Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I have a question. I see the term "walk around" in the titles of

several songs listed here. Is a walk around a type of dance?

I enjoy learning the background information as much as I

enjoy the music here.

Thank You

Ron H

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Good question, Ronald.

Something that strikes me as odd is the fact that we here are so obsessed with minstrel-show style banjo, but none of us has ever seen or will ever see a early-period minstrel show.  Yeah I know, there's snippets of blackface entertainment on youtube, and some of have experimented with cork, but none of us knows exactly what a walk-around looked like in the early minstrel period.

We have written descriptions, of course.  The Walk-Around was the concluding dance of a minstrel show, when each character in turn would strut his stuff on center stage, and finish with a definitive stamp of the foot (according to Frank Converse.)  Converse reminisced in 1902 about the early walk-arounds, and whether they would still have appeal all those years later.  The minstrel show had changed considerably.

There are dance manuals from the period, perhaps some descriptions of walk-arounds might be found there.

It was the finale and high point of a Minstrel show. The Hans Nathan Book gives a more detailed description on page 232 and 233. I'll type it outwhen I have time unless someone beats me to it. The whole company might get a piece of this one by singing alternate stanzas, joined by all for the chorus. A lot of "steppin' out." Dan Emmett wrote many while employed with Bryant's Minstrels.

I just today came across a book online I hadn't found in searching this site:  "Negro Minstrel: A complete guide to Negro Minstrelry" by Jack Haverly, 1902.  Here's the link:  Link to Book  Found it via the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's holdings.

I didn't get to go through it thoroughly, but all the way at the end, around pg 129 is reference to a "cake walk", a term I'm more familiar with.  The cool thing about this book is how it tells every detail of how to put on a minstrel show, from how to make the cork face paint to the dance steps, to the jokes and songs.  It looks like the author compiled it from other sources as names and copyright dates pop up after titles etc. Very interesting, al-be-it many years after mid-19th century.  But, the author did live during the mid-19th century.  Now, all that being said, I could be preaching to a choir that has full knowledge of this book and its contents haha.  

More on Haverly:  Haverly - wikipedia


I think the walk-around survived and was last seen on the late, great, Don Cornelious' TV show - "Soul Train".


Walkarounds frequently have a first part which is somewhat stately and subdued and a second part which can be played wild and crazy with many notes.  I have been told that the dancer struts his stuff, poses, mugs, and generally shows his swagger in the first part and then breaks into a wild eccentric dance in the second part.  Eccentric dance is essentally what Ray Bolger did as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz movie and what Jimmie Cagney did on Broadway.  Elements of minstrelsy are still alive and well even now.  The contrast of the two styles is very appealing and comical. 

Thanks folks for the info. Now I will share with you... Someone said its likely that none of us has seen a real minstrel show...well I'm 67 and when I was a kid around 1953 or 54 The Kiwanis or Rotary club in my

hometown of Elk City Oklahoma held a full blackface minstrel show at the Westland Theater. I remember it pretty well and at the end they did a march of sorts that paraded offstage through the audience then out to the backstage area. (guess that was a walk around) Mission accomplished...I LEARNED Something thanks to my family here on this site......Thanks To everyone


Ron H

My dad's Kiwanis club in Hopkinsville, KY was doing an annual minstrel show in the same period.  He was embarrassed to black up, but he was in a quartet singing Foster songs, so he had to.  Only certain characters were in blackface -- mainly the end men, male vocalists and a few instrumental musicians.  We moved from there to Mississippi in 1954 (I was 15), and it was not still being done there.  I believe in Tennessee it lasted until about 1960 or so in Gallatin, maybe Springfield -- anyway that central/western part of both states, north of Nashville and near our former Hopkinsville, KY area.  In some towns it may have been Rotarians or Lions, not necessarily Kiwanians.  However I also found this from McCook, Nebraska: 


There was a guy called Harold "Happy" Kellems who went around the lower Ohio/Mississippi Valley, etc. with the booklets of repertoire for the Interlocutor and end men, taught some local person how (and when) to play the bones, maybe some basic soft-shoe and shuffle dancing routines.  In fact I learned some of the moves, at the time.  The Interlocutor was Hopkinsville mayor "Dutch" Lackey.  I dimly recall that Happy Kellems is documented in the dissertation of the TN state folklorist, Robert Cogswell... may be mistaken about that, but I'm sure we discussed him when that study was in progress, circa 1974.  I think Kellems's day job was as a circus clown, and he helped some of these service clubs produce minstrel shows as a sideline.  I don't think stroke style banjo was part of the expectations of a 1950s audience.

There are a few c.1903 clips of cakewalks that resemble the description of 'walkarounds' on youtube, some from the Library of Congress:


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