Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Folks, would someone post or direct me to an accurate "Jump Jim Crow" performance?

 

I'm teaching a couple American Lit II's this semester, and over the last week our class has been exploring Twain's renditions of dialect in "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" and "A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It").  (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/railton/huckfinn/trustoryhp.html).

 

I think I gave them the impression that Twain invented dialect writing, so I've been trying to redress that by putting Twain's works in various historical contexts, a big one being minstrelsy.  Any overlaps with or differences from "plantation" dialect caricatured in minstrelsy would be significant for us as we discuss dialect writing as an aspect of American literary realism. We've looked at "Jump Jim Crow" as a text, but I would like any interested students to be able to hear a strict version that adheres to the earliest written sources... So far I'm not turning up that on the internet.

 

Sule Greg Wilson's version on YouTube, while I like it because it is (to my ear) so reminiscent of Dink Roberts' and John Snipes' sound, is by his own admission "funkified": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-BYISV9mwo&feature=related

 

If true, the same funkification, I think, applies to the medley on Banjo Clubhouse. Despite his disclaimer, is Wilson's a very close rendition of the sheet music?

 

Melvin Wine's fiddle tune version also probably departs considerably from the original melody, right? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujwe1NTWJ6E&feature=related)

 

Could someone send me a link or file that I could use for those students (and myself)? What would "Jump Jim Crow" have looked and sounded like in 1820 or 1840?  Can there be a definitive version?

 

For my purposes, the literary question is primary. Twain would have found a ready audience for Aunt Rachel in the fans of minstrelsy (or at least those fans of minstrelsy who read the Atlantic Monthly in the 1870s), but is his dialect writing consistent with examples from minstrelsy, sentimentalism (e.g., Stowe)? Is dialect writing simply not a good marker of literary realisim/local color, being inseparable in principle or purpose from the Romantic dialect writing of a Robert Burns (across the pond) or an Abolitionist sentimentalist like Stowe? Is there any trace of Old South nostalgia that would connect it with Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories? Is it an extension, a refinement, a different approach altogether somehow? How different is it from the philological, sociological, and musicological approaches to dialect that would link it with the scientific attitude that was gaining momentum in the late 19th century?

 

I learned to play "Jim Crow Jig" and "Jim Crow Polka" on banjo from the Banjo Clubhouse mp.3's, but don't know how to do "Jump Jim Crow." Additionally, according to the jist of Bob Carlin's The Birth of the Banjo (that Joel Walker Sweeney introduced banjo into minstrelsy, cf. Chapter 4), T.D. Rice's early 1828-32 show would not have even featured a banjo. Please, someone, correct me if that is an incomplete or wrong impression.

 

My students and I would love to hear the piece, even if we can't see the dance. (Does anybody know how to Jump Jim Crow?)

 

Steven Hedgpeth

UNC-Pembroke

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Steven--

 

Bob Flesher has a nice early version of "Jump Jim Crow" tabbed out in his instructional minstral banjo book of 60 tunes.  His version's from one of the early tutors.  I don't remember which one. It's a little tricky to play, but a lot of fun, too.  It's basically 3 variations of the same melody.  If it's not online somewhere, I'd recommend getting the book.  It comes with a CD and has a great selection of tunes.  There are also tunes of the same name with completely different melodies, such as Henry Reed's fiddle version.  Good luck.

It's unclear to me what you are seeking -- something like, an mp3 of the most authentic modern interpretation, of the earliest written imitation, by the Yankee with the best ear for dialect, of the speech patterns of southern plantation blacks?  I'm not sure that would teach anything that needs to be taught.  If you'd like the words (five verses) and music (harmonized for three voices) from Gumbo Chaff's Ethiopian Glee Book (1849), I could copy that for you.  And there's probably piano type sheet music available, e.g. as a free download from the Levy Collection and/or the LoC.  Some version of the text was also almost certainly found in various songsters (words only), but I didn't find it quickly in any that I own.  Not all of them are indexed; and it could be called by some title not beginning with the letter J.

 

Somewhere I have one piece from a series, The Crow Quadrilles; I believe "Jump Jim Crow" is in that series, but isn't the one I have.  Can't say for sure unless I find that.  I bought it long ago, mainly for the cover illustration, and it's wandered off someplace in my library.

 

The earliest published dialect writing for the minstrel stage may be a broadside of "Back Side Albany," circa 1825.  I think I posted the picture of that when it was on eBay some years ago; it would be in the archived photos of the old Tom Briggs Minstrel Banjo forum.  Kind of depends on what you consider the minstrel stage, of course.

Steven-

Re: your interest in early Jim Crow texts-- Cece Conway devotes about 13 pages in her wonderful book "African Echoes in the Appalatia: a study of Folk Traditions" (University of Tennesee Press, 1995) to the origins of the earliest texts and melodies for Jim Crow songs and performances.  Interestingly, some of these sources predate Thomas"Daddy" Rice's first Jim Crow performances 0n Broadway by several years, meaning the song and dance were not unique to Rice's source, the old slave of a stable hand in Kentucky.  Rice's performances are generally considered to mark the birth of minstrelsy.

Cece's primary source for the book, Dink Roberts, lived just a few miles down the road from me in the woods in the 1970's.  I would occasionally see him in public performance in Durham, NC at the Eno Festival.  I had no idea he lived there until her book came out.in 1995.  If you read the book it seems like he lived in another century altogether.

If you are looking for a historical perspective, the first song that we know of done in a black dialect is Back Side of Albany in 1815, about the battle on Lake Champlain.  Coal Black Rose in 1928 also predates Jump Jim Crow. 

Attachments:

Back Side Albany can be found at:

 

https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/20034

 

I agree about the 1815 date mentioned by John, for "Backside Albany," but I don't believe we have the text used in 1815.  The broadside to which I referred was printed in Cincinnati in 1826 (my previous guess was a year off); and it sold on eBay for nearly five grand.  It also contains a short poem about "Green Mountain Boys, dat fear no noise;" and "Hunters of Kentucky," in a sort of dialect (but not black dialect).  If the following link doesn't take you to it, maybe you have to be signed in to Google Grooups to view it.  It's only supposed to be up a little while longer.

 

/web/l25700_2.jpg?gda=wizwST4AAADI2Rz4tRO3DJFlmTZjzN9O-83X69sYN7UHb...

 

 

Since you are familiar with Stephen Railton's online Mark Twain presence at UVA (go Hoos!), you might already know about this, but one of his other related sites is on Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture:

http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/sitemap.html

 

It has a whole section on blackface minstrelsy and UTC:

http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/minstrel/mihp.html

 

You may find something useful there.

 

Brian

Rob,

I have a couple of Flesher's books, Learning Minstrel Banjo and The Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style, but I can't get my eye on "Jump Jim Crow" in either one. "Jim Crow Jig" is #52 in the latter book (of 60 tunes), but that's a different tune, right? Would it be listed under an alternate title?

 

"Jump Jim Crow" is also not in any of the three Weidlich books from Centerstream. (And that exhausts my collection of minstrel banjo tutors!) I do have the lyrics from Bob Carlin, which text we used in class last week, but there's no music.

 

Steven


Rob Morrison said:

Steven--

 

Bob Flesher has a nice early version of "Jump Jim Crow" tabbed out in his instructional minstral banjo book of 60 tunes.  [...]There are also tunes of the same name with completely different melodies, such as Henry Reed's fiddle version.  Good luck.

Thanks, Rob. I keep checking that book out of the library, but mostly for that tuning chart that classifies them L1, L2, H1, H2, H3, and also includes all those one-song tunings. That little chart was a stepping stone to the next level for me. I've read the section on the Garfield and Pateroller lyrics, but need to review it.

 

Yes, Dink Roberts is one of my favorites. I have the Black Banjo Songsters CD and the Field Recorder's Collective CD featuring him. Too bad all the FRC tracks are so short! Why did he play in such short spurts? Just old and worn out?

 

Steven



Rob Morrison said:

Steven-

Re: your interest in early Jim Crow texts-- Cece Conway devotes about 13 pages in her wonderful book "African Echoes in the Appalatia: a study of Folk Traditions" (University of Tennesee Press, 1995) to the origins of the earliest texts and melodies for Jim Crow songs and performances.  Interestingly, some of these sources predate Thomas"Daddy" Rice's first Jim Crow performances 0n Broadway by several years, meaning the song and dance were not unique to Rice's source, the old slave of a stable hand in Kentucky.  Rice's performances are generally considered to mark the birth of minstrelsy.

Cece's primary source for the book, Dink Roberts, lived just a few miles down the road from me in the woods in the 1970's.  I would occasionally see him in public performance in Durham, NC at the Eno Festival.  I had no idea he lived there until her book came out.in 1995.  If you read the book it seems like he lived in another century altogether.

Thanks, Dan'l.

On first glance I noticed that there are a lot more lyrics in some of these versions than in the one I had from Carlin's book, which appears to be the Riley version. Now I see that Carlin just selected 15 of the most interesting (?) of the (gasp) 43 stanzas. And I thought a mere 15 stanzas was pretty tedious.... Surely we aren't meant to sing the chorus after every one? Any ideas on why is this song is so excruciatingly long? Was it that funny?

Steven

Dan'l said:

3 more sheet musics

Thanks, John. That's exactly the historical perspective I was looking for, and I'll pass it along to my students.

 

The impression I'm getting is that Rice's show is considered a landmark event in retrospect because it was so successful that lots of other actors, circus clowns, dancers, etc., subsequently began launching or adapting their own shows to cash in on its popularity, and it snowballed over the next 50 or 60 years.... But, then, given "Back Side of Albany" and other pieces, Rice didn't invent black dialect writing any more than Twain did. I wonder what it was that made Rice such a hit, especially given the stupidity of so many of his lyrics. (A question some of Rice's "colleagues" might have asked...)

 

I guess "you had to be there."

 

Steven



John Masciale said:

If you are looking for a historical perspective, the first song that we know of done in a black dialect is Back Side of Albany in 1815, about the battle on Lake Champlain.  Coal Black Rose in 1928 also predates Jump Jim Crow. 

From what I have read, the main attraction was his dancing in imitation of the slave he saw working. There was a really histerical reminiscence of his first performance. I'm travelling, so I don't have access to my resources on this.

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