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-- Having seen Dink perform a long time ago, my recollection is that Dink's renderings of songs were very improvosational with asides and instrumental breaks and commentaries on the songs, almost like talking blues.  I'd be surprised if he ever played a song the same way twice.  But that is the nature of these songs, borrowing from other songs, making up new verses, doing call and response lyrics.  Rap music is in some ways a natural extension of this tradition.  In the minstrel  genre one can see this tendency in the many topical versions of "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel," all with commentatries on the hot topics of the time.  The way Dink related to his banjo was as though it were his partner in the act instead of mere musical accompaniment, if "act" is the proper word.

Steven Hedgpeth said:

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.

Rob  -  You got to witness Dink Roberts playing? Lucky guy! Some of my favorite musical memories are connected with having the fortune of being in the same place at the same time with players like that.

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.



Ian Bell said:
Rob  -  You got to witness Dink Roberts playing? Lucky guy! Some of my favorite musical memories are connected with having the fortune of being in the same place at the same time with players like that.

Rob Morrison said:  Ian-- I moved to North Carolina for the music thirty some years ago.  It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  There were a zillion iconic musicians here at that time including many whom I got to know.  Everything was very democratic among the musicians, and all of them, no matter how talented or well known were more than happy  to spend time with young guys like myself (yes, I was young once).  The Smithsonian Institution, with the help of Allen Jabbour, put on one particularly spectacular festival in Durham with Dink, Elizabeth Cotton, Doc Watson, Guitqr Slim, Etta Baker, the Gospel Jubilators, and many others.  My new bride and I spent two days going to the shows.  These were some of the best experiences of my life.  Seeing Pete Seeger at college was the only thing I can compare this to.  Having said all that, Dink lived another time and place, altogether.

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 haven't seen the reminiscence I mentioned, check out the Atlantic Monthly, Vol 20 (1867).  It is in an article Stephen C. Foster and Negro Minstrelsy.

 

It is available on Google Books:

http://books.google.com/books?id=ZV4CAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA610&ots...

 

you could read W.T. Lhamon's books about jim crow as an explanation of why this was so popular at this particular time in American History. He also has several versions of the song and prints three plays of Rice's from the period which give good insight into the Jim Crow character

Steven Hedgpeth said:

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. 

Refreshing my post here of Jan. 30, 2011 -- I just got a catalogue from a rare book dealer from whom I have, on rare occasions, bought something.  An entry in this (the 99th catalogue from M&S Rare Books of Providence, RI) an example of the "Back Side of Albany" broadside from the late 1820s is offered (as was the case with the previously mentioned eBay example, for a very high price).  I'll try to paste in a photo of the current catalogue entry, which includes other references:

razyn said:

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).

My copy dates back to 1837. I would love to compare it to the 1826 version.  The performance in 1815 was positively received by African-Americans in the audience. One jumped up and shouted "they done got the nig... right." I should point out that some of the racially discriminating characterizations of blacks started later than 1815, so it would be very interesting to see earlier transcriptions of the lyrics.

I found the internet site that the M&S dealer (Daniel G. Siegel) quotes in his catalogue entry.

http://www.stanransom.com/the-battle-of-plattsburgh.aspx

Looks as if this performer/seller (Stan Ransom) has collected a lot of local, Plattsburgh area sources.

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