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Minstrel Shows, Part Two

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wysiwyg 11 Jun 02 - 08:54 PM
Butch 11 Jun 02 - 09:36 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jun 02 - 10:12 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 11 Jun 02 - 10:40 PM
sian, west wales 12 Jun 02 - 05:31 AM
sian, west wales 12 Jun 02 - 06:56 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 07:38 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:03 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 08:33 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:36 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:38 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 08:49 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 09:01 AM
Greg B 12 Jun 02 - 09:29 AM
GUEST,greg stephens 12 Jun 02 - 09:50 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 09:55 AM
M.Ted 12 Jun 02 - 11:03 AM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:26 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:27 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 02:32 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:44 PM
M.Ted 12 Jun 02 - 02:47 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:52 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 03:01 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:06 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:23 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:36 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:45 PM
GUEST,Les B. 12 Jun 02 - 03:49 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 03:57 PM
GUEST,Bill Kennedy 12 Jun 02 - 04:08 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 04:31 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 12 Jun 02 - 04:42 PM
Greg B 12 Jun 02 - 05:01 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 05:27 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 05:34 PM
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wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 05:57 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 12 Jun 02 - 06:25 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 06:57 PM
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Subject: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:54 PM

After some digressions that were extremely interesting, we got to this point in PART ONE:

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, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 09:36 PM

I did not mean to get testy. Sorry about that.

1) What are the connections between this music and flok music.

There are the obvious examples like O Susanna, Old Dan Tucker and the like. Then ther are the "Old Time Favorites like "Ageline the Baker" which is based on the old minstrel tune "Angelina Baker" or "Tuckey in the Straw" which is the old tune to "OLd Zip Coon".

In other ways the connection might be slightly less clear. So many tunes can be traced to the minstel stage that it is hard to know all of the connections. What is clear is that before 1843 and the advent of the minstrel stage there was no defined "American" musical style. This tradition of minstrelsy gave birth to hundreds of tunes many of which later entered folk status. Also, folk itself is an outgrowth of this first American tradition. My "Darling Nelly Gray" became an American standard and was recorded well into the 1930's but without the reference to Nelly's having been sold back into slavery. The same can be said of songs like " Blue Tail Fly" AKA Jim Crack Corn. These tunes were brought back as recently as the 1960's. I still hear blues references to charaters from the old minstrel stage as well. I think that these tunes and images may be more ingrained in American culture than we think.

2) What do do to discuss it.

Do not insult the audience. If you choose to discuss it, be up front with people. Tell tham that like all of American history, our musical past is also frought with difficulty. Tell them the history of the tune and then tell them to make up their own mind about the unes value.

When Bob Kilham played the Brooklyn museum of Art before a very mixed race audience (1999), he was aked to play " Old Zip Coon". He said it very plainly: " This music is our conbined past. It was written in a time that thankfully has passed, but it was enjoyed in its day by our ancestors;black and white. These words offend us today, but I will not change the words. I do so because because to change them would be to lie to you about the true origin of the song. Be offended if you will, but understand that in the musical history of our country, this was an important stepping stone. Offensive or not, the reason that these songs remain with us is that musically they are great melodies and infectious rythms. These tunes are also the basis for most all of our modern music. All I ask is that you hear me with an open mind"

They did. He spoke to many afterwards and most agreed that they were glad to hear this music. Nearly all agreed that the words were hard to hear, but that the tunes were true "Americana". One older woman said that this was America's soundtrack: good or bad.

Is this the direction you were looking for Susan? And again please forgive my rant earlier.

Butch


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 10:12 PM

It was just a little ranty, Butch, and under difficult circumstances. No harm, no foul.

For my own part, I guess I need to stop and think how I said what I sadi at our service, that worked... what did I dom, and not do, that made it possible for truth and justice to be presentin the event? Mulling...

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 10:40 PM

When I attempted to add some information to "Background of Brother Ephus," thread 48470 Ephus and thread 9197 "Uncle Ef's" Uncle Ef's
I found that I was quoting from references to minstrel shows, upstart crow humor, Negro songs and Negro spirituals, and antecedents of blues. They can't be separated.

It is difficult to discuss just this one song without much study. I hope others will add to my brief comments. This one rather puny song shows the interrelationships pointed to by WYSIWYG's question, "What are the connections....?"

Minstrel and Negro music, exclusive of true spirituals, of the period 1830-1900 (arbitrary dates) are so intermixed that no clear divisions can be made at this remove. For the period ca. 1900-1940, ragtime and blues are added to the pot au feu.

Butch can do a better job of explaining these intimate relationships, but it is obvious, at least to me, that OUR music (both whites and blacks have contributed) cannot be explained without knowing the historical background.
Some object to dialect. Why? Both whites and blacks, in the rural areas from which many these songs sprung, were not educated to NY-Boston upper class standards and dialect was common to both.
The words nigger and coon appear in hundreds of completely Negro songs. Should these songs be eliminated as well as the minstrel routines?
Jokes at the expense of the poorly educated and the downtrodden were common to all groups in the 19th century (and persist in the redneck, hick, etc. jokes). Some famous politicians made their reputation by exploiting these jokes. Should we be ignorant of this?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: sian, west wales
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:31 AM

Dicho, again apologies for not getting back sooner! Between work and the World Cup, life is full!

Yes, you can see that the whippoorwill is referred to in the song, although only in passing. It came to Wales via a Welshman (from Bethesda) who worked in the quarries of Vermont and Quebec. Researchers tell us that he picked it up from the minstrel shows touring the areas, translated it, and sent it back to Wales where it became popular.

Being a Canadian, I've lived with both sorts of robins (here in Wales, I've got a couple of the UK version nesting in my garden)but I don't know if robins would have been mentioned in the original; the translator may have added that for the 'home' market. And, yes, he was probably thinking about frogs, not toads, but in translating it back to English I thought I'd better stick to what *he* actually used ... and he used 'toads'. 'Frog' in Welsh is generally broga, and 'Toad' is llyfant. Having said that, I think that some areas use 'llyfant melyn' for frog, so I suppose that's what he had in mind, but 'llyfant' on its own would still mean toad.

I've written myself a note on the back of my hand to try to find the booklet that's been written about it. I should have a copy at home. It might be more specific about the original...

sian


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: sian, west wales
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:56 AM

Sorry, should have spelled that "llyffant". Llyfant would be something else... inappropriate!

sian


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 07:38 AM

I don't see anyone in this thread suggesting we should sweep this music history under the rug.

But I do see the argument that minstrel music should be performed by whites "because its a good tune" as being the rough equivalent of telling a racist joke, and then saying "I was only kidding, I didn't mean any harm by it".

If people choose to perform these songs, they should be prepared for some serious criticism by people who are offended by them, IMO. As it should be.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:03 AM

Sean, if they perform them that way, without knowing what they are doing, yes, they should be. I think we are talking about something different.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:33 AM

Susan,

You misinterpreted what I said. I'm talking about the types of performances both you and Butch seem to be doing of minstrel songs.

It is your choice to perform these songs, no matter how you have sanitized them. You know how divisive and offensive they are, so you shouldn't be indignant when people have strong negative reactions to your performance of them, and say so.

I would also add, a lot of people will say nothing directly to you directly after a performance of these songs, but they may well say plenty about you and your performance to others after the fact.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:36 AM

Well, Sean, I guess if you have never seen either of us do what we do, you really can't imagine a way the songs could be done, that could be appropriate. And you seem to have closed your mind about something you can't speak about accurately, as a result.

I measure things by how people vote with theiur feet. Especially with African Americans-- if they come back, it says something pretty big.

I think the most useful comments about "How can these be done" would come from people who have had some experience in that regard?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:38 AM

Sorry-- forgot to ask-- Sean, was that you in any of the previous unattributed guest posts? If so, could you tell us which?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:49 AM

Susan, I post as SeanN because that is who I am. I'll ignore your other remarks, because you seem to me overly defensive about this subject, and you seem unable to accept responsibility for performing them.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:01 AM

No, Sean, I just think that I'm responsible to the people for whom I do them (and I am a songleader not a performer), not to you or to anyone else who has not participated. I think you are not hearing that. I can understand how that could be, since you have no way of knowing for yourself what experiences I may have had in my life, with diversity work in particular, that have led me to do what I do, however imperfectly.

If someone who has experience in the matter disagrees with you, it isn't necessarily defensiveness, and I don't appreciate your characterizing it that way when you don't know me.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Greg B
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:29 AM

Some times it's just not worth it.

In another life, I fly with the Commemorative Air Force.

Our mission is 'Keep em flying!' in reference to historical war planes (warbirds). It's a laudable (and expensive, in terms of money, time, and indeed lives) mission.

You may know us as the Confederate Air Force, a name which we voted to change on January 1 2002, because it was becoming too much of a millstone around our collective necks.

We are not, and never were ashamed of the 'Confederate' name. It had its roots in the founding of the organization by a bunch of old boys who came up with it as a tounge-in-cheek thing. Just as each of us members holds and is called by the same rank... Colonel.

However, in the current political climate you have to make a decision. Since stupid and ignorant people couldn't seem to get off the quasi-political subject of 'what do you mean by 'Confederate?' ' it became difficult to talk about the roles of the B17, or F8F, or even L6 under whose wing you were standing in our history, or how the heroes who flew them made it *possible* for the politically correct to avoid being shot for being same.

It's sure hard to remember your cultural history accurately when you spend so much time and energy being personally ashamed of it!

Of course, those who would have us forget history seem to prove the old truism by immediately repeating it. Cold comfort, however.

Greg


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,greg stephens
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:50 AM

Susan, keep up the good work, and dont be deflected by provokers. Well, I havent seen you doing the stuff youre talking about, so for all I know its offensive and crap,but somehow I doubt it! I mean, keep up exploring how to keep this wonderful music going and accessible, and I'm sure by being aware and thinking about what youre doing you wll succeed in solving the obviously huge problems involved.Good luck.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:55 AM

Greg B, I think that there is a whole range of reaction and response, in this area, and I think it has as much to do with how it's heard as it does with how it's said.

There is no escaping the racist heritage we all share, and everyone, whether they are working on it as a personal issue intentionally or not, is in a different place about it. Racism, at the time its mindsets are "installed," is so pernicious because it hits each person in a personal way, deeply, and then it often masquerades as something else. But the result is that no matter what one's motives or feelings may be as a presenter, there are going to be people for whom there is just zero tolerance for anything even remotely connected to the matter. And that can be the result for either "side" of the "issue."

For the black community, one such area was what are now called all over the world, "Negro Spirituals," because that IS what they were called at the time they were "discovered" and, at the time, the term Negro was considered pretty damn polite. The songs were a reminder not only of slavery but of a time when there was little or no economic standing for people of color in the US. It became a class issue, just as much as bluegrass gospel is often not welcome among people who prefer to think that culture begins and ends with classical music.

It's po' folks music, and for a time, black folk did not care to be seen as po' folks in any way, shape, or form-- that was where danger lay. Of course later, there was a big resurgence of black folks reclaiming that heritage, and there is some awareness that it's everyone's music, not just the music of people of color-- a lot of it was created in close communication with white folks of the time.

This is one reason why the Feet Vote is so important to me. If you can reach through all that stuff, all those generations of passed-along, unaware or aware racism, and touch a heart, then real communication is going on. You can tell that's occurring when people come back.

Of course you can also get a good Feet Vote by attracting people to what restimulates the distresses... but in that case, doing what we do, if we were doing it that way, I would have expected it to be white racists coming along to our service. In fact, that isn't what is happening at all.

Butch has a line on something positive too, if the NAACP is with him, not against him. He's way ahead of me in that regard, and I think we can learn much.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:03 AM

As shocking as some of them may seem now, the images from minstrelry, the "coon" songs, and particularly, the blackface makeup, were accepted in their time without question--the awareness of the deeper implications was very slow in coming--today, a lot of the themes, characters, and stereotypes continue in entertainment--particularly in"Gangsta" Rap and in TV situation comedies--and, as in the Minstrel days, they are accepted without question--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:26 PM

Susan, outside of the first guest poster to this thread, I am the only one who has contributed, for all that is worth.

Since people here are planning on compiling this into a study thread eventually, I'm adding a few things I think provides important insight and perspective from OUTSIDE Mudcat.

First:

From the Parlor Songs website:

http://parlorsongs.com/insearch/coonsongs/coonsongs.asp

"Because of the lyrics in Coon songs, none of these songs are seen or performed today as they were originally written. It is even with some trepidation that we have dared to perform a few of them here at ParlorSongs. But, we do believe it is a chapter in our musical history that should not and cannot be swept under the rug. It seems a shame to have an entire genre of song lost to today because of the words, yet we could not tolerate a resurgence."


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:27 PM

From the PBS 'The American Experience' website:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/1900/filmmore/reference/interview/washing_portrayalofaframer.html

Margaret Washington : The Portrayal of African Americans in Song There was a vernacular of music called "coon songs" that was very popular around 1900. And they depicted African Americans as buffoons, oftentimes eating watermelon. They depicted African American women withvery large gluteus maximus and very fat in front and African American men with huge red lips and large eyes. They depicted African Americans lyrically, in dialect, in the most gross form of informal English, much of which African Americans never used in any period in their history. And they essentially made African Americans ridiculous. It was a tradition that was part of American history, going all the way back to the 1820 and 30s and it had matured with the nation. It went out of vogue at the time of the Civil War and during Reconstruction and then re-emerged along with some of the other less noble aspects of American society and culture such as the rise of scientific racism which reached its height in 1900 and made these "coon songs" okay, because African Americans were "proven"scientifically to be inferior. So naturally they would engage in this kind of buffoonery. And these were very popular. They were simply part of white American culture.

The culture was so racist and thought of African Americans as inferior, as a matter of course that whites didn't look upon these songs as being anything other than part of culture. What they did from 1890 to 1905 was they simply revived the songs that had been used, especially in the North, especially in New York City in the 1830s. They just simply revised them and gave them a more modern face.

I think it was part of the oppression. I think it was also part of America's sense of being really on top of the world. I mean on top of the world in terms of the whole world, and almost in a way of saying that we are on top and other people are on bottom and at the same time it was not even the kind of racism that was synonymous with the terrorism of the South which is meant to literally beat black people down, but this kind of racism was kind of a paternalism. Yes, these people are inferior, but we can help them. They will never be as great as we are, because of another concept of the time along with scientific racism was social Darwinism. So, not only are they scientifically inferior, but we are the fittest among humanity and they simply couldn't aspire to be where we are, even if they wanted to, so you can afford to be generous. And within this broad construct were these "coon songs" which is simply brought into fruition what they already felt to be true.

If you look at the works of someone like Dunbar, who presents African American literary tradition partly in dialect, then you can see that there is somewhat of a contradiction and you can see how Dunbar's dialect poetry might have fit into white concepts about African Americans. But then you have to ask the question, should African Americans not be themselves as they genuinely see themselves because they are afraid of what whites are going to think about them, because white people are going to think what they want about black people no matter what black people do. And Dunbar's poetry and all of his earthiness was original. The "coon songs" were not. And in the same way that in the period of slavery, on plantations, African Americans created artistry that was appropriated by whites in the North and turned into minstrelsy, that does not denigrate the artistry that the African American culture created.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:32 PM

Thanks for clarifying. I'm going to call you "Guest, Returning", then, and if I attribute something to you that in fact you did not say, straighten us out, OK? Or maybe you will use that handle.

I really do appreciate your contributions and views, both facts and opinions.

Is all of that last post a quote, or is the latter part of it your own writing?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:44 PM

From the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, is an extremely interesting website. This is from the website's "New Racist Forms" page:here is a link to many articles on this subject:

"Micetrap Distribution is another website which sells anti-Black products. In addition to White power flags, books, and videos of Skinhead musical concerts, this organization also sells remakes of old racist songs. A Johnny Rebel CD, for example, includes these songs, "Some Niggers Never Die," "Coon Town," "Cowboys & Niggers," "We Don't Want Niggers In Our Schools," and "Move Them Niggers North."21 This site added a counter on May 15, 1996. On December 16, 2000, the counter indicated 2,588,980 visits to the site. Heritage Front, which bills itself as "Canada's Largest Racialist Group," sells magazines, musical videos, books, and business cards.22 Most White supremacist organizations sell merchandise, and much of this merchandise dehumanizes or belittles minorities, especially Blacks and Jews."

There are a number of interesting articles at the same website here:

http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/links/essays.htm


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:47 PM

Do you think we don't know about this stuff, GUEST?--You are not the person who realized this stuff, and, raging like you are, it seems that you aren't aware that you are trying to fight battle that was over a long time ago--Sadly enough, you are to dense to realize what the battles of today are, or perhaps just more comfortable living in the past--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:52 PM

Also, for those who aren't aware of this film, there is "Ethnic Notions":

Ethnic Notions (Marlon Riggs, 56 minutes, 1987) Ethnic Notions is Marlon Riggs' Emmy-winning documentary that takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing for the first time the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-black prejudice. Through these images we can begin to understand the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Loyal Toms, carefree Sambos, faithful Mammies, grinning Coons, savage Brutes, and wide-eyed Pickaninnies roll across the screen in cartoons, feature films, popular songs, minstrel shows, advertisements, folklore, household artifacts, even children's rhymes. These dehumanizing caricatures permeated popular culture from the 1820s to the Civil Rights period and implanted themselves deep in the American psyche.

Narration by Esther Rolle and commentary by respected scholars shed light on the origins and devastating consequences of this 150 yearlong parade of bigotry. Ethnic Notions situates each stereotype historically in white society's shifting needs to justify racist oppression from slavery to the present day. The insidious images exacted a devastating toll on black Americans and continue to undermine race relations.

Ethnic Notions has quickly become a mainstay of university, high school, and public library collections. It is a basic audio visual text for American History, Sociology, Black Studies, Anthropology, Social Psychology, Popular Culture, and any training program concerned with stereotyping and cross-cultural understanding."


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:01 PM

M Ted, I didn't know the stuff GUEST posted. To me, it's helpful information about what some parts of my world are like. It all helps me understand some things, I think.

This whole thread has been remarkably civil, despite the difficult subject. I'm still marveling about it. I hope I can for a long time. I really appreciate the effort people are making to not let their pushed buttons take over. Please, just keep talking, and breathing a little slower when you need to, huh?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:06 PM

I'm not raging M Ted, I'm simply presenting a different point of view from Susan and Butch. Is that not to be tolerated here?

Also, if this thread is to be included in the study threads, isn't the information I'm providing relevant to that? The Parlor Songs website is an excellent site. People with a serious interest in learning more about this aspect of music history can use these things I'm citing. The American Experience program on PBS, as well as the film "Ethnic Notions" are excellent studies of the subject.

We've also been discussing Spike Lee's latest film, "Bamboozled"--or I should say, at least some of us have tried to bring it into the conversation. Unfortuately, those who are currently performing these songs refuse to be engaged in that part of the discussion.

Again, nowhere have I advocated censorship of this music, or of the information surrounding it. It is important not to sweep it under the rug, absolutely. I just seriously question the value of continuing to perform the music. Butch and Susan are acting as if others have no right to challenge their performance of extremely provocative material with deep and long associations with a racist past. It is material they KNOW offends many, yet the seem to be suggesting their performance of the material either doesn't offend anyone (which I grant may be true), or that it SHOULDN'T offend anyone.

I can accept that they are performing the music sensitively enough that it hasn't yet offended anyone in their audiences that they are aware of. What I refuse to accept is their contention that their performance of these songs SHOULDN'T offend anyone. I disagree strongly with that contention, but I'm not raging at anyone about it.

Expressing a point of view that is at odds with two posters isn't raging at all, so I think your post is way off the mark.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:23 PM

Susan, the excerpt is from the 'American Experience: American 1900' program website. It is an interview with Margaret Washington, an Associate Professor of History at Cornell University, who was a consultant on African American experience at in 1900, for the program.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:36 PM

Copy of "All Coons Look Alike to Me" sheet music from the 1980s here:

http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/acs/1890s/ragmusic/music.html


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:45 PM

Here is an interview with Spike Lee on his film "Bamboozled" from Africana.com:

Spike, a lot of black journalists have been offended by Bamboozled.

LEE: Well, it is a satire. It is a joke. We should not think that we are a monolithic group, and that all black people will like it. That is why I say we need to get those positions that are gatekeepers. Those that decide what is on the front page, and what gets buried in the back pages.

What motivated you to do this film?

LEE: Just the history of our images in cinema and television.

What do you want this film to do?

LEE: I want to have people talking about this. I want it to spark discussion and debate.

Will you be attacked for being a racist?

LEE: Why not. People attacked me for being a racist with Summer Of Sam, and there were no black people in that movie.

What do you think about the charges against you? They also said you were anti-Semitic?

LEE: Well, I mean it is apparent what they are trying to do with those charges.

Do you get in trouble for the topics you make movies about? On race?

LEE: I am an artist. I am a filmmaker and these are the stories I want to tell. Not everything I do involves race, but when I do tell a story regarding race, when we do deal with it, we have to go at it strong.

How do you expect this film to motivate young people?

LEE: If that happens, so be it. I just hope that the young people get some positive things out of it. I think a lot of the stuff they didn't know anything about. Such as the origin of blackface. The minstrel show, all of that stuff. They don't understand it at all. That's how come I think it will be good for them to see this film.

Were some of the older blacks offended by the film and the images it shows?

LEE: There are some people, black and white, that feel that these images need to be buried forever. They are like, "Let it die and move on." I don't agree, but I respect that opinion.

Your film is a satire, but how real do you think it is?

LEE: It is very real. People get hung up about, "This can't happen, because no one will put blackface on their face," but you don't need blackface in the 21st century to make a minstrel show.

In the film, Savion Glover just wants to dance. He will do it in spite of it being offensive to people. Can you knock the brother for it?

LEE: Everyone has to make a decision where you might have to compromise themselves. That is what the film is saying, without saying the decision that you should make.

Give me some examples of modern day minstrels.

LEE: Gangsta rap videos. I think that there are shows on television.

Do you think your film attacks hip hop?

LEE: I am not condemning a whole genre of videos, but I think that gangsta rap is a subdivision of hip hop.

You say gangsta rap is a modern-day minstrel show. What do you want to see change in the genre?

LEE: The lyrical content. This whole pursuit of mass consumerism. The Bentleys.

You sound like Stanley Crouch.

LEE: No, he condemns all gangsta rap. I don't. If you go back to Do the Right Thing, you see "Fight the Power" [a Public Enemy song from the film soundtrack] and the Crooklyn Dodgers [rappers who performed a track for the film Crooklyn]. I've had hip hop in my films. But I have a problem with all the Bentleys and the Rolexes. The Cristal. The Platinum. The platinum teeth. The ice.

So gangsta rap is coonism?

LEE: Look at those videos. Look at the portrayal of the women in those videos.

This is your fifteenth film. Do you sit back and think about how your career has evolved?

LEE: I try and reflect on it every so often. I think it has been substantial in what we have been able to do. Fifteen films in fifteen years. I have built up a substantial body of work. I am very proud of it, and I look forward to continuing to do it.

Do you think that people know what your production company's name – 40 Acres and a Mule —means?

LEE: Some people do, others don't.

How is the situation in Hollywood? Is it still a minstrel show?

LEE: Minstrel show. I would say that we will not have fundamental change until we get into positions of what I call the gatekeepers. These are the people who can say what film gets made, and what television show gets made. That is where we have to be.

What do you think about a black studio? What about having as many black film studios as they have record companies?

LEE: Yeah, I like that, but none of those record companies have national distribution. Where is the first one? Where is the first black studio?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:49 PM

I found SeanN's statement way up above interesting :

"But I do see the argument that minstrel music should be performed by whites "because its a good tune" as being the rough equivalent of telling a racist joke, and then saying "I was only kidding, I didn't mean any harm by it"

In mulling it over, I know and will play some tunes as an instrumental - "Year of Jubilo" for instance (and yes, I relize it's not strictly a minstrel tune) - but wouldn't feel comfortable singing the words to a mixed race audience.

I generally think a tune and its associated words are two separate issues - melody being an emotional dimension, and words adding meaning. However, when you come to an extremely well known tune, like "Dixie," then you may be kicking another sleeping dog.

To some, apparently, just the melody of "Dixie" is so well known it instantly raises hackles on the backs of those who associate it with racism. I know a fiddler, raised in the south, but living here in the north for many years, who refuses to play it because of those feelings.

Anyone else have thoughts about this ?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:57 PM

Butch and Susan are acting as if others have no right to challenge their performance of extremely provocative material with deep and long associations with a racist past.

Nope, not me. I'm just saying, you don't know what exactly I am doing, so I can't engage with you on that particular point. I'm saying that I do have local feedback and a leg and a half of past experience to stand on.

I prefer mutual learning experiences to challenging or being challenged, but that doesn't mean I don't expect people to challenge me; actually I think people who know me well would agree that I welcome opportunities to rethink things, and to get smarter, and to understand more about my world and the people in it.

What I DO expect is something I expect of myself-- to be willing and able to say how and why I do what I do, most of the time, and to do it with deliberate, pre-formed intention more often than not... to be willing to look inside and see what's goiong on and discuss it, while hoping others do the same.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:08 PM

this is somewhat of a digression, but related in a way - just as it is difficult to compare any other 'ethnic cleansing' to the Nazi Holocaust, it is very difficult to compare any other American anti-immigrant prejudice to the suffering of slavery. Part of that is that slavery is a horrible condition that most immigrants didn't suffer. There was indentured servitude, and there were abuses in that system, people sufferred, but they were essentially free to enter into this contract. ALL immigrant groups were stereotyped at one time or another, and many of the stereotypes that were created and perpetuated in the early-mid 19th c. also spawned music, that, as well as 'Coon Songs', were picked up by late 19th - early 20th c. music hall and vaudeville performers, who also often dressed and made up as the sterotypical 'Mick', 'Paddy', 'Hans', etc. These songs still offend some Irish, German, etc. descendants, but in most cases, these descendants have not had to suffer, up to this very day, the blind hatred of racial prejudice that many, if not all, blacks are subject to. As I have said earlier, I am in favor of historical accuracy, and against sweeping the past under the rug for the sake of temporary and artificial 'peace'. The bottom line though is, 'no justice, no peace'. Some contemporary writers still espouse the idea that many blacks on the plantation were happy, and better off than they would have been in Africa. Some of the stereotypical minstrel songs perpetuate these ideas. Should they therefore not be sung, ever again? NO. But, they should, if sung, be put in context, and they should be part of a general apology to the descendants of slaves (all blacks in this country are not necessarily descendants of slaves, but they are treated as such, and deserve an apology, and ALL Americans, no matter when they arrived here, benefit in some way from the riches that slavery produced, IMHO). We claim to celebrate diversity these days, and we celebrate ethnicity, we have our S. Pat's day, Oktoberfest, Columbus Day, but do we as a people celebrate the African-American? Not yet! Juneteenth is a Late Night joke to most Americans, if they have heard about it at all, or they have been fed by the media and have adopted a stereotypical view of it as 'rowdy', 'licentious', 'dangerous', 'out of control', etc. I am glad to see threads like this on a public forum, and especially as it is directly related to music, but I am sure my views are not the same as anothers and I respect that. Sensitivity to others views, not blind 'political correctness' is what many in this thread have espoused and I embrace that.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:31 PM

LesB,

I think the vociferous emotional reactions to even just the tune, as you speak of regarding "Dixie" is very real to many people.

I can't stand "Oh Susannah" because I was taught to sing it in an integrated (black and white) classroom as a child, with the original offending words, and remember how some white children used those words to taunt one of the black girls in our class in particular with them. They regularly reduced her to tears, and I felt utterly powerless to stop them from taunting, or her from crying. I can't stand to even hear the tune, because it triggers that memory of my powerlessness, and hers.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:42 PM

The views and beliefs of educated whites that were taught in schools and universities in the pre-1920 period, I believe, had more importance than the minstrel shows and other entertainments of both lower and lower middle class blacks and whites. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911, is still prized for the brilliance of many of its essays. The scholarship of the period is summarized. Some of the essays, however, perpetuated stereotypes.

Nowhere in the essay under NEGRO is black music or black-influenced white music mentioned. The subject we are discussing was scarcely noticed by the educators and elite of the time, except in black, racially separate schools. Minstrelsy was entertainment for the lower and lower middle class populace. The characterizations of Negroes in reference works and in upper level school classrooms had much more to do with negative stereotypes and discriminatory practices than the minstrel shows, dialect and coon songs. The characterizations provided a means for the "common people" to laugh at their own ignorance, shortcomings and failures through the antics of the blacks and blackface comedians of the minstrel circuits. The characterizations and the songs were regarded as humor by both blacks and whites.

To show the viewpoint of the educated classes, here are some quotes from the top English encyclopedia of the time, the Britannica (1911).
"For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test. Given suitable training, the negro is capable of becoming a craftsman of considerable skill, particularly in metal work, carpentry and carving." Another- "Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white. The research of F. Manetta, made after long study...."
These attitudes were taught and perpetuated. The folk music we enjoy, largely a development by both blacks and whites in the south, did not begin to widen its appeal until the 1920s and the population shifts from south to north as employment patterns changed. Ragtime and Jazz had paved the way, starting about 1900. The first impact was on the working class.

Speaking of conditions in 1908,the essay continues: "It was too early to say whether the negroes would be given an equal or fair opportunity to show that they could be as serviceable [in the new situation] as they had been in that which was passing away."
The last two paragraphs discuss writers and scholars who study the Negro, and at the end, two black authors are mentioned: "Among the southern negroes doubtless the most important writers are the two representatives of somewhat antagonistic views, Booker T. Washington" [Up From Slavery, Future of the American Negro] "and W. E. B. Dubois" [The Souls of Black Folk, Physique of the Negro American].

Is any of this pertinent to this discussion? I think so, because it reflects the views held by the educated English-speaking white in both North America and Great Britain in the post-slavery period and and almost to WW 2.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Greg B
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:01 PM

There's this really impressive trap here, GUEST, where being taught to 'own' your own words seems to make you think it's all about you. Or your sensibilities.

News flash: it isn't.

Nor is about someome who 'finds' given words offensive. Anyone. Even the actual member of an oppressed group, as opposed to the empathic poseur, which you more resemble.

Culture is culture;it is what it is. History was history, it was what it was. Deal with it. Learn something.

'Traditional' or 'folk' music is, at the end of the day, about *the experience of the people who sang it.* You don't get to modify that experience just because your 2002 sensibilities don't match theirs. Even about the word formerly known as the N-word, and once known as the B-word, but know properly the A-A words. That isn't part of the deal.

Nor do you get to erase those people, who lived, loved, raised families, and were as baffled by their changing world as you and I (such as when they wrote 'Dixie'), from memory.

If you want that, then go dig up some Rogers and Hammerstein. Mid 20th-century Show Tunes are definitely the way to go. Along with liberal doses of the theme from 'Leave it to Beaver.' Immerse yourself up to your armpits in fluff. Plug your ears with fluff until the fluff plugs up your mind as well.

But don't go out to MTV, because you'll hear the N-word all over there, too. And you'll hear anti-Semitic, misogynistic and violent stuff that will curl (or uncurl, as the case may be) your hair.

I firmly stand for a world where we don't tell people what to sing. Or say. Or think.

Everything else seems just a little too dangerous, however well-meaning and correct the thought-police think that they are...this time around.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:27 PM

OK Greg B, I can accept your logic. Racism: deal with it.

Just how do we do that? Is pointing out racist behavior ever acceptable to you, or is it always just an example of the PC/thought police telling people what to think?

How do you think systemic injustices and racial oppression should be dealt with in our society?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:34 PM

Dicho, you said:

"The characterizations and the songs were regarded as humor by both blacks and whites."

I find it nigh on impossible to believe that blacks found Jim Crow, Stepin Fetchit, coon songs, etc. to be humorous, as you are claiming.

What evidence of this do you have?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:44 PM

And BTW, here is the offending lyric, as I remember it, from my school days. I've done it in minstrel dialect, which is the way I remember us singing it too.

I jumped aboard de telegraph

and trabelled down de ribber,

the electrie fluid magnified

and killed ten thousand nigger,

De bulgine burst, de horse ran off

I really thought I'd die

I shut my eyes to hold my breath

Susannah don't you cry.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:57 PM

May I interrupt just long enough to say this-- what I find most significant about this thread is how much we seem to want to talk about this stuff.

And I'd like to point out, as well, that no matter how rigid some of the opinions may seem to be at the moment the SUBMIT MESSAGE button is clicked-- it looks to me, from here, like everyone is continuing to think and to be really trying to hear one another. And doing that-- well I'm impressed with each and every one of you!

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:25 PM

Guest, my evidence is the many Negro songs that have been collected and which are variations of the minstral songs. Have you ever looked into:
Thomas W. Talley, Negro Folk Rhymes
Newman L. White, American Negro Folk Songs
Odum and Johnson, The Negro and His Songs?
There are many more, but my budget can't afford them all. Of course there are also the songs written for minstrel shows by black performers.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:57 PM

OK Dicho, thanks for providing the cites for those song collections. But I don't think that the existence of the songs means, by extension, that black audiences then and now, found them humorous.

Considering how popular these songs were, and the fact that the minstrel circuit was one of the few venues where black entertainers were allowed to perform professionally, they had a strong economic and artistic incentive to compose songs and perform the minstrel shows according to the white audience's standards, not black audiences. The main audiences, as I understand it, were white, not black, right up to 1900.

Blacks certainly didn't have to think the songs they were composing humorous--just effective. Same with the audiences. I guess I'd rather have evidence of some scholarly analysis of how black audiences perceived the minstrel shows, rather than just the songs themselves, as justification of your suggestion I quoted.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 07:34 PM

Just wondered what the thought is on this bit of dialect.
Aunt Dinah, a black cook, is speaking. Excerpts:
"I may say dat. Good, plain common cookin', Jinny'll do- make a good pone o'bread- bile her taters far,- ...." "Ta'nt no fault o' hem. An, Mas'r George, you doesn't know...." "And so ye telled Tom, did ye? O, Lor! what young uns will be up ter!"


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:53 PM

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence." -Albert Einstein


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:13 PM

Found this fragment of late(?) minstrelsy from a book by Paskman and Spaeth (Sigmund?) titled "Gentlemen, be seated!": Minstrel
In case that doesn't work: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/railton/enam358/minstrel.htm


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:16 PM

Minstrel shows, particularly black ones, played to both mixed and black audiences--and, as is the case for the spirituals before them, the performances carried different messages to the black audiences than to the white--a lot like Chris Rock does today, I would suspect--


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:24 PM

Aha! The page is headed with the ending htm, but html is noted in Google. Trying again: minstrel (if this doesn't work, try adding the www. after the http://)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:27 PM

No comments on the Aunt Dinah quotes? There are lots more....


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: DonD
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:39 PM

Alternative 1:

"There was slavery. There was and is racism. There were racist songs. I know a lot of them because they're part of our musical -- and national -- history. I'm going to sing one for you. What do you think?"

alternative 2:

"There was slavery. There was and is racism. There were racist songs. I know a lot of them because they're part of our musical -- and national -- history. But I'm not going to sing any of them for you, because I think I already know what some of you may think."

Alternative 3:

"Oh, Susannah? No, sorry, I don't sing that. In fact, just about any song you can name might offend someone, so I don't sing them either. Just play the tune? Sorry, it might bring up a painful memory for someone and I daren't risk unknowingly causing pain. Why don't we all just sit quietly for a couple of hours and then go home and talk about what a great concert it was."


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:41 PM

The "Black and White Minstrel Show" of BBC television, England, 1958-1978: Black and White


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:48 PM

Sophomore Class Minstrel Show, Livermore, CA, High School, 1954-1955 (Livermore Class Picture Archive): High School


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:04 PM

More random shots, showing the use of minstrel shows. Here was one used to campaign for votes for women, Winnipeg, Canada, 1915: Votes for Women

The University of Texas has perhaps the largest and most diverse collection of minstrel material at the Ransome Center.


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