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.

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Cool....if not, just go go solo, like the rest of us poor souls!

"Old Virginia Never Tires" also shows up later on in the insignia of the 318 Regiment.  http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Heraldry/ArmyDUISSICOA/ArmyHerald...

Elaine Masciale said:

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.


Hey Paul,  that insignia of the 318 regiment is close to the Bell family shield in 2 ways. Both have multiple bells on them, and the motto, "Old Virginia Never Tires" is something like the Bell motto "Never Give Up."

Ian and I, we never give up.

Okay..anybody else clearing de kitchen tonight? Well, I got one...this is what it is after a short time of playing, thinking, and experimenting with it. I'm certain it would change with more gigs, time, and interaction with other players. I do like the key...and the pause before the refrain-not the first time I have seen this element written into a score...but it is deliberate. It certainly is a "core" tune for our genre...one worth looking at.

By the way, as I was looking at "American Memory" in the LOC I noticed how they qualify a hit for any given year...it was by the amount of requests for the old tunes in our modern times. This one was right up there.     

Good motto to have!

Terry Bell / Bell & Son Banjos said:

Hey Paul,  that insignia of the 318 regiment is close to the Bell family shield in 2 ways. Both have multiple bells on them, and the motto, "Old Virginia Never Tires" is something like the Bell motto "Never Give Up."

Ian and I, we never give up.

More support for the meaning behind "Ole Virginny Never tire"  appears on the track "Git Up in the Mornin" on Carson Husdon's CD "I Come From Old Virginny." It includes a re-enactment of a dance scene in which two men try to rouse a sleepy town. A man boldly announces his dancing prowess to the gathered folk. He shouts "...now I'm here to tell ya' that I got me bear's claws and an alligator's teeth and from head to foot I am red hot snappin' turtle! I'm half sawmill on my mama's side and my daddy was a double-breasted catamount. I can whip a James River steamboat. I can outrun, outjump, outwrassle and outdance any man on the Chickahominy River!!" The banjo then fires up and the dance begins. At one point during the dance the man yells out "Ole Virginny never tire!" as the crowd whoops it up. Bravado, indeed. A very fun track on a very fun disc.

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