Good Bye My Honey I'm Gone

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Good Bye My Honey I’m Gone”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  C.H. Baker

Publisher:  W.A. Evans

Year & Place:  1885, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-490

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0490

Basic Description

This lithograph depicts a well-dressed African American woman, valise and African American boy in tow, boldly walking away from two men: one white, in a policeman’s uniform and holding a billy club to his mouth, and the other black, leaning on the officer and pointing in the woman’s direction.  To the immediate right of the woman three chickens fly away and, in the distance, a sailing ship exits right.  Behind the men are the traceries of two, cottage-like buildings. Gigantic shaving razors are noticeable in the dress and pants’ pockets of the woman and boy, respectively.

Personal Description

Despite the peripheral chaos (i.e., the scattering chickens and expressions of alarm or puzzlement on the men’s and boy’s faces) and the embedded threats of violence (i.e., the razors), there’s a strange calm pervading this image that’s largely located in the fleeing woman.  Is it her pleasant smile, her shapely figure and full bosom, or her Herculean arms and corporeal confidence that assuage what is clearly a scene of domestic dissolution? Her floral corsages, lightning-like ribbons and ruffles, and leather lace-ups sartorially empower her, so one wonders why the artist felt the additional need to fall back on the razor-toting Negro stereotype?

Reality Check


Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Mary Eliza Mahoney, America’s first black graduate nurse, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 7, 1845.  The eldest of three siblings, Mahoney attended the Phillips Street School in Boston.

At the age of twenty, Mary Mahoney began working as a nurse.  Supplementing her low income as an untrained, practical nurse, Mahoney took on janitorial duties at the New England Hospital for Women and Children: a state-of-the-art medical facility run solely by female physicians.

In 1878, Mary Mahoney was accepted into the New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program.  During her training, Mahoney participated in mandatory sixteen-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time.  Days not requiring ward duty involved attending day-long lectures while simultaneously devoting time to her studies.  Completing the rigorous sixteen-month program, Mahoney was among the three graduates out of the forty students who began the program and the only African American awarded a diploma.

Mary Mahoney worked as a nurse for the next four decades.  During her forty-year career she attracted a number of private clients who were among to most prominent Boston families.   A deeply religious person, the diminutive five-foot tall, ninety-pound Mahoney devoted herself to private nursing due to the rampant discrimination against black women in public nursing at the time.

Mary Mahoney was widely recognized within her field as a pioneer who opened the door of opportunity for many black women interested in the nursing profession.  When the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) was organized in New York in 1908, Mahoney was asked to give the welcoming address.  Following her speech at the 1909 NACGN Convention at Boston, Mahoney was made a lifetime member, exempted from dues, and elected chaplain.  Admitted to New England Hospital for care on December 7, 1925, Mahoney succumbed to breast cancer on January 4, 1926 at the age of eighty-one.

I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky

I'll send you down a letter from de sky

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  Endicott

Publisher:  Hitchcock’s Music Store

Year & Place:  1884, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-620

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0620

Basic Description

A razor-wielding man is, ostensibly, being thrust upward into the sky by a high-kicking mule in this lithograph.  Residual disarray from the “ass-kicking” is reflected in several chickens, helplessly fluttering in the clouds.  The sheet music’s highly decorative title is further embellished (in the word “I’ll”) by a diminutive, banjo-playing mule, dressed in an Elizabethan blouse and plumed head gear.

Personal Description

The operative sensibility is chaos, exemplified in the unbridled and out-of-control mule, the wild-eyed, razor-toting black man, and the fluttering chickens.  Still, the man’s uplifted razor is treated almost like a military standard or banner, as if signifying what the entire scene is really all about: base weaponry and sleazy trauma.

Reality Check


Frank Hart (aka “Black Dan”) (1858-1908)

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, endurance foot-racing gripped the United States and Great Britain.  The participants in these events were called pedestrians, and they were free to run or walk around an indoor track for as long as they could stay on their feet.  The top pedestrians survived on less than four hours of sleep a day and slept on cots inside the track’s oval.  Fans avidly followed these six-day contests and, frequently, placed bets on prospective winners.

In the early 1880s, an African American pedestrian stood atop this international craze.  His given name was Fred Hichborn but he changed it to Frank Hart when he turned professional.  Hart was born in Haiti in 1858, immigrated to the United States in the 1870s, and soon thereafter began working in a grocery store in Boston Massachusetts.  As the pedestrian craze swept the nation, he began competing in local events.  Hart competed in the international Astley Belt competitions, and set an American record when he won the Rose Belt in New York’s Madison Square Garden in December 1879.

Hart won the prestigious O’Leary Belt competition on April 10, 1880, smashing the world record after covering 565 miles in six days of racing.  He earned about $17,000 in prize money for that competition.  As the race ended, he waved an American flag to thousands of cheering fans who packed Madison Square Garden.   Another African American, William Pegram of Boston finished second with 540 miles.

Hart earned the nickname “Black Dan” from his association with Daniel O’Leary, an Irish immigrant and sports promoter who financed Hart during his professional career.  In later years, Hart played professional baseball in a Chicago Negro league. Hart died in Chicago in 1908.



Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Good Enough!”

Composer:  Rollin Howard

Engraver: Clayton’s

Lithographer:  Chicago Lithographing

Publisher:  Lyon & Healy

Year & Place:  1871, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-498

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0498

Basic Description

A dancing, high-kicking couple are shown in an interior space.  Upon closer inspection it appears as if the woman is wearing a nineteenth-century styled slip and petticoats, which is further suggested by the hoop-skirt frame sitting on the table behind her, and in the shelving and racks in the room holding linen, socks, and possibly other forms of apparel.  Both the man and the woman wear big, black brogans and garishly striped stockings.

Personal Description

The abandonment which is expressed in this couple’s dance moves, along with her undressed state, his clown-like outfit, and their shared gnome-like, diabolical features, all conveyed a kind of idiocy and madness surrounding African Americans that, in the post-Reconstruction era, contributed towards the complete dismantling of what few legal rights and social courtesies black still had circa 1871.

Reality Check


John Jones (1816-1879) & Mary Richardson Jones (1819-1910)

John Jones – tailor, writer, and politician – was born in 1816 in Green City, North Carolina to a German father and an African American mother.  Born free, he taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business, and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.

While working as a tailor in Memphis, Tennessee in 1841, John Jones met Mary Jane Richardson, the daughter of a free African American blacksmith.  Although the Richardson family shortly thereafter moved to Alton, Illinois, Jones remained in Memphis for three years to complete the requirements of his apprenticeship.  In 1844 Jones moved to Alton and married Mary Jane Richardson.  Although they were free, both John and Mary obtained certificates of freedom, posted a $1,000 bond in Madison County, and gained the privileges of traveling and living in the state.

After moving to Chicago in 1845, the highly skilled tailor soon had a thriving enterprise, catering to many of Chicago’s elites.  By 1860 Jones’s business was one of the city’s oldest and most financially solvent, having accumulated between $85,000 and $100,000.  The great Chicago fire of 1871 affected his wealth, yet he was left with enough money to be called one of the country’s wealthiest African Americans and Chicago’s undisputed black leader.

Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago.  His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.  He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.  Mary Richardson Jones was also a suffragette, and leaders in the suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony stayed in the Jones’ home when visiting Chicago.

Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois.  Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to overturn Illinois laws that denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court.  His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights.  Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time.  In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.  While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished segregated schools.

Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.  John Jones died on May 31, 1879, and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois.  Mary Richardson Jones died in 1910, and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery.

Shew Fly!

Shew Fly!

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Shew Fly!”

Composer:  George Thorne & Rollin Howard

Engraver:  J. Frank Giles

Publisher:  White, Smith & Perry

Year & Place:  1869, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-409

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0409

Basic Description

This engraving features a solitary male figure, physically gesturing in such a way as to suggest his effort to escape a large, wasp-like insect to the left.  A word balloon with the expression “SHOO FLY” issues from the man’s mouth.  His big-collared shirt, long-tailed jacket, and striped/patched trousers recall the clothing typically worn by nineteenth-century minstrels.

Personal Description

Although the artist for this cover is not as technically polished as several others in this blog, his attempt at a persuasive African American depiction is laudable.  However, like so many of the black figures typically represented on covers, this one also emphasizes the body-in-motion, with angled limbs and twisted torsos carrying their own subliminal messages and allusions.

Reality Check


Robert Morris (1823-1882)

Robert Morris became one of the first black lawyers in United States after being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847.  Morris was born in Salem, Massachusetts on June 8, 1823.   At an early age, Morris had some formal education at Master Dodge’s School in Salem.  With the agreement of his family, he became the student of Ellis Gray Loring, a well known abolitionist and lawyer.  By the early 1850s, Robert Morris was appointed a justice of the peace and was admitted to practice before U.S. district courts.  He occasionally served as a magistrate in courts in Boston and nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Vehemently opposed to slavery, he worked with William Lloyd Garrison, Ellis Loring and Wendell Philips and others to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  In 1851 Morris, with the help of Lewis Hayden, managed to remove from the courthouse a newly arrested fugitive slave Shadrack and helped him to get to Canada and freedom.  Arrests were made but Morris and the others were acquitted of the charges.

With the onset of the Civil War, Morris welcomed President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers but objected to the enlistment of African Americans unless they received fair and equal treatment and were offered positions as officers.  He helped in the recruitment of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially sanctioned African American unit in the U.S. Army but he continued to speak out against discrimination against them and other black soldiers.  Robert Morris died in Boston on December 12, 1882.


Young Eph's Lament

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Young Eph’s Lament”

Composer:  J.B. Murphy

Engraver:  W.E. Foote

Publisher:  Jacob Endres

Year & Place:  1862, St. Louis, Missouri

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music A-1032

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  a1032

Basic Description

Arguably, this gesturing, black-faced/white-lipped man shares the engraving’s focal point with assorted titles, lyrical excerpts, and artistic bylines. Dressed in patched, striped, and too-short-and-tight-for-decorum trousers, the man’s impoverished fashion sense is further underscored by his rag-tag coat, collapsed stove-top hat, and bundled belongings on a stick.

Personal Description

Despite the downtrodden demeanor and the adjacent “lament” transcribed in an illiterate “darky” dialect, the man’s obvious burnt-cork-and-kaolin makeup, as well as his classic contraposto pose and indicatory gesture, suggest a masquerade or, perhaps, a tongue-in-cheek dramatis personae of pro-slavery mimicry, knowingly performed and proselytized here by Murphy and Purdy.

Reality Check


James Milton Turner (1840-1915)

James Milton Turner was a prominent politician, education advocate, and diplomat in the years after the Civil War.  Turner was born a slave in St. Louis, Missouri in 1840.  His father, John Turner (also known as John Colburn), was a well-known “horse doctor” in St. Louis who had earlier purchased his freedom.  In 1843 John Turner was able to buy freedom for his wife, Hannah, and his son James.  When he was fourteen James attended Oberlin College in Ohio for one term until his father’s death in 1855 forced him to return to St. Louis to help support his mother and family.

During the Civil War Turner enlisted in the Union Army and served as the body servant for Col. Madison Miller.  After the war, Governor Thomas Fletcher (Miller’s brother-in-law), appointed Turner Assistant Superintendent of Schools responsible for establishing freedmen schools in Missouri.  Turner was also behind the effort to establish Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, the first school to offer higher education for blacks in Missouri.  Turner was also active in organizing African Americans as a political force in Missouri.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner Ambassador to Liberia in 1871, making him the first African American to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps.  He held the post until 1878.  Following his return to the U.S. he worked for relief and aid for Exoduster immigrants to Kansas.  In 1881 he and Hannibal Carter organized the Freedmen’s Oklahoma Immigration Association to promote black homesteading in Oklahoma.  In the last two decades of his life Turner lobbied strenuously for the rights of Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw freedmen in the Indian Territory.  Turner died in 1915 in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

I’m from Missouri and You Gotter Show Me

I'm From Missouri

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  I’m from Missouri and You Gotter Show Me

Composer: Vanderpool, Fred

Illustrator: Leff

Publisher: M. Witmark

Year & Date:  1902, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #B-625

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0625

Basic Description
The full-body profile of a well-dressed African American woman is shown before a highly abstracted townscape in the distance. The ribbons on her hat and cape flutter behind her and her torso is bent forward into a stride. The navy, black, and white colors of her dress give her a serious, reserved air, but the white hand muff at her backside exaggerates the curviness of her form. From the tip of her hat to the point of her shoe, her body is a wave of curves–draped artfully in fabric–that resists becoming seductive. The blue stripes that fill the border and form the sky pulse against the pattern of tiny squares that comprise the abstracted townscape. There is an energy and vitalism in this contrasting pattern that the townscape itself seems to lack.

Personal Description
The song itself is about an African American lady from Missouri who moves to a new town and meets a womanizing African American man, from whose perspective the story is told. The story ends with the “western” lady telling him to get lost. The self-possessed appearance of the woman in the illustration, however, makes the bigoted lyrics of the song seem like a non-sequitur. The woman’s dress is fancy and feminine, but its colors, her veil, and her composure imply dignity and reserve. She is attractive and seems cosmopolitan. There is nothing visibly degrading or caricatured about her. Thus the racist references to African American men in the lyrics have a disruptive and almost random quality.  Is the cover image a stereotype of a different order (a haughty African American woman from the “west,” preoccupied with being a lady)? Or does this image resist caricature? If she is intended as a foil to emphasize a caricature about black men, it fails.  Monumental, dignified, and self-possessed, the cover image works against the stereotypes of the lyrics inside.

Reality Check

Sissieretta Jones (1869-1933)
Sissiereta Jones was a world-famous soprano who in June 1892, became the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Touring internationally in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she sang both classical opera and performed in musical comedies with her own troupe.

Born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner on January 5, 1869, in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was the child of Jeremiah Joyner, a pastor, and Henrietta Joyner, a singer in the church choir. After moving with her family to Rhode Island when she was six, Sissieretta began singing in the church choir, which was directed by her father. When only fourteen, she married David Richard Jones, who became her first manager. Later, she formally studied voice at the Providence Academy of Music, the New England Conservatory, and the Boston Conservatory.

Following her New York City debut on April 5, 1888 in Steinway Hall, she was nicknamed “the Black Patti” after being compared to the Italian prima donna Adelina Patti, well-known at the time. The nickname stayed with her throughout her 30-plus year career, although she preferred to be called Madame Jones. During the 1880s and 1890s, Jones performed at Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Music Hall and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She first performed at the White House in February 1892 for President Benjamin Harrison and returned to appear before Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. She also appeared before the British Royal Family. Jones’s international tours took her to the Caribbean, South America, Australia, India and Southern Africa as well as London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Munich, and St. Petersburg. By 1895 Jones had become the most well known and highly paid African American performer of her day.

In the 1890s, she formed Black Patti’s Troubadours, taking advantage of the popularity of black musical comedies, originally called “coon shows.” Jones sang opera selections and spirituals at the end of the show, rather than closing with the typical cakewalk. The group was one of the most popular shows on American stage, touring throughout the United States; the careers of numerous black performers were launched by their initial appearances with the Black Patti troupe.

African Americans began to see the black musical comedies as reflecting negatively on their race, and the group’s tours wound down, with a 1915 last performance at New York City’s Lafayette Theater. Jones moved back to Providence, Rhode Island and cared for her mother and her two adopted children. Sissieretta Jones died in 1933 at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.


Original Rags

Original Rags

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  Original Rags

Composer: Joplin, Scott

Arranger: Daniels, Charles N.

Publisher: Carl Hoffman

Year & Date:  1899, Kansas City, Missouri

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #B-940

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0940

Basic Description
An older African-American man bends down to collect a scrap of orange-dotted fabric. Although he gazes at the viewer directly, spectacles conceal his eyes. His lips are exaggerated by orange ink and a corncob pipe sticks out of his mouth. He seems to be collecting rags in front of a dilapidated house and tossing them into a large sack. The sack itself is patched with an orange-dotted rag, and it is large enough to almost conceal the man’s lower body.  Dots of black ink on the ground blend into the etch marks on the man and the dog next to him. Due to the nature of the lithographic medium used, ink seems to splatter up onto the side of the house.

Personal Description
Exaggerated lips were a feature of African-American caricature during this period. Here this visual stereotype is abstracted and stylized by means of color; the man’s lips match the lettering of the title, the dog collar, and the flashes of orange on the rags. His spectacles almost look like “shades,” concealing his eyes as he coolly regards the viewer. A sign on the front of the house refers to the composer, Scott Joplin, “picking” the song. Indeed, the man carefully extracts the rags from the dirty ground to add to his collection, gesturing toward the musical style of Ragtime, itself a collection of styles, including jigs, quadrilles, bamboulas, blues, spirituals, and minstrel songs. Thus the cover image is a derivative play on words – the image of the rag denotes the musical style of the same name. But it could also be argued that the song title, “Original Rags,” equates the depicted process of selecting “rags” from a dilapidated setting with the process of musical innovation. The name Ragtime comes from the phrase “ragged time,” and this cover illustration interprets that idea literally, offering up a muddy, “ragtag” scene, when, in reality, the music itself was carefully composed.

Reality Check

Scott Joplin (1868?-1917)
Scott Joplin was a composer and pianist, who began working in St. Louis, Missouri  as a pianist at John Turpin’s Silver Dollar Saloon in 1885. He was so prolific and successful in writing rags for the piano that he came to be known as the “King of Ragtime.” Born near Texarkana, Texas, to a former slave from North Carolina and a free African-American woman from Kentucky, he was a precocious child whose talent was recognized at a very young age.

After elementary school in Texarkana, he traveled to Sedalia, Missouri, and attended Lincoln High School. He built an early reputation as a pianist and gained fame as a composer of piano ragtime during the 1890s. Joplin was essential in the articulation of a distinctly American style of music.

Minstrelsy was still in vogue when Joplin was a teenager performing in vaudeville shows with the Texas Medley Quartette, a group he founded with his brothers. Joplin was among the musicians who went to the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, playing night spots close to the fair. Afterward, he returned to Sedalia, the “Cradle  of Ragtime,” accompanied by the pianist Otis Sanders. He taught piano, banjo, and mandolin to musicians like Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden, and Sanford B. Campbell. In the years after the turn of the century, the piano replaced the violin in popularity. Playing ragtime on the parlor piano became all the rage in the U.S. and Europe.

Classic rag soon became defined as an instrumental form, especially on the piano. Ragtime or Rag– from “ragged time”– is a genre that blends elements from marches, jigs, quadrilles, and bamboulas with blues, spirituals, minstrel ballads, and “coon songs.” Its defining rhythm, based on the African bamboula dance pattern, renamed “cakewalk” in America, is also heard in early spirituals. While Rags were published before Joplin’s “Original Rags” in 1899, he must be credited with defining the classic concept and construction of ragtime and with rendering dignity and respectability to the style. He died at New York State Hospital in 1917. Sixty years after his death, he began to receive numerous honors, including the National Music Award, a Pulitzer Prize in 1976, and a U.S. Postage Stamp in 1983.

(Source: African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Cambridge University Press, 2004)