Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 52 (minstrelsy-summary edition)

[originated in a post to the Black Banjo list; an excellent resource well worth checking out. This is essentially a summary for a musicological but non-specialist audience. As I tell my students--as it was said to me--"you need to be able to summarize your research to Legendary Senior Scholar in the :30 seconds it takes you to ride the elevator of the conference hotel down to the ground floor"]

I am working on some research which may be of interest in this discussion. You will all be familiar with the painter Wm Sidney Mount and his "The Banjo Player." What is perhaps not so well known is that Mount grew up on the North Central coast of Long Island, an area which had a substantial free-black community and housed the oldest AME church on the Island. This is the same area from which free blacks would row across the Sound to sell fried eels and other street food on the wharves of the Lower East Side. Mount's brother was a dance teacher, he himself was a fiddler, flute player, and collector, and his unpublished sketchbooks are full of depictions of black and white musicians and dancers interacting. As a few of you know, I am working on a book based on this material and I believe the material will reveal a much wider and more diverse interaction of black and white musics, both rural and urban, both African and Anglo-Celtic, in this period.

Further to Tony's comments about Pinkster and other Northern seasonal celebrations: we are pretty sure that the earliest blackface minstrels like GW Dixon and TD Rice, and the Black musicians they learned from (notably, "Bobolink Bob," a whistler from Long Island), interacted on waterfronts all up and down the Hudson and along the northern canals. Pinkster was very significant in upstate NY, and the masking, tunes, dances, and so on that it created probably traveled down-river to NYC and Long Island. I have found documentation in primary sources which confirms that Anglo-Celtic tunes, light-classical English songs, various types of dances, and blackface minstrel tunes (including the archetypal "Possum up a gum stump") were performed in theatrical pieces on NY stages by 1828.

[quick-hit musical observation based on re-hearing the tune int he .sig: Eddie van Halen was an absolute fuckin' genius--as both guitarist and riff-architect--and he and his brother played together like they were two lobes of a single brain (and 1/2 a brain apiece is just about the right ratio for rock stars), and Sammy Hagar (515o vintage VH) had absolutely endless pipes, but Jeezus was Sammy an imbecilic lyricist. He makes Diamond David Lee Roth sound like Cole Porter.]

Now playing: Van Halen - Summer Nights

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