Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Who can close off replies to a discussion posted on the forum.

The author, the moderator...?

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I just observed that i as a member can 'close' or re-open any discussion thread that I myself started.

Moderators can as well- but for anyone's discussion.

I'm not sure why the thread was closed.  Our discussion was civil- no personal insults, etc.

Yes, it's just that no one has ever felt a need to do it before.

Strumelia said:

I just observed that i as a member can 'close' or re-open any discussion thread that I myself started.

Moderators can as well- but for anyone's discussion.

 Here's another stupid question.  How does one curtail a discussion?  Please use small common words.  I'm very thick as well as old. 

Rob, you go to the discussion thread, and (only if you yourself started the discussion) you will then see a drop down box menu with "Options"-  among those options is one to 'close' or 're-open' your discussion to replies, and also one to Delete your discussion.  If you 'close' the discssuion there will not be a box for people to continue replying or posting in it.  You can only get that Options box if you created that discussion yourself, or if you are a site moderator or administrator.

Thanks.  That was very informative.  I'm learning so much today, first the "friends" button, then the "like" button, and now the "close" button.  I'm getting dizzy with it all.

I can add a little to the discussion here, based on some unfinished research I started last year.  Using a couple of digital newspaper databases, I was trying to document all of the store advertisements for "banjos for sale" beginning in the mid-1840s and proceeding up until 1860.  I only got through 1853 when the number of ads per year began to approach one thousand or more.   (I may push on through 1854 and 1855 at some point, but I'm currently taking a rest, given the exponential rate of expansion!)   Keep in mind that this represents multiple ads for the same stores; so the actually number of banjo purveyors that I documented for any one year might have been around 20 or so. Nevertheless, it's clear that banjos were very popular from about 1847 onward and were available through music and variety stores in most of the larger cities of the North and South.   Moreover, banjos were usually advertised along with tambourines, accordeons, bone castanets, and violins-clearly indicating that it was the "minstrel craze" that was driving banjo sales.    

Now here's something interesting:  Many of the very earliest (mid-1840s) ads that I found were placed by Irish stores in New York City and by a German store in Milwaukee.  This suggests once again an association with minstrelsy, since the music at the time was definitely popular in Irish working class communities and possibly among Americans of German descent, who constituted a large part of the white Northern urban community.  

As for whether banjo music at the time was a "formal" music or a "folk" music, I guess I take a position somewhere in between.   The most popular musical instrument in the mid-19th century was the parlor piano, hence the proliferation of sheet music for home consumption.   On the other hand, I have never seen an illustration of minstrels playing from sheet music.   They might have, especially since a large (and mostly forgotten) part of the early minstrel show involved quartet and trio singing of popular songs.   But the rest of the minstrel show, while certainly routinized (and possibly choreographed to an extent), was supposed to at least give the appearance of a spontaneous performance.   Once again, since the early audiences for minstrel shows were typically drawn from the white working class, I would think that the performative aspect was key.

Right now I'm tending to think of the urban musical culture of the day as being something like Irish pub music of the 20th century.  In others words, there were formal conventions for playing the music, but plenty of room for improvisation and "showing off."  This goes along with the popularity of banjo and jig-dancing (later clog-dancing) contests during the minstrel period.  

Whether one should call this "folk music" or "folk performance," I can't say.  But I suspect that it was rather informal.   As for the published banjo tutors:  My guess is that they were the equivalent of modern banjo and guitar "method" books and were aimed at the same amateur audience that bought piano sheet music for home entertainments.           

Thanks Bob for your input.  Can you share some of these newspaper clippings?  I'd love to see them!

John,  I may have overstated the case last night for banjos being sold in German and Irish emporia in the early period.  Most of the early ads were placed by general music stores, no ethnicity specified.   However, I did find an ad this morning placed by a German store in Cleveland in 1850 and a second ad placed in the Irish American Weekly in New York in 1852.  I'll see if I can copy them to this discussion.  

We need the like button for posts (Bob Sayers, above--I mean, the previous one to the one that just came in, though that too is a fine comment)

Anyway, because there is so much information that we lack about the banjo before the Civil War, it is very difficult to figure out what was going on outside of minstrelsy, but I have to admit that I love exploring those edges.  I imagine that a good comparison could be the early 20th century--if all we had were published instruction books, what would we know about Robert Johnson?  Or Earl Scruggs?  Even now, having the instruction book, would you have Earl Scruggs' sound if you hadn't heard him?  Fortunately, the minstrels left documents of something that was certainly going on and popular, and we can fill the gaps in our knowledge by saying that the stuff we don't know about was just like what we already know, work backwards from 20th century survivals, or ignore it entirely and make music.  Or all of the above.  But the evidence does seem to suggest a wide diversity of performance practice, in my opinion.

+1 Paul

( +1 = 'like' )    :)

I've attached four early banjo ads from the late 1840s and early 1850s.  Several things stand out:  

First, all four ads emphasize banjos in the context of other instruments (tambourines, accordeons, fiddles, etc.) associated with minstrelsy.  

Second, the 1845 Wilshire & Co. ad in the Wisconsin Free Democrat seems to indicate that banjos for general sale were being produced at a very early date.   

Third, the 1848 ad for the Hopkins' Music Store in the Milwaukee Sentinel states that its instruments are aimed at "musical amateurs."  The same ad also boasts an inventory of "20 Banjoes, of good workmanship and cheap," possibly suggesting that they were ordered in batches.  

The 1850 ad for the German Store (Rettberg, Doeltz & Hausman) in the Cleveland Plain Dealer goes a bit further, suggesting that its banjos were part of a shipment of "New Goods from Europe."  I don't necessarily believe this.   With a couple of important exceptions, most of the early banjo ads that I've uncovered seem rather canny about divulging the actual sources of their instruments.   

Finally, there are the 1850 and 1852 ads associated with a German Store in Cleveland and an Irish music store (Daly's) in New York City.  Whether these associations are significant, I don't know as yet.

Comments appreciated.

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