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.

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I doubt that but I have a friend I could consult with if we have pressing questions.

That reminds me, however......I remember seeing a movie where Bing Crosby is depicted playing the concertina.  Wow, the rapidity in which that concertina was inhaling and exhaling made me think it had the leakiest bellows I've ever seen.  Actually, I think the producers removed all the buttons so that Bing could push and pull, at will.......made better optics.

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.


That banjo looks like quite the beefcake

Chris, if you think that banjo is chunky-looking, how about this one:

Very cool! They both look so short.
For Bob Sayers: the source of the photo of the African American stringband is: http://www.concertina.com/worrall/anglo-in-united-states/. Note: I make no claims to its authenticity and I do NOT claim to know diddley about the concertina except that it does sound a bit like a harmonica to my ignorant ear. (And I do like the sound) Best Wishes, Tom

Thanks, Tom.  Concertinas were more common in the U. S. than I thought, particularly in the latter part of the 19th century.  Maybe they were present during the Civil War, though I'm not yet convinced.  The association with the Salvation Army is noted in both the U. S. and Britain.  That's a great website, by the way.  I wasn't aware of it.  Sorry to hijack this thread--back to harmonicas!

That was an interesting article, Tom.  Too long for this ex-librarian who doesn't particularly enjoy reading but I did skim it.  I didn't know that the Anglo paralleled the English in chronology.  I also didn't know that I, having three English concertinas am "upper crust". ;)   Could be, also, that Anglos might require more fold in the bellows since notes depend on push/pull.  English is the same either way so if you are running out of air, just push or pull the other way.  I don't think the article noted this but I've always thought that, though I've heard great renditions of dance music on English, the Anglo gives an addition punch.  I think English are probably more conducive to ballads and intricate instrumentals.  Sorry, once again, this was supposed to be about harmonicas but then Anglos are like harmonicas in that they are push/pull, exhale/inhale.

I think this thread has taken some very interesting turns. Thanks to all for their input.

Here are a couple of clippings from the 1860's you might find interesting, Chicago tribune., November 27, 1865

New York Herald Dec 16 1863

Nice Work Wes!!!! The SMOKING GUN!!!! And in an "Ethiopean" show no less. Well there you go! Man, those box seats were pricey!

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