Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Old Titus, an African American banjo player Richmond, circa 1818?


I ran across this in Then Richmond Dispatch from 1852, I couldn't quite figure out how to copy the article so I took a series of screen shots and pasted it together in document form. 

Views: 168

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

So, his comments would pertain to early 1850. Interesting observations. I wonder what this guy played in 1818?

I sure don't know what that last paragraph means

It's quite the chain of literary references isn't it.

I was curious if any one had heard of this guy before.

I looked in Monarchs of Minstrelsy....no reference, but does it have anything to do with Clem Titus?

No Clem Titus was a fiddle player from NYC. I'd like to know more about him too.

What a black hole .....1818. Think of it, 10 years and counting before Coal Black Rose, Long Tail Blue, and Jim Crow.

I find the first paragraph to be the most comprehensive and of interest.

Wes, I'm not sure where it actually indicates that Old Titus was African American...?

he seems to have been a banjo playing storyteller/songwriter/speechmaker?- able to make up stuff on the fly which included references to that day's horse races and racing society...?

Thanks to Wes for unearthing yet another "early banjoist sighting."  I hadn't run across any mention of "Old Titus" in my own newspaper research.  So it's a welcome discovery and, hopefully, other references to a black songster in the Richmond area will surface.  Having said this, I'm reminded of Tony Thomas's tortuous journey in trying to identify the "original" Picayune Butler.  So caution is advised.  Interestingly, the race track reference rings true, as horse races were a popular venue for vernacular entertainments (ref. Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races") in the antebellum period.   

I'm attaching a photo from my collection of an African American banjo player, probably from the period just after the Civil War.  An inscription on the back reads:  "Old Slave Cabin on Raceland Farm near Reams, Va."  Reams or Reams Station, Virginia was just south of Petersburg.    

I did some more poking around and found that Bob Carlin references Titus and this same article in his book, though he does not print the entire text.
As far as Titus' race I don't think it's a great leap say he's African American. First of all there's the intro where the association between the banjo and Africans in the earlier times is made. He's not given a surname and his shabby appearance reenforces this notion as well. I know the author didn't come right out and say he was black but if he was white and playing in 1818 that would be truly noteworthy.

Reply to Discussion



John Masciale created this Ning Network.

© 2020   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service