough we can ALMOST remember it for ourselves, but just out of reach except by passed-along stories about it.

So near, and so very, very far.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 05:15 PM

I must now come out of the closet, I am a burnt cork artist myself.

Since we seem to have gone over to the show itself as a subject, let me tell you what I know.

In the early days there were several parts to any show.

Music, with humor Solos Skits or short plays More music or solos Finale or walkaround

This could change depending on the year or the troupe.

The standard players were the musicians themselves with only the two "end men" (bones and tambo) playing a character as it were. These were the men who delivered the punch lines to the jokes or got a new joke started.

Mr. Interlocutor is a post Civil War invention. In later years he was not blacked up but rather stayed as a white performer. It needs to be known that the stage changed very much over the years. This character is not the only change.

In the 1840's, the show was based on 4 men. In the 1850's the numbers grew to as many as 8 or 10. By the 1880's as many as 40 or more! But in the 1860's there was a revival of the "old time" 4 man shows!! Kind of like the 1970's revival of the 1950's.

In later shows the joke segments and skits were interspersed with music and solos. The bones and tambo however, never changed position even into the 1920's.

Racism is another change in the shows. The early shows were not very racist, they were VERY sexist, but that did not change. By the 1920's racism was the mainstay of the stage. This was also the time when the shows went from the professional acts to an almost all community theater/civil club show. As this change slowly took place over the years, racism took over. Most of the racism that minstrel critics point to did not come about until after 1890.

With luck, this shared heritage will come back, not as pure entertainment, but as educationb as to our shared culture.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 05:59 PM

Hm; and did black folk cork up and play stereotype, too?

BTW, can we have a general agreement at least among those who have posted so far that if a hot button gets pushed we will say so, each of us taking responsibility for our own sensitivities, and check in with each other before "letting fly"?

I think we have a pretty unique form of access to try to talk about things that are still pretty hard to talk about. Maybe it's not so weird to think we might not be perfect in the attempt.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 06:11 PM

Somewhere up above, Uncle Jacque said that, by portraying blacks in minstrel shows, white performers may have achieved some insight into what it was to be a black person in 19th century America. Frankly, I can't see how portraying the clownish, ignorant, and child-minded black characters that were typical of these entertainments could give insight into what black people actually experienced as slaves. In turn, the characters could teach nothing to the Northern audiences about slavery or black people, both unfamiliar subjects to them. I don't think these are reasons for boycotting black-face minstrel revivals, but I certainly don't see them as justifications for them either.

I believe that these black-face characters served much of the function that formal masks played in the Greek plays : They disguised the individuality of the performer in favor of portraying universal themes of humor or tragedy through familiar, symbolic characters.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 06:29 PM

I think I can start to see it, LEJ; I think one might feel a hint of the shame of the self being parodized, if one had some imagination. Maybe it's one thing we can't know uless we try it... maybe if someone reports that this is a possible outcome, we need to keep listening and ask some more questions.

So-- Jaque-- can you tell me more about how that is? Do you mean that being treated as ignorant, etc., when one knows one is not, would have a certain effect? I can see that-- one minute, without makeup, one is treated as fully empowered. The next, in makeup, the full weight of the stereotype settles down on the shoulders.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 07:29 PM

I would also like a shot at this answer.

Not all of the characters on the blackface stage were ignorant or childlike. Many characters were quite clever and got the better of either white characters of wealth characters. This did not change until after the Civil War

Also, in songs like "Nelly was a Lady", "Lucy Neal" and "My Darling Nelly Grey", the black characters were given the very high minded emotions most closely held by Victorian Society: love, loss and heartbreak. All of these tunes portray the loss of love due to the evil of slavery. This may be the first time in American theater that these emotions were allowed to be portrayed by black characters.

The question must be, did these emotions have an effect on the audience or the players? This is hard to know, but as the Civil War came closer, the songs of this sort stopped being popular because they hit too close to home. I think that it had enough of an effect on the audience to make the minstrels change tunes so that they and the audience did not have to deal with such heavy matters.

As to the question of blacking up, yes black minstrels also blacked up so as to keep the image. It needs to be noted that in the early days, the white around the lips was not used. This, like so many other ills, came later.

I do have to agree with Lonesome to an extent, the cork was part of a minstrel mask in the Greek sense. I have done it, and felt totally liberated on stage by the mask. Dale Cockrell does a very good job of explaining this in his book. That said, there is also a two way exchange of music and images that can not be denied. Images totally forign to white culture does find it's way into minstrel tunes like'"Black Cat, White Cat". These images show us that culture, although shallow, was passed from one group to another. Also, the popularity of " The Blue Tail Fly" on the plantations of Georgia show us that some of this culture flowed in both directions. I think that is may be too easy to miss this exchange.

Minstelsy is complicated. It can not be opened fully here, for that matter, scholarship is just beginning to open this world to us. We can talk for many years (and hopefully will!) but it will be a long time before we truly understand this part of American culture and it's influence on the world.

Butch


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 07:43 PM

I'm just glad we are addressing it and doing so as inquisitive friends trying to understand, value, and appreciate... to look with open eyes at the good, the bad, and the ugly. *G*

I should say that I do expect some ugly trolling to arrive in the topic at some point, not from one of us but probably anonymously. I hope we will just let it go and keep the tone we have started with. If not I am always glad to get PMs moving discussions to e-mail, and I would gladly coordinate such a discussion.

Glad yer here, Butch.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Jun 02 - 08:35 PM

Australia also had touring minstrel shows. The first was organized by Frank Weston, "Weston and La Feuilades Minstrels," in 1869. His show, including both local and American talent, only lasted a short time because Australia was added to the western tour leg of the American shows. There is a book on Australian minstrelsy by Waterhouse (no further data).

Better books on American minstrelsy>
1. Lhamon, W. T., Raising Cain: Blackface Performers from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Harvard Univ. Press.
2. Lott, Eric, Love and Theft- Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford Univ. Press.
3. Maher, Wm. J., Behind the Burnt Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Univ. Illinois Press (one of their notable series, Music in American Life Series).
4. Nathan, Hans, Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy. Univ. Oklahoma Press.
5. Toll, Robert C., Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth Century America, Oxford Univ. Press.

Occasionally a book of songs and routines put out by one of the old touring groups in the 19th century appears in rare book auctions. They bring $1000 to much more.

Blackface minstrel shows, as Butch has pointed out, became the property of service clubs and the like. I remember vaguely one in the 1930s (I would have been about 10-12), put on, I believe, by the Shriners in blackface with full stage setup. I remember that we blacked up for a skit in high school (about 1940), but I have no memory of the content of the skit.

My grandfather, who saw touring shows in the west in 1880s-1990s and later, told me that there was usually a more serious recitation at some point in the show- a cultural or religious subject. Butch may know when these interludes appeared.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: M.Ted
Date: 03 Jun 02 - 01:05 AM

By the end of the 19th century, most minstrels were actually black, as were many of the songwriters who created thier material--Bert Williams, who was one of the most successful entertainers of his time, performed for his entire life as a black man in blackface--even still, it was his goal, and the goal of many others, to move away from the coon songs and humor(he and his partner, George Walker, actually billed themselves as "Two Real Coons") and on to a higher form of art--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 03 Jun 02 - 12:20 PM

Thanks, Butch. Much of what I know about minstrel shows come from literature about them, and I'm not so familiar with the actual content, which is a shame. This is a part of our shared culture that has been excised from history, with only remnants of songs remaining. I appreciate your point of view.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Butch at work
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 09:48 AM

I have a question here. What should we, as musicians, do with the minstrel repitoire? Moreover, how do we do it?

Do we interpret this music like historians, of simply play it like musicians? How do we break the race barrier?

Mr. Bob Kilham played "old Zip Coon" (now known as Turkey in the Straw" and "My Darling Nelly Gray" in New York at a famous museum. His audience was mixed race. His performance was well recieved be all. Does this mean that there is a real problem of sensabilities... or is it a fear on our part of the vocal PC police?

I ask these questions because I feel that the quicker we can come to terms with our mutual musical cultures in America, the sooner racism may begin to go down to defeat. Am I a nut? Please give me your comments.

Butch


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 10:38 AM

I think those are, precisely, the questions. I think the answers need some thought. *G* And I think the answers vary with the circumstances in which one finds oneself.

I do have some experience helping people deal with their internalized (and often unconscious) racism and all the feelings locked up in that simple little word.

I'm gonna chew this one for a bit and then I'll share what I think. (Be patient-- it's a busy couple of days I'm looking at.)

Can't wait to see what everyone thinks.... *G* maybe, together, we can "solve" this puzzle. ;~}

~S~


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 01:01 PM

Tough one, Butch. As a revival, say a broadway musical that re-created a minstrel show, I think it could be successful under certain conditions. You could have white actors or black actors, but I think that "blacking-up" would be perceived as racist step-n'-fetchit activity. From what I can see of the humor used in the original minstrel shows, I think that is pretty naive for a contemporary audience, unless viewed in a historical context by students of the genre. I also think that the melodramatic plays that were presented as part of the show are generally too broad and have too many allusions to contemporary events, sayings, etc.

So I see two methods : Honest re-creations in small formats presented for those with a serious interest in the form OR up-dated versions that could serve the purpose of interesting larger numbers of people in the form.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: M.Ted
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 01:16 PM

A number of years ago, Ben Vereen starred in a show based on the work of Bert Williams--it didn't go over--minstrel stuff was revived quite a lot in the movies, sans cork, and well received--there is a very old short subject that TMC has been playing which features routines from on of the extant minstrel shows, and it is really amazing--I'll have to look up the name of it--so the acceptance is there--also seems to me that there is a black fringe theater group that does minstrel stuff--I guess you guys don't get out much;-)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 03:35 PM

Didn't actor Ted Danson ("Cheers") do a roast of his then lover, Whoopi Goldberg, in black face ? Seems to me it went over like a turd in a punch bowl.

Some of the songs and jokes, however, are classics and deserve to be done.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 04:45 PM

very interesting and important thread, but not a mention yet of Spike Lee's film 'Bamboozled'. Have you not seen it?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 04 Jun 02 - 04:58 PM

I haven't-- spill it, Bill!

~S~


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Eileen Smith
Date: 05 Jun 02 - 02:09 AM

I can only point out from five years of experience buying and selling sheet music on eBay that the early Black caricature and minstrel music sells very well (second only to the classic rags) and purchased by the most serious collectors. And so I think there is an appreciation for the genre as American popular song history, and would expect that most collectors will never hear the music performed in its intended style.

One venue for performers might be exhibitions at the prolific ragtime or trad jazz festivals around the U.S. Trad jazz isn't that far removed from its roots that musicians and fans wouldn't appreciate and honor a recreation.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 05 Jun 02 - 11:42 PM

Bump N/T ( so I can find it in the morning!)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 12:53 AM

Butch, if you look between the last post of the thread, and the empty box for making a new post, you will see an underlined link, "Add Thread To Tracer." If you click that, a bookmark of the thread (a "tracer") lands on your Mudcat personal page, so you can easily find it and see if there are new posts. Have you found your personal page yet? CLICK HERE and see if that takes you to your Personal Page.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 07:57 AM

I forgot which forum I was on! My brain quits at 11:30pm no matter what the body is doing. On my other forum (a Civil War history group) we use the bump n/t for all kinds of reasons. Sorry about that.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 09:19 AM

Butch, we often bump ("refresh") just to bring a thread up on the 24-hour list so others will see it. Never bad to refresh-- I just was concerned you might not know about that feature of Mudcat.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mr Happy
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 12:37 PM

please excuse what may be considered thread drift here.

wysi, this is a wonderfully interesting topic, and prompts me to stray a little into my recent sihting of a group of uk morris men- bradshaw mummers.

one of the main parts of their performance is a mumming play about king george & the slaying of the dragon.

some of the actors are blacked up, but NOT for racist reasons.

for example,there's a moor [from morocco]

i've seen other morris sides in uk who blacken their faces, and ask would this have arisen in a similar fashion to the minstrels?

thanks again for this thread

mr happy


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 12:56 PM

The Stephen Foster Story (outdoor drama here in Bardstown) used to have a long portion in the middle of it which was a minstrel show. As the story goes, and you can read about it at this link, E.P. Christy of the Christy Minstrels obtained the rights to "Old Folks at Home" (Swanee River) which Stephen lived to regret.

Besides jazzing up that song, they had lots of jokes and slapstick similar to the Vaudeville tradition. ie. a character would ask a question/joke, another character would repeat it just in case the audience didn't hear it, then the first would answer with the punch line.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: SeanM
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 01:03 PM

The plot of Bamboozled basically follows a struggling black screenwriter in Hollywood. The writer, as a joke more or less based off the "the white producers won't buy quality so I'll give 'em THIS", presents a Minstrel show (I think it's billed "The New Millenium Minstrel Hour", hosted by ManTan & SleepnEat). The show turns out to be an incredible success.

It's not the best of films, and I honestly fear that the message of the film (fairly blunt Spike Lee attack on racism) gets lost behind what are some actually decent Minstrel numbers. There IS a moderately extensive montage at the end of the film featuring some of the 'high' points of blackface and racist portrayals of blacks on film.

M


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Deda
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 04:06 PM

wysi susan -- I appreciate you plenty! Can't believe that little aside slipped by without a response.

I'm interested in the ancient world (Greece/Rome) where slaves in comedies are often portrayed as much cleverer than their masters -- sometimes scheming and calculating, and more rarely bumbling dummies. Often the masters are the fools, the blind egotists or misers or whatever. You can see some of the ancient stereotypes in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" -- which is basically a 3,000-year-old script with a few updates.

It's interesting that blackface basically moved from north (where there weren't as many slaves) to the south, and that ancient writers and audiences, but not 19th century shows as a rule, acknowledged that the slaves were often more competent than their "owners".

My grandfather was a folksinger who taught my mother (1911-1987) & aunt (1913-1997) to sing harmony, and a couple of the songs he taught them had terms like "Alabammy coon" and "all the other black trash". I actually have a period book of sheet music of that ilk. My mother sang us these as lullabies but also taught us never to sing them out loud in public -- she was a very active Civil Rights worker in the 60s.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Deda
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 04:19 PM

PS the plot of Bamboozled as sketched here sounds rather like the plot of Mel Brooks' "The Producers" which is such a huge hit on Broadway. The guy tries to come up with a plot that's sure to fail, starring Hitler, and it turns out to be a huge hit.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 04:29 PM

not a great movie, but worth seeing

BTW there is a long tradition in ANCIENT GREECE of blackface mask comedy, they called it Phlyax performance. hundreds of examples on ceramics from 5th c. BC and later of real Uncle Tom look alikes, very exaggerated African features, on obviously white actors, nothing new under the sun.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 04:56 PM

Lonesome EJ has a point when he says much of the old minstrel humor is too naive for these times. Comic songs such as Old Dan Tucker (many versions sung by various minstrel companies) have little that is humorous now. We have become too sophisticated.

Racial humor is difficult in public now, but it still thrives in the closet and in isolated groups that have not been contaminated by political correctness. Go to some of the Anabaptist colonies who live in closed communities (the Hutterites, for example), where the inhabitants still tell jokes of an evening, quite a number based on race.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: sian, west wales
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 09:46 AM

Just a small additional note to Dicho's first message re: spreading these through the English-speaking world ...

They also spread into other languages. There are several minstrel songs which have been absorbed to varying degrees into the Welsh language repetoire. (Tell-tale signs include references to Jim Crow and exotic wildlife - like the whipoorwil.) One, "Moliannwn", is so popular it's achieved 'anthem' status in Welsh-speaking Wales.

sian


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Snuffy
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 05:15 PM

Are you going to post them then, sian?

WassaiL! V


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: georgeward
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 01:09 AM

Wonderful thread, Susan. Thanks for starting it!

Here in eastern upstate New York, I know of one community whose minstrel show continued in blackface until roughly 1960. All the performers and all of the audience were white. After 1960, it went on nearly another thirty years without the burnt cork, finally fading away when its longtime organizer became too old to carry on and no one new stepped in.

Although we hadn't the time and tape to pursue this when we presented these folks in the 1980s, I'm pretty sure that the repertoire changed when they gave up the blackface. It was more a simple variety show than anything else in the last years.

A number of older-generation traditional musicians hereabouts, who came of age in the 1920s and '30s, would occasionally talk of having done a turn in a minstrel show - by which they meant the same sort of community/civic club thing, as Butch has mentioned.

I would call it an innocent form of racism (NOT innocuous). A few of these folks (like some of my rural high school students in the sixties) had never seen - let alone met - a person of color. They received the notion of black inferiority from the culture as a given, nonetheless. And while the burnt cork was liberating (as any masking is), it didn't change that. More likely, it reinforced it.

As much attention as the minstrel shows deserve - including discreet reenactments - I can't imagine a time when a very public revival wouldn't be both hurtful to at least some blacks (I don't mean political opportunists, although they'd surely jump in) and restimulating of behavior in some of my fellow whites that none of us ever want to revisit. Not in my lifetime; not in yours'.

-George


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 05:28 AM

Malcolm and Greg,

Actually, it was the influence of Irish music in black face minstrel music of the day. While I'm sure you both have a tremendous amount of knowledge about your music traditions, I've not seen any evidence that either of you has expertise in the field of African American or non-British Isles ethnic music traditions.

The reality of the influences of Irish on African American music, and vice versa, has to do with the patterns of immigrant migrations and internal migrations within the US in the Reconstruction era. There are just too many academic cites to give here, but if you are truly interested in the interactions between Scottish and Irish music and African American music (there just isn't as strong an influence in African American music from the English music traditions, and this has to do with proximity of music communities), I suggest you extend your research efforts beyond the conventional European/European American folk realm.

Not much research of note has been done in the field of folk music in the US of the commingling of these musical influences (or on jazz, zydeco, or ragtime for that matter). Rather, that research has been done by African American ethnomusicologists and anthropologists in the field of African American studies. That said, here are a couple books of relevance to this discussion:

Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Classic scholarly study of slave music.

James, Willis Laurence. Stars in de Elements: A Study of Negro Folk Music. Edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, vol. 9. Raleigh, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995. Insightful folkloric approach.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 08:26 AM

George, I can not agree with your final statement more. My interest is not in reviving the minstrel show as a form of entertainment, ( it would be insulting and harmful) but rather to revive important elements of the musical repitoire that might help audiences grasp the shared culture represented by this music. I also hope to revive the playing style of this music in the same way other historic time periods have been revived for both entertainment and education. Audiences are too little exposed to histoically accurate music portrayals.

Guest. I also agree with your opeing statement. But I must strongly disagree with the timeframe. The Celtic/African connection goes to the very beginning of the banjo itself and the earliest roots of minstrel music.

Joel W. Sweeney was the first known white to make the banjo popular in white society. He was also an early minstrel. He being of Celtic decent, he mixed the African banjo with the Celtic repitoire. That in fact is the very advent of American popular music! We do not need to wait for reconstruction to see the interaction between the cultures, look at all of the early (pre-1865) banjo instruction manuals. They are full of Irish tunes and Celitc based tunes, mixed with the more African instrument and beats of early minstrelsy. Jigs and reels, not found in the African tradition but strong in Celtic culture, are found in these early repitoires. The presence of tha banjo alone, mixed with these tunesn is evidence of the cultural interaction.

We hope to have a whole section of next years banjo exhibit and book devoted to this cross cultural developement.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 10:28 AM

I think the first thing to realize about any use of this music now is that there ARE people who are approaching it seriously and in a scholarly fashion, whose interest is not in just playing around with stereotypes.

GUEST, would you be so kind as to use some kind of screen name in your posts in this thread? With your obvious knowledge of music, I want to ensure that if other GUESTs weigh in we can keep it straight who is saying what, and be sure it's clear to whom specific repsonses are directed. Thanks also for sharing those sources.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 10:59 AM

Butch,

Using the word Celtic is just needlessly confusing the issue. Sweeney was Irish, not Celtic.

The banjo is an African instrument.

If people wish to know the history of the black faced minstrel shows, they need to know their US immigration history. There were several strands of black face minstrel shows, including the New York/Bowery based shows, and the San Francisco shows. Both cities had substantial Irish immigrant populations, who initially made up the companies which performed the shows. After about 1870 or so, in New York particularly, the companies' immigrant population shifted to become Eastern European Jews performing black face.

Nary an Englishman in the lot, save for Daddy Rice, the man who is said to have invented Jim Crow.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 11:04 AM

Sorry, hit the send button too soon.

I also intended to mention that folk music historians aren't very knowledgeable about this music. One is better off going to dance history and theatre history sources. The black face minstrel phenomenon did grow out of the English music hall tradition, just as vaudeville grew out of minstrel shows.

As to the black face tradition among English/Welsh mummers/morris dancers, though I haven't studied it, I believe it could well have come into being after the American minstrel shows toured Britain. If you look at the photographic and memorabilia evidence, the way they are made up in both countries is virtually identical.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Butch at Work
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 03:45 PM

Actually there were a number of men whose ancestry was English. :

Frank Converse, S. Leavit, Matt Peal, James Buckley, Dan Rice, Luke West, Geo. Briggs

Irish was not the only influence. That is why I used the term Celtic (which may still be less than correct if you also count men like Brower who had German ancestry).

Also, reconstruction may have added new dimensions to the interaction between Irish and African music, but we can still document huge interactiosn between these forms of music well before the Civil War. Sweeney was the example I used, but Cece Conway has documentsed others as well. I can try and quote some of her work if it is of interest, but as I am at work, the information is not at my fingertips right now.

The banjo itself is but one of the outcomes of this interaction of cultures. The banjo came from Africa as several archtypes. None of these were truly banjos, but over time the banjo emerged as a separate instrument. The African influence is clear and can not be denied, but what of the German influence of Hanoverarian Wiliam Boucher,the first commercial builder and inventor of the head tightening system? These influences must also be investigated.

On the mumming end, I just read a very good work that looks at the mumming traditions and minstrelsy. It is called" The Demons of Disorder" by Dale Cockerell. He finds blackface in mumming well into the middle ages. The book is worth the read.

George


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 04:45 PM

There is little doubt that the banjo is a descendant of instruments used in Africa. An instrument in the hands of slaves consisting of half a calabash, covered with skin and with a long neck, in mentioned toward the end of the 17th century. By the late 18th century, the banjo as we know it had evolved into the manufactured instrument we know today, probably with the expertise of men like Boucher, as suggested by Butch. These facts are synthesized in Dena J. Epstein, 1977, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, Univ. Illinois Press, the book which perhaps says most in one volume about the early instruments of the slaves. (The development of the banjo is not discussed, but she reproduces a painting, late 18 C. from SC in which a black musician is playing a very modern-looking banjo, so the instrument we know had evilved by the 1780s). Drums were frequent in the earliest days, but were outlawed in many areas.

We think of the Irish-English-Scots influence because these immigrants were or became English-speaking. Many Irish landed at southern ports from the Carolinas to New Orleans before the Civil War, but Germans and central Europeans were also influencing the music; the tunes are there, particularly in the dance music.
Butch is correct when he mentions that blackface portrayals go way back in European culture. Rather than Celtic or English, "European" is perhaps a better term for immigrant musical traditions.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mr Happy
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 05:04 PM

a theory as to why 'morris' dancers are so called is that the name 'morris' derives from 'moorish'[moroccan]dances that had been glimpsed by british soldiery abroad.

your thoughts please


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mr Happy
Date: 08 Jun 02 - 05:10 PM

i meant to make the point that black face morris sides may take their tradition from this, or may they also have been influenced by minstrel shows?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 10:21 AM

I disagree that it is more accurate to portray the whites who performed in blackface at minstrel shows as either "Celtic", "European", or "English".

Why? Because it denies the realities of the immigration factors.

It is true that the Irish and (in much higher numbers) the Scots Irish were immigrating through the Carolinas before the Civil War. But the reality is, their numbers don't come near to what the numbers of English immigrants were in those areas pre CW. That is why you see stronger influences of the English ballad traditions in Appalachia.

But to deny that the majority of the white black face performers were Irish and Jewish, just so we can include and handful of German and Englishmen, is ludicrous in a "let's stand reality on it's head" sort of way.

Why any ancestral group would even WANT to claim the mantle at this point in history is beyond me. I consider the minstrel shows so inherently racist to be beyond redemption. I am absolutely opposed to them being revived, especially as historic re-enactments.

As to black face and mumming, I've read some background information about it supposedly going back to the Middle Ages too. I just don't think the sources (which I can't remember now, its been a number of years since I read that information) are examples of it being as widespread as many contemporaries claim it to be. I still think the use of black face among mummers of the late 19th, early 20th is down to influences of travelling minstrel shows of that time. Putting it down to "our father's father's" claims, and then using flimsy and limited evidence, is largely being done to protect mummers from criticism about it being racially motivated behavior. We certainly see plenty of that here in the States too. In this very thread, in fact, where some people have said they think resurrecting the black face minstrel shows is A Good Thing.

I think the subject should be taught academically as part of US history, because of the tremendous popular influence of the shows, but I think we should leave it at that. Something to be studied, discussed, and reflected upon, but certainly not performed.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 11:25 AM

I never denied that the majority of minstrels were Irish and later Jewish. You stated that NONE were English, I was simply trying to point out that some were. I also stated that my use of Celtic was not the best.

As far as mumming goes, before I enter into any further points on this matter, please read Dale Crockrell's book. His evidence seems better than most that I have seen. The fact that characters with black faces do show up very early on and in many documentable ways needs to be investigated. I am NOT saying that modern mumming has not been influenced by minstrelsy, I only state that evidence exists that would show us that the basic tradition is older than minstrelsy. Much of the better scholarship on this subject has been done in the last 10 years. You might want to look into this new evidence and then decide if it does or does not meet your requirements for good scholarship.

I do agree that this should be taught in the schools. I do teach this in school and have for the last five years. I know of at least 15 other college level courses taught on the subject. I wish it were closer to 150. I do not advocate the revival of these shows as a form of entertainment. I do, however, think that we should perform these shows in limited venues, for academic purposes, since there are no extant films of these early shows. Much can be learned from accurate portrayals on stage.

If we agree that the shows are not to be brought back, then what of the music. Do we stop singing O Susanna? Do we continue as we are, or do we use this and other tunes to educate the public?

Last thing--- I really hate it when I do not know who I am talking to, could you please give us a name Guest? To show you that I am willing to give mine as well, I close

George C. Wunderlich (Butch to all who have known me since childhood)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 12:51 PM

It seems we all agree that performance in the context of a teaching opportunity makes sense... that performance for the sake of performance is problematic (tricky, fraught with potential difficulties)... but that in the context of teaching, one would have to perform as well to illustrate what one is going on about?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 01:19 PM

Question to Butch (and others). It has been many years since I studied Latin and I have forgotten nearly all of it, but I seem to remember a reference to some Roman plays that were performed in blackface. There were black slaves in Rome, but beyond that, my memory fails to yield any facts.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 01:53 PM

Susan, I may not be picking up your question in the right context, but let me tell you how I see minstrelsy in a teaching world.

There are historical reenactment groups that are very well researched and can give an accurate performance of the old (pre 1865) style of minstrel show. One group in particular is the Amoskeag Players from New Hampshire. They have done one or two blackface shows for for educational reasons. They also perform at reenactments, colleges, universities and museums in period clothing, playing correct instruments in the correct style, but not in blackface and not as a minstrel show. They give a brief history of each song and then perform it. This type of perfomance makes a wonderful public education forum. It can also be used by teachers as a adjunct to classroom lecture. Despite their use of some period dialects and non-pc lyrics, the performance goes over well with all audiences due to the understanding of the educational intent.

When I teach a class on minstrelsy, I give an 80/20 split: 80% lecture and 20% performance. I do not black up, but do go through the humor, makeup, clothing, instrumentation and art related to the subject. I have had mixed race audiences and have not had any problems. We have had some great debates, but always in the most positive way.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 01:54 PM

Butch, I never said there weren't any other European Americans involved in the minstrel shows. You just thoughtlessly misinterpreted what I said, for reasons unknown to me (and probably you too, if you don't read any more carefully than that).

I'm not trying to be contrary. What I said in my post to Malcolm and Greg was (and I quote exactly here):

"...there just isn't as strong an influence in African American music from the English music traditions, and this has to do with proximity of music communities"

Now, those words do not mean there was NO influence on the minstrel show traditions from the English. I have acknowledged, as one example, Daddy Rice. I also noted that the minstrel show grew out of the English music hall tradition. That hardly is claiming there was no influence.

What I was trying to say was, it makes no sense to draw an inordinate amount of attention to the exception rather than the rule. That sort of focus just tends to confuse matters, not bring greater clarity. I'm a big fan of clarity, not a big fan of obfuscation, which, IMO, is what you get when you focus on the exceptions rather than the rule.

You and I aren't disagreeing about any major facts here, and I'm enjoying the discussion. :) I hope you are too.

OK--as to mummming, I haven't read the book you mentioned, and I won't be able to anytime soon unfortunately. It does sound interesting. It has been over five years since I read up on mumming in England, so my recollection is in no way fresh. I agree, the older scholarship in the field of folk traditions was often bad, and I did place the stuff I read about mumming was homage and panegyric, than insight and illumination.

I agree it should be studied further. Especially if there has been an attempt to suppress/distort the historic facts about black face and mumming to make it appear as if it wasn't a by-product of racist minstrel shows. However, even if it is proved to be rooted in the Middle Ages (which I still doubt seriously), that in no way, IMO, means that it should be performed nowadays, because the power of Jim Crow, et al is simply too close to the surface for blacks. It hurts and offends them deeply to see those stereotypes being used as "entertainment" for white audiences. I care much more about those feelings and sensitivities than I do historic accuracy, because to them it is a HUGE matter culturally, whereas I don't think it is that important to the performance of mumming, or to the English in a cultural sense anymore anyway.

So why hurt so many human beings by performing "Oh Susanna" (which I was taught in elementary school growing up, along with all the other racist songs of that era)? Why? There are a million great songs to sing from that era which are "historically accurate" that don't rip open an entire culture's wounds like that. What will we learn from continuing to perform them, even academically? Nothing useful I can think of. Leave them to the archivists, and let those who wish to learn about them, for whatever reasons, access them freely.

There aren't any films of minstrel show performances? Fine by me. I would be opposed to the resurrection of the performances as historic re-enactment, because I believe historic re-enactments usually distort the truth of history. We really can't "re-enact" them realistically. We just aren't capable of that sort of wizardry as humans--we are captives in our own time, truly. We live and create here. Our ancestors lived and created in a very different time and place from us. One that we can peek into, but never really get a sense of with any breadth of understanding or awareness of the lives they lived.

Of course, we still must try--it is very important to understand what happened in the past (which is why I argued over the importance of keeping the immigration history straight and in accordance with the music history!). But it certainly isn't of tantamount importance that we delve as far into that past as starting to perform racist music again, especially when we haven't reflected upon and come up with good justifications for doing it. "Because we can" or "because our father's father's performed this song this way" isn't good enough for me as a white American. I certainly don't think it would be a good enough justification for the black descendants of slaves.

I was glad to see someone mention Spike Lee's film "Bamboozled". I thought it was FABULOUS. Not great filmmaking in a technical sense, but like his "Do the Right Thing", that didn't matter, because he succeeded in broaching the subject of race relations (in "Do the Right Thing"), and race subjugation (in Bamboozled) with such great power.

The silence that greeted "Bamboozled" in the black community was astounding. That in itself should tell us that the wounds are still much too fresh and deep among blacks, for whites to start performing this material again, especially "academically". Whether it is accurate or not, academics and educators are often perceived by people of color as being able/allowed to get away with racist behavior in ways that others never would be (ie entertainers, in this case), because they claim to be doing it for posterity's sake, or in the cause of "education" of the public.

I agree with the latter sentiment. I don't think we need to keep using Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" to teach American literature of that era, when there are other really good writings by Twain and other excellent American writers we can use instead. Same is true for "Little House on the Prairie" books--I think they deserve to be dropped from the curriculum in American elementary schools, because they deeply offend and hurt Native Americans.

No book or song is so important that it should trump our new found racial sensitivities, IMO. To use controversial things like minstrel songs artistically (as Spike did in his film) as a means of social commentary, is a wholly different thing than reviving the tradition to be used as entertainment, or worse--fuel for extreme racist groups.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 02:08 PM

Susan, I would say that the performance of the songs would need to be limited to an audience that has the developmental capacity for understanding the race issues in context, which for the most part wouldn't include many students under age 16 or so, IMO.

As to courses on the minstrel shows, I'd say college age. I'm not in favor of these as all ages family shows on a Sunday at the history museums.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 03:08 PM

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is a classic denunciation of slavery, couched in the language and thought of the time. It is the great American novel. People who claim it denigrates a race cannot read and know nothing of our history. The attitudes of the past can only be understood through the writings of the past. Yet many would substitute pap.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 04:56 PM

With all due respect Dicho, bullshit.

Huckleberry Finn continues to be an extremely controversial book in the African American community, and I have never found them to be people "who cannot read and know nothing of our history."

Quite the contrary. They read very well, and have no trouble understanding the racial contexts of the book. Which is why many of them object to it being required reading in the public school curriculum.

As long as something just as good exists which can be substituted, and it does, there is no reason not to drop the book.

Way too many white people suddenly get sentimentally attached to these books, but only when communities of color request they be dropped from the curriculum, and better books put in.

Having worked in the public school system libraries most of my adult life, I can tell you there are plenty of books that can be substituted for "Huckleberry Finn" in the curriculum. Notice I didn't say take the books out of the libraries--I just said it is easy enough to find excellent additions to the curriculum, if people choose to negotiate rationally, rather than immediately take the suggestion that better books should be used. And believe me, the school districts could be choosing MUCH better books for the curriculum, but they go with the same old, same old because that way, they don't have to challenge themselves and their constituencies by looking too closely at what they are teaching.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jun 02 - 06:14 PM

Guest, we will never agree.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 01:19 AM

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" is a classic denunciation of slavery, couched in the language and thought of the time. It is the great American novel. People who claim it denigrates a race cannot read and know nothing of our history. The attitudes of the past can only be understood through the writings of the past. Yet many would substitute pap.

Well said Dicho. Everyone, including Guest, is entitled to their own opinion, but anyone who reads Huckleberry Finn and does not see it as one of the great picaresque novels of all time, as a great work of humor, and who cannot see that the character of Huck confronts the issue of slavery by concluding that, although it is "right" by all the laws of his elders, he must abide by his own conscience and do "wrong", is looking at the novel with the kind of hot-button, single-dimensional viewpoint that the censors love. It is certainly Twain's greatest work. I wonder how many of its virulent critics have taken the time to actually read it.

It seems to me our time would be better devoted to engendering in our children the desire to read literature, than in haggling about what constitutes "dangerous" reading matter.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 08:23 AM

Guest, can you say more about how the African-American community views the portrayal of racial stereotypes in Huckleberry Finn, and what is said to be the problem? One may agree or disagree that the book perpetuates stereotypes, but how about if we first get a clearer understanding of what it feels like, from that view?

Also, are all of the Guest posts in this thread from one person? Could you please, so that we can keep things straight, take a name for the purposes of this thread, as has been requested, and idicate which posts have been yours?

Thanks,

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 08:55 AM

Dicho, as you pointed out, we will never agree. Lonesome EJ, you are merely expressing your opinion of the book Huckleberry Finn. Your opinion is not fact, not is it "the truth" for me, or for those who do not share your opinions.

Now, what IS fact, and true, is that there are many other wonderful books from that era, including other wonderful books by Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens, which can be added to the teaching curriculum. As I said, I am NOT advocating censorship. I am advocating for an updated, expanded curriculum which doesn't include Huckleberry Finn.

The reason why I advocate for it being dropped is because it can be included on recommended reading lists. It is widely available through school and public libraries. But to teach the book as a "classic" in this day and age, IMO, is hurtful to our African American communities who are offended by the racial stereotyping in it. I feel the same way about the "Little House on the Prairie" books.

Communities of color just haven't made that many requests for books to be dropped from the curriculum. Considering that the same ones come up over and over again should tell the dominant white communities that there is a problem with those few books. In the interest of good relations, as well as of being sensitive to the sensibilities of ALL our communities, not just our own, I believe it is the right thing to do. And I certainly don't think it is too much to ask of us to do it.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 09:00 AM

I also find it highly problematic when the people who love Huckleberry Finn and don't believe it perpetuates negative stereotypes of blacks are white people. Especially when those white people can't form a cogent argument for keeping the book in school curriculums.

That just makes me suspect that their motives have little if anything to do with the book, and whole lot to do with them not wanting to be told what to do by black people.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 09:22 AM

Guest, would you be so kind as to address my questions and take a name?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 09:29 AM

Friends, I had hoped that by keeping the focus on music, specifically Minstrel Shows and issues related to them for us as musicians, this thread could accumulate some good historical information, sources, some details about how people may be using this music now, and some interesting viewpoints as musicians.

Now we are going off in another direction, less to do with the music itself, MUCH harder to keep focused nad positive, and really difficult to handle without body language, tone of voice, and actually knowing one another. I say this from some solid experience working on racism issues with people. The issues are too important to use poor tools on them, and there are far better tools than Mudcat to use.

May I suggest that we stick with what had been working in this discussion, avoid quick responses to hot-button statements, and take some time to reflect on what we have posted so far?

Thanks,

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Butch at work
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 04:48 PM

Susan, I agree. Our guest seems to jump from one subject to another. Back to music. I disagree with Guest on the use of songs like O Susanna. I believe we should play them. These are the songs that helped form our modern musical experience. But more importantly, they can unite rather than divide.

I once sat in St. Louis and played with a friend to the Mississippi river. As we played , we heard a man in the background sing the words to our tune ( Old Uncle Ned). He was an elderly black gent about 65 years old. He sat down and asked why his grandchildren did not hear that music anymore. I told him that people felt that this music was racist. After he laughed for a bit, he said that this was the music of his grandmother and formed a part of his childhood. He said that racism is in the heart of the man, not in his music. He also stated that yes we may need to update some offensive words, but not loose the music. IT WAS TOO IMPORTANT TO HIM.

I agree with him. To loose this music is to loose a part of us as a people. Without the minstrel music of the mid 19th century you could not have had men like Joplin or Handy who would move that music forward to a new form of music in early jazz. I feel that it is more racist to say, "I won't play this because you are black and I might offend you" I prefer to say:" I mean no disrespect, but this music is part of our history, do you mind if I play it". Nine times out of ten I am allowed to play. The tenth time I respectfully shut up and sit down. Respect is the key here. If you respect your audience, and they knowit, you can play this music without much if any offence. If you patronize your audience, forget it, you already lost your audience.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 05:49 PM

Butch, where you at?

~S~


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jun 02 - 10:39 PM

Butch's remarks above remind me of experiences in Houston, which I used to visit on business. My favorite restaurant, with heavy old south menu, was staffed by older Negro men. Their service was impeccable except that it was accomplished with a restrained performance of the old massa- servant routine, entered into by the local patrons. I had two Canadians with me, and it made them uncomfortable; they were uncertain of what was going on or how to respond.
One night I ate there late and, since my companions were going in one direction and I in another, I waited outside for a taxi, and one of the old gentlemen was also waiting for a relative to pick him up. We talked about their routine and about racial problems. He said he enjoyed the byplay, but he had a grandson in university who objected strongly. He felt that his grandson was completely ignorant of the old relationships, but he had grown up with them, but now he felt no restraints and that he didn't have time for rancor. He was also one of the first I met who was collecting black memorabilia, he was taking home a plate showing a large black cook threatening a picaninny (his word) that a customer had brought to him.
Racism can only be fought with clear insistance that rights are observed, but that does not mean denying or distorting the past.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Mr Happy
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 03:15 AM

picking up on the point of not wanting to offend people in any sections of our society.

above last few mails[dicho,butch]reminded me of the film 'the producers'- the scene where the chorus line of female nazi stormtroopers are singing 'springtime for hitler'.

the audience [clearly, many of them appear to be jewish]are extremely shocked- mouths agape- until they begin to realise its being presented by the male lead as a parody-and all shriek with laughter.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 06:13 AM

Susan, I now live in western Maryland, about n hour from DC.

George


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: sian, west wales
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 07:02 AM

Snuffy, sorry to be late rejoining the thread but, if you want the words:

Moliannwn (Let's Rejoice)

Nawr lanciau rhoddwn glod
Y mae Gwanwyn wedi dod
A'r Gaeaf a'r oerni aeth heibio
Daw'r coed i wisgo'u dail
A mwyniant mwyn yr haul
A'r wyn ar y dolydd i brancio.

(Now, boys, let's rejoice that Spring had come, and the Winter with it's coldness is past. The woods are in leaf, the gentle sunshine, and the lambs prancing in the meadows)

Chorus:
Moliannwn oll yn llon,
Mae amswer gwell i ddyfod - Ha! Haleliwia!
Ac ar ôl y tywydd drwg
Fe wnawn arian fel y mwg
Mae arwyddion dymunol o'n blaenau
Ffwdl ladl la, ffwdl ladl la, ffwl la la La la la la (X2)

(Let's all rejoice cheerfully, There are better times to come. Ha! Halleluja! And following the bad weather, we'll make money like smoke; there are good times ahead!)

Daw'r robin goch yn llon
I diwnio ar y fron
A Cheiliog y Rhedyn i ganu
A chawn glywed Wiparhwîl
A llyffantod wrth y fîl
O'r goedwig yn mwmian chwibanu

(The red robin merrily tunes up, and the grasshopper sings, and we can hear the Whipoorwil and thousands of toads murmuring from the woods)

Fe awn i lawr i'r dre
Gwir ddedwydd fydd ein lle
A llawnder o ganu ac o ddawnsio
A chwmpeini naw neu ddeg
O enethod glân a theg
Lle mae mwyniant y byd yn disgleirio

(We'll go down to town, where we'll be truly happy, as much singing and dancing as we could want, and the company of nine or ten beautiful girls where the world radiates with loveliness

OK - crap translation, but mine own. There's been a book written about the song (but in Welsh) which traces the whole process. The second verse is the most interesting in that whipoorwils are unknown over here - so, odd that it wasn't replaced by something native (unless the translator wanted to keep something 'exotic')

From here

"Moliannwn", the most famous folk tune in Wales was written by Bethesda, North Wales native Benjamin Thomas who lived in South Poultney when he first came to the region in the 19th century and is buried in a nearby Vermont community. "Moliannwn" celebrates the arrival of spring and the Whippoorwills that were then abundant on Lake St. Catherine. "

It's overstating it to say that it is the "most famous folk tune", but as I said early, it does have 'anthem' status. Sorry, but I can't find a site with the tune, but if you could hear it, you'd have no doubts of its origin!

sian


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 07:43 AM

Sian, I am a little confused. From your posts I understand that "Moliannun" has something to do with a whippoorwill and that the song was written by a Welshman who moved to Vermont, but where does the minstrel connection come in?
Incidentally, the robin he was talking about has nothing to do with the bird called a robin in the UK. And toads? I think he was talking about tree frogs.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:38 AM

I never suggested anyone deny or distort the past. I just suggested we leave things like certain racist minstrel songs, which are SO offensive and disturbing to most African Americans (black old men who survived the Jim Crow era known personally to several Mudcat members notwithstanding) IN THE PAST.

Just leave them there. We don't bring every song ever written throughout history with us into the present, so why this insistence on continuing to perform this body of work which so offends and hurts one specific segment of our society our ancestors hurt so badly to begin with? Where is the humanity in that? That is what you are trying to balance here at the end of the day, isn't it? Whether the historic value of performing these songs should supercede the humanitarian value of not performing them?

I think, if people are wondering about whether it is appropriate to sing these songs, and if so, when it is appropriate to sing them, and to what audiences, ask yourselves this--as a white performer, are you willing to go to Howard University and sing them to an all black audience of educated blacks as a music historian?

No? I thought not.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:51 AM

Mr. Happy, the analogy to The Producers works fairly well in this context. First off, Jews aren't the only people who could easily be offended by "Springtime for Hitler" though I appreciate that was what Mel Brooks was reaching for--something that was profoundly offensive to the sensibilities of American Jews. Which is the same point (but with a different intention) Spike Lee is aiming for with Bamboozled. Find the most profoundly offensive "entertainment" to the sensibilities of an African American audience.

The point is, both men knew and realized the effect that using that point of sensitivity in each of their cultures would have in their artistic work, both of which use satire and parody a good deal throughout. Both Brooks and Lee build offense after offense as a plot device in their stories.

The thing is though, they weren't SERIOUSLY suggesting that these things had any intrinsic value, except to the most morally corrupt and greedy entertainment industry types.

Why is that message falling on deaf ears here? The point that both Brooks and Lee made was that the stuff NEVER should be done, precisely because it is SO hurtful and offensive to these particular audiences, and anyone who would engage in such a ruse for profit (or power, or notoriety, or whatever you think you might gain from the performance of minstrel shows/songs) should immediately be seen as morally suspect.

Very good analogy, Mr. Happy. But I'm guessing I'm interpreting it differently than you are.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: MMario
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:57 AM

Why not? As a music historian it would be an appropriate performance.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: M.Ted
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 12:35 PM

Just saw "Babes on Broadway" on cable--it features a little warning at the beginning before the title credits, to wit, "Warning:Contains Racially sensitive material, viewer discretion advised."This Busby Berkeley classic, featuring, Judy and Mickey, features a spectacular finale tribute to the Minstrel shows of old, in blackface--a couple weeks back, I saw an early sound short of an abreviated minstrel show, featuring real performers from the old minstrel circuits-and it was really, really good! So like it or not, it is coming back--

It is worth noting that Philadelphia, which is the home of a particularly elaborarate and extensive mummers tradition. also was the starting point for on of the major minstrel circuits--the Mummer's theme is "Dem Golden Slippers" which was written by James Bland, a , who was both a performer and probably the greatest songwriter of minstrelry, and was also a black man and graduate of Howard University--the capper is that many, many them members of the Philly string bands are Irish-Americans, and on occasion, even in the 90's were marching down Broad Street in blackface--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 12:58 PM

Why is that message falling on deaf ears here?

I don't think a word anyone has said here has fallen on deaf ears, and it's inaccurate to assume that declining to respond can be characterized in any particular fashion. I think that a lot of people just feel the way I do-- that continued discussion on such a sensitive topic needs for us to be able to identify who has said what, before responding. There have been polite and repeated requests to take some name for the purpose of this thread, and none of the GUESTS (however many there are) has responded to THAT.

And it's too bad, because some excellent posts have been made, and I would have liked to pursue some of them, but it's just too much work to sort it all out without some kind of nametag. I'm as busy as anyone else, if not more so this particular week, and it's not how I choose to allocate my time or energy.

Simply stated, the topic is complicated enough without mixing in the question of whether the person who said "Statement A" on such and such date is the same person who said "Statement B" on another date.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 01:12 PM

And now, back to music, and I have something that may have enough upset in it to send us to a Part Two of arguing!

REDEMPTION. Things can be redeemed.

For instance, I have come across a couple of minstrel show items that I didn't know were minstrel show items, and they make FINE songs for our Saturday Night service at church..... up to the last verse, or a hurtful term used, and so forth. Some of the tunes and lyrics, though, are JUST RIGHT except for that. These are not parodies of gospel... they ring too true. What I think they are, are flawed representations of imperfectly understood traditions, or representations of what was true at the time but which were used to build limiting stereotypes.

I'm not asking you all what I SHOULD do with these-- but telling you what we DO do. We use them, just like any other gospel piece I find that I can use. I edit, I modify, I write new verses, and then when we do it, I say it is BASED ON a piece that would not be appropriate today as written, but that can serve us well now in a new form. That's entirely within my purview as music leader for that service-- and I do the same with hymns of other denominations if the theology does not work for ours in a verse or phrase. People are free to ask me for information about the original, and sometimes they do, but we are focused firmly on what we are doing in present time, and we are worshipping, not re-enacting.

Comments?

*G*

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 01:48 PM

As they said back in the days of old---- Bully for you! Well done! If the song fits, use it.

Butch


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 01:58 PM

Somewhere above, it was suggested that the song "O Susanna" by Foster be discarded. I remember that the last time we sang it in school (middle grades somewhere in a program on Foster) the offending words were changed. Two verses remained complete as written (places where changes were made become obvious if you look at the original lyrics).
The thought that came into my mind was the old trite one that the baby was being thrown out with the bathwater. Perhaps this is a partial answer to the one you pose, WYSIWYG, and it looks like the position you have taken on the use of these songs.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 02:01 PM

I disagree that anything and everything can or should be redeemed. Aparthaid can't and shouldn't be redeemed. Jim Crow can't and shouldn't be redeemed. Slavery of any sort can't and shouldn't be redeemed. Minstrel shows were a white backlash against African Americans gaining freedom from slavery. That is what they were all about, whether the performers were white or black. The audiences were all white.

BTW, just who is it, M Ted, who you claim is "reviving" minstrel shows? African Americans from Howard University?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 02:06 PM

You know, I don't think the world will be worse off without Oh Susanna, whether in it's originally offensive form, or sanitized so people can get away with singing the offensive song, and by extension, throwing it back in the faces of African Americans.

Again, I ask--why is it so important to those of you in this thread, who are insisting upon continuing to perform these songs in ANY form, for ANY audience--what are your motives for being so stubborn about this? Why won't you give up singing a song you KNOW deeply offends the majority of African Americans?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 02:32 PM

I sang Oh Susannah in elementary school, and never even heard of the "coon" words until I was in college. The same goes for My Old Kentucky Home and several others. They are still in popular culture because they were well-wrought tunes, not because they denigrated a race, and that's the reason I will continue to play and sing them. Any other hidden agenda that is suggested as to why I want to piss off black people has likely been created in mind the mind of the suggestor.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 03:43 PM

Of course slavery can be redeemed-- all the things that happened were being redeemed, in a fashion, by the Black is Beautuful movement, by all involved in the civil rights movment, by whites who work on their own internalized racism.... redeeming those hurts is all you CAN do, since you can't forget them, can't ignore them, and so forth. You take the bad things and you make good things out of what went into them, you transform things... you shift the energy in a positive direction and reinforce the positive results. Anytime someone thinks differently about a thing, it's in the process of being redeemed.

Sheesh, Guest (and would you PLEASE take a name), I dunno what YOU think redemption means, but all bad things can be redeemed, and it is part of human nature to do so as much as it is to turn good things to a negative direction.

Sorry if this is a mystery to anyone else, and I am sure I am not articulating it effectively, but it isn't a mystery to me, it's part of how I live my life. I could give lots of examples of it in my life and those around me.

How about I give you one. It's an image I have in my mind of a recent experience. A black woman sitting among a sea of white faces, there because a friend she trusts brought her to one of our services. She happened to be there when I had a certain item planned. I thought for about a nanosecond about doing another number instead. (We swap stuff around all the time, for instance if dear old Mrs. Smith comes in we might swap in one of her special favorites.) I decided, just as fast, HELL, NO, or this IS a big fat lie we are doing here.

So picture this lady, hearing my introduction of an item such as I desribed. Beaming from ear to ear with tears in her eyes, to hear a white person tell the truth without her having to educate me about it, and loving the music for what it held for her, and loving being with us because we dared to bring up the topic and KNEW HOW TO DO IT.

It CAN be done. You wanna whine that it can't, instead of learn how. OK, you can stick with that, and you will be left behind with the PC brigade while I and others move forward into a higher way of dealing with this ugly stuff. What you been doing is good. There is MORE that can be done. You just are not seeing it. Lay back a little and watch the discussion for a bit and I bet you might see it. Or troll away, if that's your goal, but the rest of us mean serious business in our discussion, and it's already done a world of good that we had even this tiny amount of it.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 04:48 PM

Guest, you are just plain wrong in two facts in you last set of posts (if in fact you are only one person since none of you quests have the courage or manners to take a name despite being asked )

1) The audience for the shows were not ALL white. There were blacks in the audience as well. You (singular or plural) need to stay away for absolutes.

2) Minstrelsy could not have been a bvacklash against freedom from slavery since it pre dated slavery by at least 20 years.

I know learned African Americans and not so learned African Americans who have been in my audience and have enjoyed my music, and NOT been offended. They have been entertained, enlightened and encouraged to study, but none have shown offense. I must ask, do you speak for all of black America if so, I think that CNN and the other networks want to talk to you. I thought that African Americans were allowed to have individual opinions... just who is preaching Jim Crow here?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 04:59 PM

not taking sides, and not completely digested all the material above, BUT

History is not always pretty, far better from my point of view to really study it and present it to people from all sides of an issue, than pretend it never happened. This is what NOT performing these songs accomplishes: Ignorance of the past, no contradiction to blind prejudice and bias. The songs should be sung, but never with a wink and a nudge, or a shy grin, or without explaining the history and the hurt.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 06:02 PM

Guest would have us believe that the educators and students at Howard (or other black school) have closed minds against the past.
To raise another controversial subject, I consider these schools to be a relic of the past. The students and staff are imposing segregation upon themselves. A number of these schools are now open to both blacks and whites, and I expect the trend to continue.
Howard University, in its admission information, states "To protect its character .... the University reserves the right and the applicant concedes to the University the right, to deny admission to any student at any time for any reason the University deems sufficient." I believe that the intent of this statement is to ensure black predominance.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 06:36 PM

I think people here are being purposely naive when they say they think that minstrel songs can be revived with no negative effects, and that they will only be performed with lofty intentions.

I think in the US there is a long way to go on race issues, despite the forward movement that desegregation has brought. I think resurrecting/reviving/redeeming minstrel songs is a backward movement, not a forward looking one.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 07:20 PM

...when they say they think that minstrel songs can be revived with no negative effects, and that they will only be performed with lofty intentions....

YMMV, but I haven't seen anyone saying that. I haven't seen anyone underestimating the difficulties our society faces, and we face as individuals and as musicians, about racism, either.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:30 PM

I do not want to sound like a snot, but have any of you sat in front of a mixed audience and played these tunes in their original configuration? Have you sat in a class room full of young men and women of all races and brought this subject up? Have you ever had to defend your position in front of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP and had them find your program acceptable?

I can honestly say that I have and so have others that I know. I will never content that this material is easy for all to digest, or that it should be pushed down anyone's throat. I do not ever wish to see minstrel shows return as a form of entertainment. But I do want to present this music for what it is so that intellegent people can make up their own mind. This must be based on the educated knowledge of the tunes and their FULL meansing to both black and white America. This can only be accomplished by education and performance. I feel that to sweep these tunes under the carpet and not talk about them is a stap back towards slavery. We are saying " You might be offended so I wil protect you". So far all who have heard this understand why the music was presented and glad for that presentation, even if they found the music uncomfortable.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:51 PM

Butch, that seems quite clear.

Perhaps now we can get back to the things we had been talking about... maybe I can simplify.

1. WHAT are the connections between this music and other "folk music" we know now?

2. HOW do you discuss it and present it, effectively?

(And what happens when you do?)

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:56 PM

Please continue in
PART TWO.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Welsh music in Poultney
From: GUEST,peter patten
Date: 24 Jun 07 - 10:26 PM

Sian, Thanks for that. Im a local from the Vermont slate districts and interested in trad music but did not know of Benjamin Thomas.
The 19th century slate belt was very Welsh and Irish and in places like North Poultney many Irish quarrymen were trilingual speaking English, Irish and Welsh! This may seem a stretch from our perspective but my own Irish American aunt who grew up in the teens and twenties had a smattering of Welsh and she was far more a flapper than folkie.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Stringsinger
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 12:21 PM

Uncle Jacques

"Wouldn't the "Minstrel Story" make one heckkuvva controversial motion picture, eh? I'd love to see one if it was competently done.. and anyone dares to do it!"

There was a marvelous sleeper on TV called Minstrel Man with Fred Carlin doing the music.
It was about a black theatrical troupe that were forced to "black up" to do the circuit. They would compete with other performers and apparently traveled by rail. The final concert they do is in Chicago where they refuse to "black up" and are accepted enthusiastically for their actual talent rather than sterotyped image.

There is a poignant scene whereby a Scott Joplin-type young man in the troupe "whites up" to lampoon the idea of the minstrel show and is executed by local white townspeople.

Mudcatters:

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a big hit throughout the South and many Minstrel Show performers were associated with it. It may have been a catalyst for the crossover of the Minstrel Show to the white Appalachian banjo players and string bands. Uncle Dave, Stringbean, Brother Oswald and Granpa' Jones are exponents of this style of Minstrelsy on the Grand Ol' Opry.

The banjo is one of those instruments that for me has a magical quality which I associate with being distinctly American (aside from its roots as the Akonting in Africa).

Unfortunately, some of the most racist songs have the best tunes in the earlier part of the century. The "Georgia Camp Meeting" can't be sung today without offense but the tune is spectacular in my view...a variation of the Civil War song "Our Boys Will Shine Tonight".
The unfortunate "coon song" had great melodies too going into American popular music as "Puttin' On the Ritz" which was cleaned up for the marketplace.

Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and others of the Twenties all "blacked up" at one time or another and they owe their early performance styles to the great black entertainers on the TOBA. Without the contribution of highly talented and brave African-American musicians, this Minstrel genre would not have taken place and the same can be said for jazz and the blues as well. African-American music is the wellspring for what has become the national musical heritage of the United States.

The Irish and British Isles has its place as well but the strength of American music is due to the interracial and intercultural connection between Africa and the British Isles.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Stringsinger
Date: 25 Jun 07 - 12:33 PM

I have an additional comment. Joe Sweeney's original banjo can be found at the Los Angeles County Museum which has probably moved its quarters. Pete Seeger took me there to see it.

I have an additional question. Who makes Minstrel-style five-string banjos today and where are they located? I understand that they are tuned lower than the usual gCGDB or gGDBD.
Maybe something like fBbFAC?

The plectrum banjo (sans fifth string) crosses over from the five-string using the same tuning in early 20's jazz bands.



Frank


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 03 Mar 09 - 10:07 PM

Excellent article, Wys! Thanks!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 03 Mar 09 - 11:37 PM

Thanks, Leej.

The article referenced has been moved at my request to

PART TWO.



~S~


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