Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hey,can anyone start playing some 1700s banjo songs?That would be something new,instead of all 1800s music.Like some Rev war stuff?What do yall think?That sounds interesting.Is anything or any sorces available?

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It focuses on the 19th century because the hide-bound Civil War reenactors who are the backbone of this hobby only want to play things on a banjo that they can prove (to other hide-bound CW reenactors) were intended to be played on a banjo; and that limits their tiny brains to the repertoire found in banjo tutors printed by 1865. At which time, the very concept of a banjo tutor was about 17 years old; and the repertoire therein was confined largely to that of entertainers who made a living by mocking African-Americans. (As distinguished from the broader community who mocked Irish-Americans, the PA Dutch, women, the handicapped, our military opponents -- and anyone else who could be grouped, and then mocked.)

Anyway, defining the research task that way narrows one's musical field to the aural equivalent of the blink of an eye.

But if you mean, do we know anything about earlier-than-Briggs music that was popular in America... yes. IF you don't care what people think about your playing it on a banjo, there's a ton of sacred music (some of it quite folky and droll); and a half ton of traditional secular music, transcribed mostly for fiddle, fife, and keyboard players. And a few pounds of other early American music.

Here's a link to a well-informed couple who specialize in that era:

http://www.colonialmusic.org/d&gstud.htm

Dick
Is the question aimed toward any revolutionary war music to be played on banjo, or more specifically, banjo music from the 1700s? Well, yea, I would expect there to be music in America before 1800, how much of it was played on the banjo, I dont know and I speculate how many banjo tunes were played by people who would record them in notation, or even make note of the tune enough to recreate it. Mostly, these people would be white. Since the 1700 banjo has been very closely related with slaves, and not until around the 1820s and 1830s did banjos gain widespread popularity among whites, I would expect very little in the way of being able to accurately understand this music. All this being said, I could be dead wrong.

However, maybe this deduction could explain why hide-bound CW reenactors rely mostly upon banjo tutors to learn music. Simply, there was very little music circulating among white people, who could record it for us to find nowadays. Sure enough, slaves were playing banjos by at least 1754 in Maryland, with whites likely straggling behind, imitating slaves when a plantation owner was more tolerant and allowed whites to pick up the banjo.

I have seen little or no resources describing banjo music of the 1700s. I would love to find something because I am very interested in the mimetic cultural exchange occurring on American plantations, in the Appalachian mountains, and northern cities throughout the banjo's development in North America. Further research of 1700 banjo tunes may elucidate how these tunes and banjos traveled across America, and inthat, maybe divulge some of the tunes themselves.

However, a good attempt at recreating what banjo players may have been playing during that time, would be to follow the advice of razyn and just play the tunes that were around during that period, on a banjo. Also, looking into lumberjack, rail team and waterboat songs would be fruitful, at least in recreating Appalachian and Mississippian banjo tunes of 1700.
I think Tom asked if "anyone (can) start playing some 1700's banjo songs," and if any scores are available.

Unfortunately, the gourd banjo music of that era was poorly documented, owing to negative racial attitudes by Whites toward the African-American players of these instruments.

The only currently known documented banjo tune from the 1700's is "Pompey Ran Away." Check out the video of Tim Twiss playing it in the video section here.
Wow!What a response by asking one question! I guess the best thing to do is look for any 1700s music and try to see how it sounds for the banjo.I'm guessing that the popular songs of the day were played on the banjo sometime and somewhere??
Dan'l said:
...since 5-string hoop banjos didn't become a norm until well into the 1800s after some professional white players reinvented the instrument in that form.

But there's the 1810-ish painting of Sy Gilliat playing what looks like a fully developed hoop banjo. I guess there's some debate about whether it has four or five strings. Anyway, of the two oldest good representations of a banjo in America, 50% of them (this one) look like hoop banjos, not gourd ones. Sy Gilliat himself was better known as a fiddler -- or, really, a regular violinist -- playing for cotillions and balls hosted by the Gov. of Virginia, when it was still a colony. See entry 510 on p. 57 of this book, assuming Google Books allows it:

http://books.google.com/books?id=bYeoWTHTDpQC&pg=PA57

I must confess I haven't actually read that book, but I have corresponded with one of its authors (about Sy Gilliat). The painting itself is well known; but the fact that the player is also well known is omitted from the references to it in a couple of recent art museum exhibition catalogs (for shows in which this painting has appeared).

If Sy Gilliat played a hoop banjo in 1810, why ever would he not have played the repertoire he had been using (for some decades) in the rest of his life? And that was not limited to "Pompey ran away," nor to anything African. He played popular tunes (at the very least, dance tunes) of the day.

Once upon a time I also wrote up "Monkey Simon" at some length -- for the Tom Briggs forum, and also posted it on the Yahoo "Black Banjo" forum. He was best known as a jockey, but he also played the banjo and sang -- and white people of considerable distinction (such as Andrew Jackson, later a US President) listened to him. It was reported by a white contemporary that one of his songs made fun of Gen. Jackson (whose horse the said Simon had beaten in a race). Pretty much the opposite of what is usually spoofed in "minstrel" banjo repertoire, as such.

I think it would be peachy if music that was generally current on these shores, before blackface minstrelsy penetrated Amtrak's northeastern corridor, were deemed acceptable (and playable) by the denizens of this forum. But I won't hold my breath until I see those videos popping up.
Tom,

From - Banjar by George Wunderlich - "In that same year (1756), a white man named Mr. Holliday who lived near Easton, Maryland, wrote about his desire and attempts to play the banjo. He was the first white man that we have evidence of attempting to play the instrument, and he was also the first to make it and American export. Mr. Holliday had one of his slaves on his plantation build a banjo for him to send to a family in England with instructions about how to play it."

Kind regards,
Chris Ownby
Riley's Flute Melodies, reprint 1973, was a book of common songs that was printed in 1814 and reprinted in 1820. Some familiar tunes found in it include:

Money Musk
Come Haste to the Wedding
Irish Washerwoman
St. Patrick's Day
Fisher's Hornpipe
Rickett's Hornpipe
Durang's Hornpipe

They all pretty much sound like the versions we know today as transcribed from Riley's. I used to play St. Patrick's day on the site's gourd banjo while on of the musician's played whistle when I worked at Historic Fort Snelling. You had to play the melodies pretty straight and only grab the 5th string if it was used as a melody note. None of this constantly on the 5th string that you hear today. It's only speculation on my part, but that may be why minstrel style is so sparing in it's use of the 5th string as a drone. You couldn't, if you wanted to play the popular music of the day.

If you can share PDF files on this site, I'll scan some of the transcriptions I made from Riley's. If I recall correctly, most of the tunes were in D, which sets well on a banjo tuned GCGBD. St. Patrick's Day is very close to the version found in George Weilich's book. I'll also share a link to a list of the tune's in Rileys on the next post.
http://www.colonialdancing.org/Easmes/Biblio/B042437.htm
Just click on the 100 across from pages to get a list of the tunes in Rileys.
Brent W Browning said:
Riley's Flute Melodies, reprint 1973, was a book of common songs that was printed in 1814 and reprinted in 1820. Some familiar tunes found in it include: Money Musk
Come Haste to the Wedding
Irish Washerwoman
St. Patrick's Day
Fisher's Hornpipe
Rickett's Hornpipe
Durang's Hornpipe

They all pretty much sound like the versions we know today as transcribed from Riley's. I used to play St. Patrick's day on the site's gourd banjo while on of the musician's played whistle when I worked at Historic Fort Snelling. You had to play the melodies pretty straight and only grab the 5th string if it was used as a melody note. None of this constantly on the 5th string that you hear today. It's only speculation on my part, but that may be why minstrel style is so sparing in it's use of the 5th string as a drone. You couldn't, if you wanted to play the popular music of the day.

If you can share PDF files on this site, I'll scan some of the transcriptions I made from Riley's. If I recall correctly, most of the tunes were in D, which sets well on a banjo tuned GCGBD. St. Patrick's Day is very close to the version found in George Weilich's book. I'll also share a link to a list of the tune's in Rileys on the next post.
Just click on the "100" on pages to get a list of the songs in Rileys
This has already been addressed by Brent's interesting note about the Riley Flute book, (I'd love to see that sometime) but, as an unrepentant tune-hound I can't resist throwing in my two cents worth.
A number of the tunes in the old banjo books are Scots/Irish fiddle tunes that were popular in the 18th century on both sides of the ocean, although I suspect that it may not have occurred to anyone - black or white - to play them on the banjo in that era. Most of these tunes are still part of living fiddle traditions where I live (in Ontario) today.
They include:
Monymusk (aka Darkey Money Musk in Briggs)
Fisher's Hornpipe (aka Darkey Fishers Hornpipe in Briggs)
Bottle of Brandy (is called Bully For You in Converse '65)
Highland Fling (Monymusk again - under an alias in Winner's '83)
Robinson Crusoe or Rogues March (winner's '83)
The above is a real Rev. War tune - The British army at least, used this tune for drumming soldiers to punishment - the melody was later co-opted for an early 19th music hall song about "Poor old Robinson Crusoe"
Our forefathers came from a variety of countries, and brought with them the songs they sang before their journeys began. As an example, Money Musk is an Americanization of the town of Mony Musk, Scotland. Many old songs would have come here. The Streets Of Laredo is a variant of an old English song, The Dying Rake. I believe several of our late 19th century cowboy songs originated as sea chanteys in the British Isles. Tracing which songs are "period correct" isn't too hard. Proving that some of them were played on banjoes may be difficult-if we choose to let that be a stumbling block. It seems to me that as songs were picked up by slaves and freed slaves, they would have played songs they heard around them. It is likely that at least some slave musicians would have been pressed into service to play for dances on the plantations they worked on, and perhaps were encouraged to learn songs that were favorites of the master & his family. Some of these old songs are actually still in the folk traditions, such as The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn, and The Devil & The Farmer's Wife. Many of the ballads collected by Cecil Sharpe and Francis Child date back at least a few hundred years, and are still in the repertoire of singers such as Jean Ritchie. They may well have evolved from their 15th or 16th century forms.
It was the two World Wars and the coming of radio, modern roads, and automobiles that really made changes. My wife recalls older folks in her family speaking a version of English long forgotten in big cities. It was more modern than the King James Bible, but on that line. She's only 57, (don't tell her I gave out her age!),these old timers were still alive in the late '50's & early '60's. It may be that stroke style is the earliest banjo style we can document, primarily through the tutors of the mid 19th century, but we can use that as a starting point. And try to trace what can be traced.
Thanks Ian for your comments. Rougues March was also used in the US Army for punishment. Other tunes that were duty calls were Peas on a Trencher and Molly Put the Kettle On. Depending on how many former military men you had living in your community,they might have been popular or NOT popular since military service was not necessarily an honorable thing but often a desperate measure of last resort when you couldn't find any other work in those times. Follow the link I posted earlier for a list of tunes from Riley's.

Ian Bell said:
This has already been addressed by Brent's interesting note about the Riley Flute book, (I'd love to see that sometime) but, as an unrepentant tune-hound I can't resist throwing in my two cents worth.
A number of the tunes in the old banjo books are Scots/Irish fiddle tunes that were popular in the 18th century on both sides of the ocean, although I suspect that it may not have occurred to anyone - black or white - to play them on the banjo in that era. Most of these tunes are still part of living fiddle traditions where I live (in Ontario) today.
They include:
Monymusk (aka Darkey Money Musk in Briggs)
Fisher's Hornpipe (aka Darkey Fishers Hornpipe in Briggs)
Bottle of Brandy (is called Bully For You in Converse '65)
Highland Fling (Monymusk again - under an alias in Winner's '83)
Robinson Crusoe or Rogues March (winner's '83)
The above is a real Rev. War tune - The British army at least, used this tune for drumming soldiers to punishment - the melody was later co-opted for an early 19th music hall song about "Poor old Robinson Crusoe"

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