Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: Lucy Long; De Boatman Dance; Massa Is A Stingy Man; Old Dan Tucker
Composer: OnyQjva A. Nagerj
Publisher: Firth & Hall
Year & Place: 1843; New York, New York
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music B.154, no.7
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasmsm.007
This cover shows an array of figures clustered in vignettes that are separated by zoological and botanical frames. Two at the top are surrounded by a snake while a third scene is framed by various botanical forms as well as corn and a possum-like animal. Those on the bottom, however, are framed by two long catfish. In clockwise order from the top, central vignette the following is visualized: a man in tattered clothes throwing his hands above his head in a spirited; one male holding a banjo while another figure in the background tries to corral two cows; one male walking in a perplexed manner while another offers no help as he tends to his leg; one man striking a pose; a man with a protruding, rotund belly striding diagonally across the space while another male figure plays the banjo; one male dancing in pajamas while his partner plays a banjo; two men in a boat on a river attempting to kill an alligator using their banjo as a weapon.
The title of the music tells the viewer that the songs are part of show that would be performed by minstrels. Thus the image’s humor, hodge-podge, collagish, and cryptic nature all make sense within this context. The ambiguity of conceptual connections between the different portraits also ceases to be an issue as they may be an advertisement for separate skits that might have constituted one show. Ethiopian Quadrilles combines a wide variety of elements such as snakes, banjos, a crocodile, plants and catfish. While some vignettes are simple renditions of music and dancing, other more complex ones display individual moments from what promise to be longer narratives. The elements of stereotype and caricature that are present also make sense within the context of minstrelsy. This includes the distorted body of the male figure with the protruding stomach. The most humorous scene, that in which two men purport to “knock out” a crocodile with a banjo, similarly, conveys to be a derisive message about intellect (or lackthereof). This becomes clearer when one notices that the animated-crocodile is in no way menacing.
Peter Ogden and The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows
In 1842, the Philomathean Literary Society, an association of blck men and boys interested in literature, oratory and music became a lodge within the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Peter Ogden, a black Jamaican sailor living in New York City, who became odd fellow while in England, took their petition to Victoria Lodge in Liverpool after white odd fellows in the United States refused to initiate black men. This became one of the major black fraternal organizations maintaining a large membership body. When Ogden died in 1852, there were 32 lodges. By 1863 there were 50 and by 1900, there were 2,253 with over 70,000 members. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows continues to this day and have a headquarters in Philadelphia.
(Source: Dodson, Howard, Christopher Paul. Moore, and Roberta Yancy. The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology. New York: John Wiley, 2000.)