Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'll try to make this as concise as possible...  I'm finding that my interest in the music of the mid-19th C, focuses upon the popular melodies which are parodied (sometimes very soon after the original song was published) with song sheet versus reflecting contemporary issues, reflecting upon the historical events of the day....such as a song sheet with verses about the nullification controversy of 1828-early 1830's sung to Clare de Kitchen or abolitionist verses sung to Oh Susannah or Old Dan Tucker, etc.  I just did a 90-minute program at the library where I recently retired on the lead up to the Civil War, roughly 1820-1861, which included about 2 dozen songs.  Being that the bi-centennial of the War of 1812 is coming, I might want to delve into that era as well.  But......playing my Hartel, Sweeney model would just not be right for that era.  I suppose it would be alright for 1840-1860, and possibly I could get away with it for songs of the 1830s, but how far before and after??? 

What would a person of the 1750s, the Revolution era, the period surrounding the War of 1812 have utilized to accompany the many songs which existed in verse on broadsides and song sheets during those times?   I read references to "guitar" as even existing in the inventory of Thomas Jefferson's possessions when he died, but should I assume that this refers to the English guitar with 10 or 12 strings?  Would that have been a cittern? 

Bottom line....Does anyone have insights or sources for what instruments may have been commonly used to accompany topical songs from broadsides/song sheets from different eras?


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In the pre-banjo era you could expect to find fiddle and fife for less formal music. 

 I've seen "revolutionary war" era musicians playing with guitars and tin whistles, and this is all wrong.  The guitarist for one thing was playing with a pick, and the penny whistle didn't really come along until the late 1830s. 

There were flagolets, which were a fipple flute that you might consider a cross between a tin whistle and a recorder, it was made from wood.  The banjo wasn't the only instrument that evolved in the 19th century, there was a host of activity in developing musical instruments.

Sweeny started playing publicly in the 1830s, and the early songsheets (up to about 1840) show him playing a gourd banjo.  I play a number of songs from the 1830s on my banjos, and feel that it is appropriate.  I also do Coal Black Rose when it is approprate, and will play that on banjo as well, primarily because the melody is so much like the Juba pieces that you see later on in the banjo instructors.

Thanks, John, for your response.  I suppose I knew that fiddle and fife would have been appropriate, but I'm looking for something which would lend itself more easily to accompany singing, and not so expensive and unportable as a harpsichord.  Odd, since, until a couple years ago, I was primarily interested in tunes, not songs.  But I've found too many historically-interesting verses to ignore them.  I suspect that the guitar, as we know it now, came later....and further suspect that perhaps what I'm looking for might be the "English guitar" or cittern, but not sure.
I'm waiting for Dan Wykes to chime in on guitar.  I'm somewhat familiar with the parlour guitars of the middle part of the century, but not earlier.

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