Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I wonder if anyone has explored 19th century recordings in relation to minstrel perfomance practice and banjo playing from the late minstrel period (the 1890s)? Although some recordings are extremely rare, one can sometimes actually hear a performance from nearly 120 years ago.
For example the famous minstrel singer/banjoist Al Reeves (b. 1864) was amongst the earliest to make commercial recordings, starting in 1889. One of his surviving cylinders, "Leaving it all to Mary" is sung by him with his own accompaniment in stroke style and he is obviously using a banjo "thimble"(recorded in 1891). This can be heard on the website: http://www.tinfoil.com (see the archives section). Also the performances of the well known minstrel singer Billy Golden can be heard on this site and http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu. The banjo team of Cullen and Collins also represents stroke style playing. There is a whole category of minstrel records of the 1890s to 1910 to be heard.
In addition, these sites are also a way to hear the great "Classic" style banjoists of the time such as Parke Hunter, Ruby Brooks, Vess Ossman et al.
Does anyone else listen to old records?

Views: 264

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I've never heard any of them..but want to. I'll start with your navigation. Thanks.
Well, that's a first for me. I had no idea there was a thimble performance recorded. I've listened to the classic players for years. Very cool.

I have an Edison Cylinder machine (from about 1905) that works great...and I have about 60 cylinders but not a single banjo performance.
Think there is a "Holy Grail" out there somewhere? Maybe Converse?
It is possible...remote, but possible. Edison machines were widely sold as "home recording" units. Fred Van Eps himself bought an early unit (making his purchase price back quickly by selling "listening time" @ a nickel per listen) and convinced Edison to hire him, based on his home recordings. Our man Frank might have snuck in on a home recording session and the unmarked cylinder might be sitting in an antique store somewhere... Unless he signed it, we'd never know who it was (typical of very early recordings too).

Converse was born in 1837, by the time commercial recordings were available (1890's), he would have been in his 60's...probably more apt to dismiss the 'new toy' than accept it as a viable process. Many top performers balked at the lousy reproduction of the early cylinders (Sousa famously called it "canned music" and refused to conduct the band for recordings...leaving trombonist Arthur Pryor in charge for the early Sousa band recordings). Most "early adopters" (recording artists) would have been younger types...who would have been far more interested in the classic style of the day.


Tim Twiss said:
Think there is a "Holy Grail" out there somewhere? Maybe Converse?
I see the topic has sparked some interest, so I started to delve into my files. There are other 19th century banjoists who were minstrel performers who also made recordings. To begin with there is:

Charles A. Asbury (no dates), a singer/banjoist who was apparently a black performer in New York on the minstrel stage from the 1870s. He started recording for the New Jersey Phonograph Co. in 1893 and recorded 12 titles for the Columbia Phonograph Co. in N.Y. in 1897. So far none of his records have turned up, but some must be out there.

The important minstrel Billy Carter (b. 1834) recorded for the North American Phonograph Co. (the parent company of Columbia and Edison at the time) between 1892 and 1894.

Joseph P. Cullen (no dates) of Cullen and Collins is listed in the Columbia lists from March 1895 to April 1897 and recorded some discs for Berliner around the same time. Two brief and very poor samples of the banjo duo (in partial stroke style) can be heard at http://archeophone.com. They are the "Berkeley March" (recorded Berliner, 1898) and Cullen's own composition, the "Twin Star March" (Berliner, 1899). Their cylinders, if any are found, would have been of much better quality than these discs.

William Stanley Grinstead (1868-1910) was a singer/banjoist who recorded 12 titles for North American on October 22, 1891, and others in 1892 and 1893. None of these appear to have survived, but the banjo playing would likely to have been in the minstrel style. He later emerges at the end of the century as the quite famous popular singer and recording artist with the pseudonym of Frank C. Stanley.

If it is of interest to anyone, I'll try to continue through the files and post more info.
The two Cullen tracks (Berkeley March and "Twin Star March") are not performed in the stroke style, they're both "classic" three-finger. Berkeley March was written by Harry Denton in '91 or '92 (I think. My publication of it is dated 1893). As far as I can tell (I have a few more Cullen/Collins recordings) they were not stroke/thimble style performers but "classic" (or "guitar") stylists. It is well to remember that a "minstrel" recording does not mean that the banjo is played in the stroke style. As far as I know, the stylistic difference (for banjo players) is a modern term.

By the time of the earliest commercial recordings (late 1880's) the stroke style was no longer popular...more of a 'characteristic' style than a showpiece style. Individual sheet music for the stroke style is virtually unknown (tutors, yes...popular sheet music, no. I guess I ought to caveat that with "not that I've run across"!)

Beyond the Al Reeves performance, I have never found/heard another recording that can be obviously tagged as stroke/thimble. Keep looking!!

James Tyler said:
I see the topic has sparked some interest, so I started to delve into my files. There are other 19th century banjoists who were minstrel performers who also made recordings. To begin with there is:

Charles A. Asbury (no dates), a singer/banjoist who was apparently a black performer in New York on the minstrel stage from the 1870s. He started recording for the New Jersey Phonograph Co. in 1893 and recorded 12 titles for the Columbia Phonograph Co. in N.Y. in 1897. So far none of his records have turned up, but some must be out there.

The important minstrel Billy Carter (b. 1834) recorded for the North American Phonograph Co. (the parent company of Columbia and Edison at the time) between 1892 and 1894.

Joseph P. Cullen (no dates) of Cullen and Collins is listed in the Columbia lists from March 1895 to April 1897 and recorded some discs for Berliner around the same time. Two brief and very poor samples of the banjo duo (in partial stroke style) can be heard at http://archeophone.com. They are the "Berkeley March" (recorded Berliner, 1898) and Cullen's own composition, the "Twin Star March" (Berliner, 1899). Their cylinders, if any are found, would have been of much better quality than these discs.

William Stanley Grinstead (1868-1910) was a singer/banjoist who recorded 12 titles for North American on October 22, 1891, and others in 1892 and 1893. None of these appear to have survived, but the banjo playing would likely to have been in the minstrel style. He later emerges at the end of the century as the quite famous popular singer and recording artist with the pseudonym of Frank C. Stanley.

If it is of interest to anyone, I'll try to continue through the files and post more info.
Go the the internet archive and search "minstrel" under audio. There are partial minstrel shows with songs to listen to. Arthur Collins is on many of them.

Bumping this for current viewing

The "Saving Them All For Mary" (the actual title) recording can still be heard at

http://www.tinfoil.com/cm-0308.htm#nj-saving

but more directly at

https://archive.org/details/SavingThemAllForMaryByAlReeves1891-1893

Just to add a little to the old discussion since it was bumped. Charles Asbury wrote the song and was apparently adept at stroke style (not clawhammer) as stated by the article.

http://www.thevinyldistrict.com/storefront/2018/07/graded-on-a-curv...

If you study some of the material in the 1886 Analytical, you can identify many of the "licks", or sigatures of expression common to the mentioned tune. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2018   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service