Category Archives: landscapes (built)


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’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)

My Home in Alabam’

My Home in Alabam'

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

Title of Song:  My Home in Alabam’

Composer: Putnam, James S.

Publisher: John F. Perry

Year & Date:  1881, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music#  B-666
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0666

Basic Description
A man sits on a wooden chair in a sparse garret bedroom with a banjo on his lap and his head in his hand. He stares at the viewer with a distant, troubled look, in a pose like Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The town-like setting in the window contrasts with the plantation scene above— a dream space corralled by a dense frame of cloud-like circles.  The cracks and exposed bricks in the wall, along with the jagged hemlines of the man’s pant legs set depressing tone.  Rather than being integrated with the picture, the title text is set in the white space around the image. Two title options, “My Dear Savannah Home,” and “My Home in Alabam” are listed in sober typeface.

Personal Description
Each title option can lead to a different and contradictory interpretation of the image. Interestingly, this pamphlet includes two song sheet covers for other “plantation melodies” printed by the same publisher. This imagery makes light of the plantation experience, showing caricatured African Americans dancing or filling pails with berries. Like the song illustrated on the main cover, these songs also have two titles each that contrast oddly with each other. “De Huckleberry Picnic”  implies a recreational activity at one’s own free will but “Since I Saw de Cotton Grow” suggests the forced labor of slavery or the exploitation of sharecropping.  “My Dear Savannah Home” implies that the seated man is nostalgic for plantation life. But “My Home in Alabam” is vague, allowing the plantation memory invading the scene to be interpreted not as a cherished dream but rather an oppressive nightmare.

Reality Check

Edward Alexander Bouchet
Edward Alexander Bouchet was an educator and scientist who was born in New Haven Connecticut. His family was a member of the Temple Street Congregational Church, a stopping point for fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad.

In 1868, Bouchet was accepted into Hopkins Grammar School, a private institution that prepared young men for the classical and scientific departments at Yale College. He graduated first in his class at Hopkins and graduated from Yale in 1874, ranking sixth in his class. In 1876, he completed a dissertation on geometrical optics,  becoming the first African American to earn a PhD from an American University and the sixth American of any race to earn a PhD in Physics.

Bouchet moved to Philadelphia in 1876 to teach at the Institute for Colored Youth, the city’s only high school for African American students.  Bouchet gave public lectures to his community in Philadelphia on scientific topics and was a member of the Franklin Institute, a foundation for the promotion of the mechanic arts, chartered in 1824.

In 1908, he became principal of Lincoln High School in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained until 1913, when an attack of arteriosclerosis compelled him to resign and return to New Haven. He died in his boyhood home in 1916.

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

I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie; Companion to (I’se Gwine Back to Dixie)

I'se Gwine Back To Leave Old Dixie

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

Title of Song:  I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie; Companion to (I’se Gwine Back to Dixie)

Composer: White, Charles Albert

Lyricist: Cooper, George

Lithographer: F.M. Haskell  & Co.

Publisher: White, Smith & Company

Year & Date:  1879, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music# B-745

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0745

Basic Description
This lithograph consists of a framed illustration with embellished lettering above and below. The illustration shows an old man and woman sitting on top of a horse and buggy. The vehicle is stuffed with their personal belongings— mostly the tools of manual labor— a hoe, a broom, a saw— some chairs, and some wooden barrels.  The man has a white beard and what appears to be a cane behind his shoulder. He is hunched over, tired-looking and frail. The woman holds a clock in her hands. The horse’s eyes are covered by blinders and two children, a boy and a girl, stare at it. A scrawny dog with its ribs showing trots next to them. The outlines of two people working in the field are faintly visible.

Personal Description
The clock stands out from the farm-related belongings and seems to symbolize the pressures facing the couple; the scene could be read in the context of the failure of Reconstruction.  But is this couple sad to leave home or simply worn out, weary, and hungry? In other song sheet covers on this blog, “Dixie,” as an imagined place, is invested with emotional power. A pull toward self-improvement and prosperity in the North is sometimes undermined by disillusionment and a mental Southward slide toward familiarity and so-called comfort. “I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie” is a song about leaving the South out of financial need, but wanting to stay. The lithograph could be seen as representing the transition from an idealized way of life to a world of  urgent financial pressures. Rather than representing the hope of a new generation, the children almost seem to be witnessing their own fate in the troubles of the older couple.

Reality Check

Ellen Craft (1826-1891) and William Craft (1824-1900)
Ellen Craft was a light-skinned African American slave woman who helped her husband escape from slavery by passing as white. Her husband William wrote an autobiographical slave narrative that described their dramatic escape.

They traveled by public transportation from their home in Georgia to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, staying in hotels along the way.

Ellen Craft was born in Clinton Georgia to a biracial slave woman and her master. She was so light-skinned that she was often mistaken for a member of her father’s white family. At age 11, she was given as a wedding gift to daughter who lived in Macon. There she met William and married him in 1846. Together they devised their escape plan— to pose as a white slaveholder with his slave.

Because a white woman would not have traveled alone with a male slave, Ellen had to pretend to be not only white but a man. She cut her hair, changed her walk, and wrapped her jaw in bandages to disguise her lack of a beard. To hide her illiteracy, she wrapped her right arm in a sling to have a ready excuse for being unable to sign papers. She explained the bandages by claiming to be an invalid traveling north to receive medical care. They traveled this way from Georgia to Pennsylvania by train, steamer, and ferry without being discovered, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day in 1848.

In Philadelphia they befriended William Lloyd Garrison and then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where they traveled as anti-slavery lecturers. They fled to England in 1850, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1868, following the Civil War, they returned to the United States and settled near Savannah, Georgia. They farmed a cotton and rice plantation and attempted to start a school. But financial debts from the plantation and hostility from white neighbors forced them to close it. Ellen Craft died in 1891. William moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in 1900.

(Source: Africa Online,


When Sousa Comes to Coon-Town

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

Title of Song:  “When Sousa comes to coon-town”

Composer:  Jim Vaughn & Lemonier

Lyricist:  Alex Rogers

Publisher:  Shapiro, Bernstein and Company

Year & Place:  1902, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-184

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0184

Basic Description

The scene in this two-color (red and blue) lithograph is an outdoor parade, dominated by the banner “WHEN SOUSA COMES TO COON-TOWN.”  Underneath the banner is an orchestra of regimented white men, marching in unison in blue uniforms and led by a baton-wielding man with a beard and spectacles.  Surrounding the band are an enthralled audience of caricatured, white-lipped, beady-eyed, black people.  Most prominent among the caricatured throngs are: a top hat-wearing elderly man (on the far right); a bandanna- and apron-wearing rotund woman (parallel to the bandleader); and, just underneath the bandleader, six grotesque children who seem to be imitating him.

Personal Description

The inset box in the sheet music’s lower left corner, featuring formal photographs of African American performers Bert Williams and George Walker (along with titles and accolades), creates a fascinating counterpoint to the sheet music’s comical and stereotypical illustration.  Although the photographs convey a conceptual truth about these specific African Americans, the illustration does not operate without its own “truths” (i.e., the drawn “portrait” of the legendary bandleader John Phillip Sousa).  So the dilemma this sets up for viewers is: do these real portrayals in any way counter the adjacent images of absurd and degenerative African Americans?

Reality Check


The Clef Club Orchestra (with James Reese Europe), circa 1910

The Clef Club was a part fraternal organization, part union for African American entertainers at the beginning of the twentieth-century. The building it purchased on West 53rd Street served both as the club’s headquarters and as an office for theatrical bookings.  Legendary bandleader and musician James Reese Europe was the Clef Club’s first elected president as well as the conductor of its symphony orchestra.

The Clef Club Orchestra appeared at Carnegie Hall for the first time on May 2, 1912.  They were so well received that they returned in 1913 and 1914.  The Carnegie Hall concerts gave the Clef Club Orchestra greater respectability among white society and, as a result, they regularly performed at elite functions in New York, London, and Paris.  The club functioned as a clearing-house not only for musicians, but for all types of entertainers and, under Europe’s leadership, it was actively involved in improving the working conditions for African American entertainers.  When an act was booked through the Clef Club, the musicians were considered professionals and received a good salary, transportation expenses, room, and board.  The club proved exceptionally successful, generating over $100,000 a year in bookings at the height of its popularity.

One Clef Club Orchestra performance boasted 150 musicians, although not everyone who was on stage in some shows could actually play an instrument. Some were purely window-dressing, taught just enough to get them through performances, while others simply pretended to play their instruments.  In 1914, after disputes arose between Clef Club members, Europe resigned as its leader and Ford Dabney took over his spot as bandleader.

Walking for dat Cake

Walking for dat Cake

Walking for dat Cake

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

Title of Song:     Walking for Dat Cake

Composer:         Braham, David

Publisher:          Wm. A. Pond

Year & Place:    1877; New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:               Music B-156

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b0156

Basic Description

This image depicts a warm scene of revelry and dance inside of a wooden dwelling.  Young couples move about the floor in formal attire with the boys in suits and the women in dresses. The adults in this image line the walls and the outskirts of the floor. One couple, consisting of a male and a female watch the festivities from the back, far left portion of the space. while another couple stands in the far right of the background near the entrance of the house. Dancing in the far left foreground, a matronly woman balances a plate of food on her head. She wears glasses as well as an apron. Mirroring her movements and creating a symmetrical composition, directly across from her is an older gentleman with a pipe in his right hand. In the background, directly in front of the window, a small, thin boy participates in the festivities by dancing on top of a table. Illuminating this joyous evening is a large, lit, fireplace as well as a candle on top of the mantle. Portraits, chairs pushed against the walls and a clock lining the wall remind the viewer of the space’s domestic character.

Personal Description

The fifteen individuals packed into this small space make this image extraordinarily crowded.   The source of the music is also conspicuously absent. The occasion for this dance and the individual identities of these people are also missing pieces of contextual information that the viewer cannot visually access. One might infer that these constitute free blacks from their fancy dress and participation in an activity of leisure.  All that the viewer can know for sure, however, about this image is that there is a group of black people dancing. In this way, it contains elements of caricature, as it reduces black identity to dance. Still, there are other dichotomies exist in this image. First, the artist chose not to create a grotesque illustration scene of debauchery that would have been more in line with the hypersexualized, revival-esque dance with which African-Americans were associated. Instead, the illustrator drew a restrained scene of civilized dance. This is, however, punctured by anomalies. A woman dances with food on her head and a boy dances on top of a table. Other characters are not clearly adults or children, straddling a strange space between youth and maturation.  It is as if the artist wanted to suggest that they can’t quite get it right. Thus, this image combines subtle stereotyping with an indirect critique of middle-class African-American life.

Reality Check

Reality Check - Walking for Dat Cake - Schomburg Digital Image Archive

Sketch from February 26, 1870 Harper’s Weekly

“There are now about one hundred buildings occupied by the schools of this [New York] city.  While all of these buildings are convenient and healthful, the newer buildings are a great improvement on those erected in former years.  They have been constructed on the best principles of arrangement, fitted with conveniences for teachers and pupils, supplied with the best kind of furniture, and are warmed and ventilated by the best apparatus.  They vary in size, some occupying only two lots, other six or seven.  It has been found that large buildings are much more economical and convenient than small ones; and not infrequently two thousand pupils, and even a larger number are well accommodated.

The sketches that illustrate this article will give the reader a very complete idea of the internal arrangements of our common schools.  The first gives an exterior view of one of the school buildings; No. 2 shows a lesson in object teaching in a class-room in a colored school; No. 3 a girls’ class in calisthenics; No. 4, a girls’ class in drawing; No. 5, a writing lesson.  These sketches were all taken from actual scenes and are accurate representations of them.”