Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Mid 19th Century Minstrel Tambourine

A great reproduction made by Dave Kirchner in Maryland. Goat skin head.

Views: 384

Comment by Strumelia on November 6, 2018 at 11:00pm

Yes, I was about to ask the same question.    :)

Comment by Richard Graham on November 7, 2018 at 1:33pm

I'm finishing up my book on African-derived drumming in the 18th and 19th century, after it's done, I will likely publish another shorter book or journal article on an entire complex of frame drumming that coalesced in 18th century London as a sort of Big Bang that had repercussions in Irish, US, and Caribbean music. So that material is spread out through dozens of books, newspapers, and government documents. But to present a condensed version, 18th century London was the locus of an incredible transcultural movement that was one of the many building blocks for minstrel tambourine. It was a synthesis of African and Italian-derived hand techniques that provided the lion's share of it.  Let's see if I can upload Dale's tambourine manual to give y'all a sense of what I speak of here,   

Comment by Richard Graham on November 7, 2018 at 1:35pm
Comment by Richard Graham on November 7, 2018 at 1:48pm

Joseph Dale's tambourine manual is in old English so it is a bit tough to read, but none the less fascinating. The tambourinists who created this style were a group of expatriate African-Americans, African-Caribbean, and African musicians. They were all musicians in various European army bands, and also served as teachers for English women who wished to learn the finer art of tambourine playing. Their performances were as kinetic as they were musical, and Dale was careful enough to include some of the choreography. The gentleman depicted here is John Fraser, a tambourinist with the Coldstream Guards circa 1790. The special tambourine he's holding, likely a Monzani or Dale model, was equipped with a bone bushing to facilitate spinning of the drum. It's hard to see in this portrait, but I have a clearer one in my archives. FYI, I doubt if any of the minstrel era tambourines had handles. In many of the extant depictions the players thumb is mere inserted into a similar thumb hole. 2114d34c89aa7d7700eb98a2907603df.jpg

Comment by Richard Graham on November 7, 2018 at 2:00pm

It is also important to understand that the tambourine is an incredibly versatile instrument that has many different playing techniques and many specific models. Important variants include how the instrument is held and played, the ratio of jingle sound to head sound, the size and pitch of the head, the metallic composition of the jingles, etc. Tambourine styles change and evolve in each tradition, and there are discernible differences in playing styles even in the same culture. For traditional African-American tambourine, I've learned two very different styles from Bessie Jones of the Georgia Sea isles and Rosalie Washington (lady Tambourine) of New Orleans.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dGamWaYcLg

Comment by Richard Graham on November 7, 2018 at 2:02pm

Rosalie on Steve Harvey's show!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eyrGSVG2lk 

Comment by Mark Weems on November 7, 2018 at 9:56pm

Richard, thank you for the link to the Tambourine Tutor. I had no idea that something like that was published in London in 1800. I just don't know how much that represents what was going on in folk tambo playing in early America. Somehow I doubt the gentleman below holding his 20 inch tambourine on his leg studied "Dale's Instruction for the Tambourine" or would have even wanted to.

Comment by John Masciale on November 8, 2018 at 10:36am

There are a lot of sheet music covers showing the tambourinist punching the tambourine in a side to side motion.

Comment by Strumelia on November 8, 2018 at 12:22pm

John, so true.. lots of period American illustrations showing a very animated punching technique used in minstrel performances, often with quite large tambourines.

I think that list of music published in London by Dale is quite telling as to the kind of music of the time that he was working on and perhaps intending future tambourine sales for. I'm seeing various early (1800-1830ish) pianoforte arrangements which mention tambourine in a colorful way (Gypsy references in the title for example) or else which actually call for a tambourine accompaniment. I'm guessing that shortly before the banjo was introduced to European white audiences by Sweeney in the 1840s, the tambourine was a favored quaint rustic ethnic folk instrument that was colorfully incorporated into formal music publications intended for entertaining white audiences in concert settings. 

Dale's intro speaks of his patented tambourine invention (was this a bushing or handle device that facilitates the spinning of the tambourine for more elaborate playing effects/flourishes?) and how his invention perfects the tambourine so that it becomes "an instrument of science to be performed upon in concert".  

Interesting how he describes (almost unrecognizably, but there it is for sure) thumb rolls done with the middle (2nd) finger, in two directions. Some things never change!

He instructs "carrying the hand over the gingles so as to make them run round"- that clearly means either making the zils spin (soundlessly?-not likely) or running the hand directly across or against the zils to make them sound in some way. He's not describing merely hitting the hand on the skin head near the zils (he does that elsewhere).

Comment by Tom Taggart on November 8, 2018 at 1:04pm

Interesting. I am another person who didn't realize how versatile the tambo can be.


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