Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Let's put a little focus on this tune for a few days. Perhaps folks have some fresh insight into this old tune (1832) and it's history.  "old Virginny never tire". What does that mean?  And Cato Moore...lazily, I have not looked that up yet. Who is it?

I hope we have some folks that will try this tune this weekend. Also...any references? I have only heard Clarke  B.

Views: 730

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Context....so, where and how would a tune like this be performed? My impression is that it was common to have an act in between acts at the theatre...and also in a circus. Did the early blackface performers sustain an eveing by themselves, or was is a part of another event? Also, do you think it was played on the banjo..or piano? This is the 1830's were are talking about. 

I would say it was played on banjo, and here is why:


Thanks John. What is a "pleasure garden"? 

I don't see this tune listed on the popular playbill appendix by Maher, but that begins in 1843.

This tune might have been played as a solo / duet in the places mentioned by John's link? It did not seem that large ensembles (4 or more) were the norm for the 1830's.

I asked Elaine, and then googled it.  I have two points of agreement.  A pleasure garden is a public park/garden that served as a venue for entertainment.


Going back just a little further...is there ever a reference to GW Dixon's rendition of Coal Black Rose? That might have been with piano. 1829.

Pleasure gardens (I tend to think of Vauxhall Gardens in London - guess I read enough Victorian novels, huh?) were popular sites to gather, primarily in the evenings.  They started out free, with food and drink for sale, then went to a charged admission.  There would have been landscaped paths (some with shady places to linger with someone of the other sex!) Prostitutes as well as royalty frequented them.  Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen was most likely on the same order.  There was musical entertainment, hot air balloon launches, rope walkers, gambling, food and drinks, and fireworks.  New York had pleasure gardens - I'm sure other large cities in the US did too.   They were definitely the place to see and be seen.

Cato Moore -I'm thinking a generic Negro name.  Cato shows up as one of the "slave names."  Moore possibly because it rhymes with shore?  I haven't been able to find anyone in particular by that name.

Old Virginny never tires.  Every reference I can find to this phrase gives me the same idea, that it literally means what it says.  "Old Virginia"/Old Virginny never gets tired - Virginians keep on going.  It seems a bit of a brag - we never tire out.  I found the phrase quoted in various contexts: referring to a Southern gentleman's hospitality at 9 pm, Virginia's production of bituminous coal (which was extensive), the conversation and laughter of two old Virginian gentlemen, a horse pulling competition.     Perhaps a comment on the order of "Texans always move 'em" by Robert E Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness.  The phrase "Old Virginny never tires" is also quoted with reference to Virginia's units in the Civil War.  The odd thing, of course, is that the setting of the song is supposed to be Kentucky!  John's thought it that the slaves in the song could have come from Virginia, which would have been logical, via the Cumberland Gap.

Perhaps "Old Virginny never tires" makes more sense if we link it with "Clare de Kitchen." One reason to clear the kitchen of equipment, move the tables, etc. would be to sing and dance.  There are many examples of the master's family and guests going to the kitchen to be entertained by the slaves, so we know dances can be held there.  My interpretation of the concept is that Virginny slaves can dance all night - they never tire.  Dancing all night until the next day shows up in many songs, so that's a normal concept.  One songster I found had an illustration of an old African American man dancing with a little boy in the firelight on the kitchen floor.  Quite a few references mention the dance of "Clare de Kitchen."  Of course, they most likely refer to the minstrel show, but it would be logical to dance during a number that describes a kitchen dance.  Look at the actions - we sweep the floor to clean it and then form a ring, which could either be for singing or dancing (or most likely both).  You may have a couple perform in the center, or you could have a circle dance.

 I noticed Wikipedia mentions sweeping the floor with a broom as a mumming tradition to make it a public space, which would be another valid possibility. Here's the quote:" Musicologist Dale Cockrell sees echoes of European mumming traditions in "Clare de Kitchen". In traditional mumming plays, the participants first entered a private household. One mummer, usually with a broom and sometimes with blackened face, would then clear an area and declare the space to now be public, for the use of the players.[2] "Clare de Kitchen", Cockrell argues, moves this public/private space to the theatre."       I'm not too sure that moving the space to the theater is the main reason for the broom in the song.  If we're looking at a song that is meant to be a Plantation song, one that supposedly depicts life on the plantation, I think the most obvious explanation is the best.  If you're going to use the kitchen for entertainment, you will need to sweep it.  If it has symbolic overtones, I find that as additional layers of meaning, rather than the primary purpose.  One question, of course, is how familiar would Southern American slaves be with European mumming tradtions?  I know there were/are Mummers Societies in America, but I'm not sure how much they still had in common with earlier European customs or if slaves were part of them.


Thanks Elaine...that was good stuff. This tune was before the "plantation song" was really happening, right? I love these words.

Okay...what about.."To take a julep sangaree"?

Thanks, Tim, good catch on the time/staging.  The Wikipedia quote on theaters got me thinking full shows, not the circus or solo act interludes of the 1830s.

The julep sangaree is a bit troublesome.  There is at least one other story where a julep sangree is drunk.  In both cases, the location is the South.  

That said, all the main references I can find show them as different drinks.  The distinguishing ingredient of a julep is mint, while that of a sangaree is nutmeg.  In my mind those two just don't go together.  A julep is a liquor (brandy, gin, whiskey, etc), mint, sugar, water, and ice.  It was often embellished with fruit - either garnishes of strawberries or pineapple and may have peach brandy added as well.  A sangaree, which was originally from the West Indies, can be made with wine, port wine, brandy, sherry, gin, or ale.  Sugar and ice are added, the mixture is shaken, and nutmeg is grated on top.  This can be garnished with lemon.  I have heard that they are both very cooling drinks, with the julep winning in cooling power.  

Period recipes can be found here:  http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/.  Sangarees are showing up in modern mixology, but, as always, we want to look at period sources.  Some modern sources tend to equate a sangaree with sangria, but the American sangaree didn't go that way and was distinctly different.  There is some thought that the West Indian sangaree may have gone the sangaria route.

Elaine, a light bulb went on in my head!! Old Virginny never tire. I've also wondered about that line. I love singing that song. Anyway, years ago, our old time band consisting of fiddle, banjo, washtub, harmonica, and guitar got a gig at a REAL fancy shmancy club-restaraunt place. We walked in wearing our Hee Haw garb and went, "Oops." But the family of the bride came up and were so excited to have us. So around midnight we started the Virginia Reel, demonstrated by the harmonica player who was a nut. This was way before I was aware of any kind of minstrel anything - there he was out on the floor in his tophat doin' his thing. The people just did NOT want to stop, many of them bent over huffing and puffing, I was fiddling - FOR 38 MINUTES straight!!!! I'll never forget it. There's no end to the old Virginny.

Elaine and I are dance masters as well as musicians.  In reading descriptions of balls back in the day, it was common for a dance to go all night, and to have some of the more vigorous dances as the last ones, to show that you still had energy.  It is interesting to see that things haven't changed all that much.  Virginny never tires.

So it might be fair to say, the spirit of Virginia in the gathering ( be it their current or former home )  has the spirit to dance and carry on all night?

Okay..one more. What does the Bull frog represent? Or just take it at face value for imagery....you see this again and again

Reply to Discussion



John Masciale created this Ning Network.

© 2022   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service