Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

This is a follow up on Curtis' comment in the chat room. We are both interested in learning if harmonicas were used by minstrel performers. I took some to the Sweeny event last year and played them during jam sessions in the evening, but not in front of the public. I know they were around during the Civil War and a lot of soldiers on both sides carried them because they were small and easy to carry. I am working on some tunes for the event in September this year.

Views: 777

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Hello Lisa,

The general consensus is that the triangle was not considered a legitimate instrument until about 1863 when it was discovered by players of "minstrel music" in New York City. It was said at the time that Stephen Foster wrote solo pieces for the triangle but now everyone knows that they were actually written by Frank Converse. 

Jenny Lind Polka - Flutina

Here's a video of what one of these circa 1850's flutina accordeons looked and sounded like (actually Flutina is a misnomer, that term referred to an enclosed version of these early brass reed accordeons. Dave

Bob Sayers said:

What is the source for Tom Berghan's illustration?  American minstrels did play flutinas and other accordions (Baltimore banjoist Levi Brown was also an accomplished accordion player).  But I don't think I've seen many pictures of Americans playing concertinas until later in the century.  The concertina, on the other hand, was very popular from an early time in its place of origin--Britain (and Ireland).   (See the following image taken in Dublin, probably in the late 1870s or early 1880s)  So I would think that a British concertina in an American minstrel or Civil War setting would be an anachronism.  But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.


These links are to pictures of harmonica reeds found in civil War archeology sites, thought you might find that interesting.

http://cdm15138.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15138coll6/i...

http://cdm15138.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15138coll6/i...

Wes, that's very cool!

Wes, "Dead men tell no lies!" Thank you for that link. Very interesting.

Yes, there are many "dug" examples of harmonica reed plates.  The problem is that they are virtually identical to the 1870s+ reed plates and the covers are almost never found.  When covers are found they are consistent with known models that are post war.  The speculation is that these are the discards of later camps, reenactments (yes they did reenactment/reunions fairly recently after the war), or events like GAR gatherings.

There is also the sad fact that many of the "dug relics" on the market and in collections are fakes as they have value.  I had a nice discussion with George Wunderlich and his successor to the Medical Museum about fake dug relics at the last Banjo Gathering.

There is no proof either way.  The goal is to find pre or war era price-lists or advertisements with woodcuts.  Drawings and descriptions from journals would be good too.  The ultimate discovery would be a clear photo of a soldier holding one.  This should not be much trouble as prevalent as we have been lead to believe they were.

Back when I looked into this all the references I found turned out to be unconfirmable or dead ends.  Times have changed since then and if they were common chances are it could be found today.  I am constantly finding new sources for banjo history on the web (not to mention all the original documents I have personally scanned and made available to the world).  Bathman is an excellent find and worth exploring.  He could be a exception or he could be a key to finding what they played.

At any rate, the technique used would have been the intended design based tongue blocking chord accompaniment/melody playing as taught in the 1880s tutor (imitation accordion style).  When I was interested in playing Harmonica (before all my attention shifted to banjo) I spent a good deal of time studying the style of Sam Hinton.  From him I learned how to play a root-chord accompaniment with melody.  It is pretty easy to do but sounds like a single row accordion.  The best part is that 100 years ago it was the normal style to play but today most people have only heard the "blues" style and are blown away by the original harmonica style.

If one were to discover a confirmed war era harmonica, it would be worth pursuing to have copies manufactured.  Add me to the list of potential customers.


Wes Merchant said:

These links are to pictures of harmonica reeds found in civil War archeology sites, thought you might find that interesting.

http://cdm15138.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15138coll6/i...

http://cdm15138.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15138coll6/i...

On the subject of reed instruments played during the Civil War, there's a wonderful broadside on eBay depicting members of the Union Army 5th Virginia Volunteers singing hymns to the accompaniment of a harmonium.  Pricey, but quite nice.  Here's the link:

 http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-Civil-War-5th-Virginia-West-Va-Camp-En... 

I have an old C/G Anglo.  Can this be used to accompany tune in dGDF#A (low bass) = G?  I have not played it for awhile.



Al Smitley said:

I can't quite make out the concertina to see if it's supposed to depict an English or Anglo.  Not sure when Anglos came in.  It certainly looks to have many bellows!  My 1852 Wheatstone English has only four.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2017   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service