Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Title of Song: Patrol Comique
Composer: Hindley, Thomas
Publisher: Standard Music
Year & Place: 1886; New York, New York
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music #719
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.n0719
This image depicts four African-American individuals. Three stand in a row in the foreground while one sits in the background playing a banjo and tapping his feet. The raised legs of the characters closer to the viewer indicate that they are dancing. Everyone in the group sports formal attire with the men in double breasted suits. The male in the far left of the pictorial space wears a top hat while his counterpart at the very right stands out with his bayonet and darker boots. In combination with his hat and long pants, his garments mark him as a member of the military. The woman moving gracefully in the center of these men wears a long, short-sleeved dress as well as a hat adorned with feathers. With an open fan in her left hand, she daintily grasps and raises her dress in the other. The woman looks to the man to her right in an adoring manner. While their racial distinction is clear, little attention, has been given to their distinct facial features. Similarly, the group stands in an indistinguishable setting. The vertical floorboards, however, suggest that they are indoors.
The lack of attention to details suggests that the illustrator was not keenly concerned with their individual identities. There is nothing particularly striking, extravagant, overdone or especially poignant about this image. Rather, what seems important is conveying the general idea of music and dance and the jovial interactions. These festivities, however, do not reference a real social situation located in a specific date and time. It is one that seems both real and imagined. The male characters recall the prototypical respectable gentleman while the female recalls the chaste, graceful, properly reared, Victorian notion of femininity. And it seems from the title, “Patrol Comique” that there is an attempt to derisively mock these people. Rendered beautifully above the characters it suggests that this is a humorous rendition of black characters in this social setting. One might look to what is only subtly pronounced in the image – dark Skin and formal dress – as pointing to a contradictory social situation. Nevertheless, there are other elements that make this an odd social situation. These characters are dressed up as if they will attend a fancy ball and they awkwardly dance with only the aid of a musician and a banjo. Additionally, the presence of two males dancing with one female is another source of tension.
A Fancy Dress Ball on Seventh Avenue, 1872; New York, NY.
Source: Dodson, Howard, Christopher Paul Moore, and Roberta Yancy. The Black New Yorkers : The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology. New York: John Wiley, 2000.