A WARMIN’ UP IN DIXIE

A WARMIN' UP IN DIXIE

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

Title of Song:  “A Warmin’ Up in Dixie”

Composer:  E. T. Paull

Illustrator:  J.E. Rosenthal

Publisher:  E.T. Paull

Year & Place:  1899, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-158

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0158

Basic Description

A full color lithograph showing about a dozen people jumping and dancing around a bonfire in a forested location at night.  Although a full moon is visible in an opening in the trees, the primary light source in this shadowy scene is from the bonfire, which casts a golden, if ghostly, glow on the arms and faces of each man and woman.  The way some are dressed — in overalls, head bandannas, and simple, unadorned shirts and skirts — suggests they are rural people, and the fact that a seemingly discarded straw hat appears on the ground and a few of the people are shoeless confirms this.

Personal Description

Were it not for the “Dixie” designation that places this scene in the southern United States, the thick forest and the frenetic fire side dancing and animated gestures of these black people all suggest a stereotypic African or Caribbean setting.  The vigorous dance in which these people are engaged and their strange, almost diabolical illuminations from the flames and ascending embers also recall fictionalized jungles and blood thirsty savages, where ritual sacrifices and other ceremonies fueled the Western imagination about so-called primitive peoples.

Reality Check

frogs_500

“The Frogs” Social Club, circa 1908

The Frogs was a New York City social club, founded in 1908 by a group of African-American theatrical professionals.  The group was comprised of 11 men: Tom Brown, Sam Calker, Bob Cole, James Reese Europe, J. Rosamond Johnson, R.C. McPherson (Cecil Mack), Alex Rogers, Jesse Ship, George Walker, Lester A. Walton, and Bert Williams.  They first met at the Harlem home of George Walker, who was elected their first president.  The other officers were: J. Rosamond Johnson, vice president; Jesse Shipp, treasurer; James Reese Europe, librarian; and Bert Williams, head of the art committee. Their purpose was to form an archival collection of social, historical and literary materials for a theatrical library in a clubhouse which was to be built later in Harlem.

The Frogs, supposedly named after characters in a play by Aristophanes and stories by Aesop, meant for the club’s name to symbolize their feelings of responsibility and dignity.  They were greatly respected in the Harlem community and continued for years as a leading professional club, admitting lawyers and doctors as well as theatrical people.

Besides raising money for charities, the Frogs were best known for a popular annual dance and vaudeville review, “The Frolic of the Frogs,” which took place every August at the Manhattan Casino.  Admission was 50 cents. The dance started around 10:30PM and continued well into the night.  Favors were given to the ladies, and door prizes went to the three people wearing the most unique costumes emblematic of the Frogs.  This affair was one of the biggest social events in Harlem.  In 1913 the Frogs staged a variety show for their Frolic.  The show was so successful that, after its New York run, it traveled to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

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