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The Coal Black Rose

The Coal Black Rose

The Coal Black Rose

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

Title of Song:          The Coal Black Rose

Composer:              Snyder, White

Publisher:               J.L. Frederick

Year & Place:        1829; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B. 128, no. 28

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:   hasmsm.009

Basic Description

In the diminutive image here embedded amongst text and musical notation, an anthropomorphized rose appears.  The petals are arranged to constitute the face of a person approximating a pair of eyes, eyelids and eyebrows in darker hatching and a pair of lips.  Inserted between the eyes is a nose.  Framing this sexually ambiguous “flower-face” is an array of six leaves.  A second image appearing on another page of this sheet music shows a man with a banjo.  The contour lines of his body and the slight coloration suggest a cursory sketch.  Wearing a dark hat, the subject stands with head turned towards the viewer and his accentuated buttocks and calf protrude.

Personal Description

Among the numerous words to describe this image, ‘odd’ and ‘creepy’ seem particularly apt.  One has only to describe it as an “animated face-plant” to understand this.  Shrouded in ambiguity are any identifying or contextual features or characteristics.  What is clear is that artist is relocating the viewer in different visual realm.  This image’s illusion is conveyed by the lack of a connecting body, or any other visual cues that reference the real.  The second image then, should stand in striking contrast as the full body of a male banjo player is visualized.  Furthermore, the facial features of this man resemble those of the rose. Still, this image is also illusionistic for its curious lack of details and corporeal distortion.  Finally, its placement of the banjo where the male phallus might be is suggests an eroticism that might be derivative of the eras latent sexual deviancies displayed in other art forms such as minstrelsy.

Reality Check

Reverend Richard Allen

Richard Allen was the leading figure in events that produced the independent black church movement and led to the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  He also served as one of the early bishops of the AME church.  Allen saved enough money to purchase his freedom from his delaware master in 1777, the year in which he also was converted.  Within a few years he was preaching and winning the favor of Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of American Methodism.  In 1786 he moved to Philadelphia, where he began to hold prayer meetings for his own people.  His proposal to set up a separate place of worship was opposed by whites and some blacks.  It was only after the officials of St. George’s Church, where he frequently preached, proposed to segregate the large number of blacks who came to hear him that it became clear to him and others that blacks should have a separate church. Allen was able to organize and dedicate Bethel Church in 1794.  In 1799 Bishop Asbury ordained him deacon and later he was elevated to the status of an elder.  His church became known as the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.


Kingdom Coming

Kingdom Coming

Kingdom Coming

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

Title of Song:     Kingdom Coming

Composer:         Bryant, Dan

Publisher:         Charles Magnus & Co

Year & Place:   New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:               Bsvg 301458

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  bsvg.301458

Basic Description

The image at the top of this broadside shows a male and a female of dark skin walking together arm in arm.  The man wears a straw hat, a white collared shirt and blue overalls.  His partner in this leisurely jaunt sports a long red dress, a matching straw hat and she is wrapped in a blue shawl.  For their large, rotund bodies, they are supported tenuously by unusually small feet.  The viewer is offered little specific information about their identities.  The background depicts a massive body of water littered sporadically with a large ship or a barge.  Each has tall structures and bright red flags wave from their peaks of several.  The variable shaded formations in the area of the sky and the horizon are too nebulous to certain of what they are or their function.  In pale orange there appear to be mountains, while grey and black could be smoke.  This coloring could also, however, reflect damage to the print.

Personal Description

Ambivalence and ambiguity abound in this image.   There is not enough information presented to determine the origin or destination of the ships nor the details of the cargo aboard.  The combination of the viewer’s vantage point behind the couple as well as the lack of any recognizable facial features prevent them from approaching individuality.  This suggests that the couple does not represent any specific black male or female.  In tandem with their abnormally small feet, and their large round bodies, discussed in the music’s lyrics, this piece has an element of caricature and malicious humor.  When read with the poem or song, the image might be construed as a moment of subversion in which the masters have run away in fear of the gunboats and Kingdom, or rightful order or things where anyone can take a stroll, has come.

Reality Check

One of the most remarkable exceptions is this painting by the leading mid-century figure painter Eastman Johnson.  Born in 1824 in Lovell, Maine, Eastman Johnson took to art early in life, setting up a portrait studio in Augusta when he was 18 years old. He later worked in Boston and Washington, D.C., and in 1849 traveled to Europe where he received extensive training in drawing and painting.  In 1859, Johnson opened an exhibit in New York which featured Negro Life in the South. It was a turning point in his career — one which would lead to his becoming, for many years, the foremost genre painter in the United States.

During and even immediately after the Civil War, very few American artists undertook direct representations of the catastrophic conflict or of the experience of the enslaved African Americans whose plight it decided. He claimed to have based the subject on an actual event he had witnessed near the Manassas, Virginia, battlefield on March 2, 1862, just days before the Confederate stronghold was ceded to Union forces. This painting, A Ride for Liberty depicts a black family fleeing toward freedom. It is based on an incident which Johnson witnessed during the Civil War battle of Manassas.  The mother, holding a small child in her arms, looks back apprehensively for possible pursuers.  In this powerfully simplified composition, a family of fugitive slaves charges for the safety of Union lines in the dull light of dawn. The absence of white figures in this liberation subject makes it virtually unique in American art of the period—these African Americans are the independent agents of their own freedom. Perhaps owing to the exceptional daring of the subject, Johnson appears never to have exhibited this work.


Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

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

Title of Song:   Polly Perkins of Pemberton

Composer:       Clifton, Harry

Illustrator:      Bufford, J.H.

Publisher:        Tolman, Henry

Year & Place:  Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B-2061

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b2061

Basic Description

This sheet music cover is composed of five small vignettes (cameo) portraits.  Each portrait is framed by lush botanical foliage as vines and leaves seem to grow out of the bottom of the page and wind around in circles.  Within each oval frame is a male.  In each one, the man wears different set of clothing and his body takes on a different position.  In all portraits but one the man appears in blackface make-up.  All five images depict the same person, presumably, R. Bishop Buckley.  In the cameo of the top left hand corner, the man wears sits on a chair in a light-colored, pajama-like garments while holding a instrument requiring a long bow.  The central vignette shows Buckley in a vest and conventional pants.  Here, however, he sits on the ground with his arms open, gesturing toward the viewer in a sinister manner.  In the adjacent portrait man sports a coat and scarf with a unrecognizeable cap on his head.  The last portrait beneath this shows him sitting again in profile with a tambourine as his eyes stare out at the audience.

Personal Description

The most striking aspect of this image is not the depiction of one man in four different minstrel costumes.  It is that he is shown, purposively, both with and without the blackface mask.  Indeed, the whole composition exudes a revelatory tone as the foliage seems to have been lifted or brushed aside like curtains to reveal each character.  And this calls into question what differences existed between Buckley and his blackface incarnations.  With a partially empty nevertheless serious gaze, the performer sits in the lower left hand corner.  Unlike many of his characters, most of his body is invisible to the viewer.  He adopts the quintessential image of respectability with an erect posture and a full-suit consisting of a jacket, vest, white collared shirt and a bowtie.  In contrast, the other vignettes suggest an affinity for music, visually restating the stereotype of an inherent inclination in blacks for music.  This juxtaposition sets up a contrast that attempts to carefully delineate dissimilarities between the man and his masks.

Reality Check

Chester Harding - Self Portrait - 1860

Chester Harding (1792-1866), Self-Portrait, c.1860

Chester Harding was a self-taught portrait painter. He was born in Massachusetts in 1792. Harding spent his early adult years in the state of New York, struggling to earn a living as a cabinet maker. In debt, he fled with his wife and child to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where an acquaintance suggested he open a sign-painter¹s shop.  A traveling portrait painter came through town and painted pictures of Harding and his wife. Harding was fascinated with the idea of portraiture and used his work paints to create a picture of his wife. The portrait turned out surprisingly well. Portrait orders rolled in, and Harding saved enough money to afford classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Design. He traveled and painted portraits the remainder of his life. Harding spent a great deal of time in St. Louis, Washington, DC, London, and Boston.  Charles Harding painted many legendary faces. Other famous pictures include portraits of Chief Justice John Marshall and Civil War Major General William T. Sherman.




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


“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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