Minstrel Banjo

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Roaring River. A Refrain of the Red River Plantation.

After seeing the film "12 Years A Slave", I read Solomon Northup's account (published in 1855 by Miller, Orton & Mulligan) of his kidnapping and being held i...

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Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 12:16pm

After seeing the film "12 Years A Slave", I read Solomon Northup's account (published in 1855 by Miller, Orton & Mulligan) of his kidnapping and being held in slavery in Louisiana.  At the end of the narrative, Northup includes a transcription of this song which he mentions on page 219 of his narrative.  I'm playing from his transcription.

Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 12:20pm

Comment by Strumelia on December 16, 2013 at 1:44pm

The "creation/plantation' lines found their way into Tommy Jarrell's old-time "Ducks on the Mill Pond".

Was there only one verse of lyrics in the book, Paul?

Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 2:16pm
Yes, that's all there was. Yeah, I noticed the TJ allusion. That line also shows up in some versions of Black-Eyed Suzie.
Comment by Strumelia on December 16, 2013 at 2:26pm

Paul this is great!   So cool that you did that.  :)

What tuning did you use for this?  I hear it's in G, as per the fiddle notation.  But it looks like maybe it's awkward to play the 4-tied notes...?

I'm wondering if there is or might have been another banjo tuning in key of G  that would have made this tune more flowing to play on the banjo back then?

Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 2:47pm

I'm playing in G (low bass).  You're right, a little awkward.  I use pull-offs on the 4-tied notes; the B part flows a little better due to the thumb-string picking up the D notes.  (I like the B part...)

Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 3:09pm

As an aside, Northup (a fiddler, and who was "considered the Ole Bull of Bayou Boeuf") makes only one mention of banjo-playing in his narrative:  "[...] many there were among my fellow-bondsmen whose organs of tune were strikingly developed, and who could thumb the banjo with dexterity [...]" (p. 216)

Comment by Strumelia on December 16, 2013 at 3:10pm

I'm trying to imagine myself as a banjo player back then, trying to play this tune along with the fiddler, in G.  The first thing I might do when I hit the clumsy fingering parts would be to twist the tuners to see if I could find another tuning that would make the fingering more natural.  I have to believe banjo players played around with such things back then too. 

Comment by Paul Draper on December 16, 2013 at 3:12pm

Have you tried it in double-G? (i haven't...)

Comment by Strumelia on December 16, 2013 at 3:38pm

No I have not tried it at all- too many jobs today!   :(

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