Tag Archives: Dance



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

Title of Song:  “Good Enough!”

Composer:  Rollin Howard

Engraver: Clayton’s

Lithographer:  Chicago Lithographing

Publisher:  Lyon & Healy

Year & Place:  1871, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-498

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0498

Basic Description

A dancing, high-kicking couple are shown in an interior space.  Upon closer inspection it appears as if the woman is wearing a nineteenth-century styled slip and petticoats, which is further suggested by the hoop-skirt frame sitting on the table behind her, and in the shelving and racks in the room holding linen, socks, and possibly other forms of apparel.  Both the man and the woman wear big, black brogans and garishly striped stockings.

Personal Description

The abandonment which is expressed in this couple’s dance moves, along with her undressed state, his clown-like outfit, and their shared gnome-like, diabolical features, all conveyed a kind of idiocy and madness surrounding African Americans that, in the post-Reconstruction era, contributed towards the complete dismantling of what few legal rights and social courtesies black still had circa 1871.

Reality Check


John Jones (1816-1879) & Mary Richardson Jones (1819-1910)

John Jones – tailor, writer, and politician – was born in 1816 in Green City, North Carolina to a German father and an African American mother.  Born free, he taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business, and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.

While working as a tailor in Memphis, Tennessee in 1841, John Jones met Mary Jane Richardson, the daughter of a free African American blacksmith.  Although the Richardson family shortly thereafter moved to Alton, Illinois, Jones remained in Memphis for three years to complete the requirements of his apprenticeship.  In 1844 Jones moved to Alton and married Mary Jane Richardson.  Although they were free, both John and Mary obtained certificates of freedom, posted a $1,000 bond in Madison County, and gained the privileges of traveling and living in the state.

After moving to Chicago in 1845, the highly skilled tailor soon had a thriving enterprise, catering to many of Chicago’s elites.  By 1860 Jones’s business was one of the city’s oldest and most financially solvent, having accumulated between $85,000 and $100,000.  The great Chicago fire of 1871 affected his wealth, yet he was left with enough money to be called one of the country’s wealthiest African Americans and Chicago’s undisputed black leader.

Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago.  His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.  He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.  Mary Richardson Jones was also a suffragette, and leaders in the suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony stayed in the Jones’ home when visiting Chicago.

Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois.  Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to overturn Illinois laws that denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court.  His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights.  Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time.  In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.  While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished segregated schools.

Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.  John Jones died on May 31, 1879, and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois.  Mary Richardson Jones died in 1910, and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery.




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

Title of Song:  “Whistling Rufus”

Composer:  Kerry Mills

Publisher:  F.A. Mills

Year & Place:  1899, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #571 no. 5

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  no571.5

Basic Description

A black man, wearing a top hat, a formal jacket with tails, and gaily-patterned trousers,  is shown seated behind palm plants in a chair on a stage, strumming a guitar, tapping his feet and, ostensibly, whistling through large, white, pursed lips.  In the far distance five, similarly white-lipped couples, hand in hand, form a dancing line in this dance hall-like setting.  The two color (black and yellow-orange) lithograph breaks up the monotony of this otherwise stark, graphic rendering.

Personal Description

After seeing stereotypic image after stereotypic image, one gets pretty inured to the pictorial put-downs and racial aspersions after a while.  The visual jokes that are supposedly contained in representations of big lips, over-attenuated musical and rhythmic acumen, and in minstrel absurdities are somehow emptied of their poison after multiple viewings, eventually becoming empty symbols of racism and derogation.  The fault line that the stereotype frequently tumbles over is a reiteration that, without reinforced confirmations from the culturally illiterate or knowingly racist, implode upon themselves and, thus, communicate nothing but foul air.

Reality Check


Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949)

Harry Thacker Burleigh played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works.  He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals.  In addition, Burleigh was an accomplished baritone, a meticulous editor, and a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Burleigh received his first music training from his mother.  After discovering Burleigh’s musical talent, his mother’s employer gave Burleigh a job as a doorman at the musicales she hosted in her home.  This afforded Burleigh the opportunity to hear guest performers such as Teresa Carreño and Italo Campanini.  In 1892, Burleigh received a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music in New York.

The years Burleigh spent at the Conservatory greatly influenced his career, mostly due to his association and friendship with Antonín Dvorák, the Conservatory’s director.  After spending countless hours recalling and performing the African-American spirituals and plantation songs he had learned from his maternal grandfather for Dvorák, Burleigh was encouraged by the elder composer to preserve these melodies in his own compositions.  In turn, Dvorák’s use of the spirituals “Goin’ Home” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in his Symphony no. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”).  In addition, Burleigh served as copyist for Dvorák, a task that prepared him for his future responsibilities as a music editor.

In 1894, Burleigh auditioned for the post of soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church of New York.  To the consternation of the congregation, which objected because Burleigh was black, he was given the position.  However, through his talent and dedication (he held the appointment for over fifty years, missing only one performance during his tenure), Burleigh won the hearts and the respect of the entire church community.

In 1898, he married poet Louise Alston; a son, Alston, was born the following year. That same year, G. Schirmer published his first three songs.  In 1900, Burleigh was the first African-American chosen as soloist at Temple Emanu-El, a New York synagogue, and by 1911 he was working as an editor for music publisher G. Ricordi.  His success was enhanced through the publication of several of his compositions, including “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors” (1915), a collection entitled Jubilee Songs of the USA (1916), and his arrangement of “Deep River” (1917), for which he is best remembered.  Burleigh died in New York City in 1949.

Ole Virginy Breakdown


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

Title of Song:  Ole Virginy Breakdown

Composer:  Sweeny, J.W.

Illustrator:  Thayer, B.W.

Publisher:  Henry Prentiss

Year & Place:  1847, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B. 5, no. 20

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasmsm004

Basic Description
This lithograph depicts a group of men dancing in a wooded clearing. The most prominent figure is not dancing but seated on a wooden barrel to the far right of the composition. Under a tree, a patch of grass beneath him, this man holds a banjo and sings. To his right, the dancing men— at least dozen of them— perform jig-like moves in a clearing. Two of the men dance in a pair while others dance alone, striking poses in keeping with the jigs of traditional Irish and Scottish folk music. These jigs may have been an influence on the composer of this tune, a successful Irish-American minstrel singer by the name of Joel Walker Sweeny.

Personal Description
The singing man with the banjo is not intended to resemble an African American but rather a white minstrel performing as one. Due to his size (relative to the dancing men), he seems to be in a different time and place; he is singing about the men rather than providing their musical accompaniment. The facial characteristics of the dancing men suggest that, like him, they are not African American men but white minstrels. The artifice of the scene is revealed, yet the image is loaded with cultural stereotypes about the facial characteristics of African Americans The singing man tries to affirm those stereotypes in his song, even if he and his performing men are clearly fakes.

Reality Check

Temple Statue

Lewis Temple statue, New Bedford Public Library, New Bedford, Massachusetts

temple image

Scrimshaw of Lewis Temple by Robert Weiss, http://www.marinearts.com

Lewis Temple(1800-1854)

Lewis Temple was a blacksmith, abolitionist, and inventor who was born in Richmond, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents or formal education. During the 1820s, Temple migrated to the whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It is uncertain whether he escaped Virginia as a slave or as a free man. According to New Bedford town records, by 1836 Temple had established a whalecraft shop on one of the wharves that serviced ships.

An active participant in town affairs, Temple was elected vice president of an antislavery organization, the New Bedford-Union Society. In 1847, Temple was arrested and charged with “rioting” after he and three other black men were accused of disrupting a pro-slavery lecture. New Bedford was home to a large African community and as a prominent member of the town, Temple almost certainly aided a number of runaway slaves, including Frederick Douglass.

Known as the “Temple Toggle” or the “Temple Iron,” Temple fashioned a harpoon with a pivoting head that locked into the whale’s flesh, thereby preventing the harpoon from being dislodged by the thrashing movements of the whale. Despite initial unwillingness to use the harpoon among whalers, it soon proved to be more effective than the standard barbed head harpoon. Temple’s Iron became the universal harpoon and it is still used today in some parts of the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, Lewis Temple never patented his invention and subsequent refinements and mass production by his competitors obscured the significance of his invention and innovation. However, he was still successful enough that he needed to build a larger shop. During a visit to the construction site, he fell into a hole left open by a negligent city worker and never fully recovered from his injuries. Temple sued the city and was awarded $2,000 by the court.

A few weeks later Temple died, unacknowledged and destitute. Today, he is presented as one of New Bedford’s most ingenious citizens. In 1987, a life-size statue of Lewis Temple was erected on the lawn of the New Bedford Free Public Library and, recently, artist Robert Weiss created a scrimshaw portrait of Lewis Temple.

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



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.

Old Bob Ridley!


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

Title of Song:  Old Bob Ridley!

Publisher: Johnson’s

Year & Place:  Circa 1855. Philadelphia, PA

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  bsvg200857

American Sheet Music Item#:  bsvg200857

Basic Description

Four crudely engraved black performers comprise this illustrated broadside from the antebellum period.  An animated dancer and three musicians (on banjo, fiddle, and tambourine) give form to the rendering of the adjacent lyrics about the former plantation-bound and enslaved “Bob Ridley” who has come to Philadelphia for an “education.”

Personal Description

Engravings such as this one “ventriloquize” blackface, visually narrativizing with little or no extra-pictorial matter what one experienced in the performance.  The artistic narrative on display here really isn’t Bob Ridley’s story; rather, it’s the blackface performance tradition of simplistic songs, racial mockery, and corporeal catharsis in raw graphic terms.

Reality Check


Henry “Box” Brown (1815-1879)

Henry “Box” Brown was a slave who escaped to freedom in 1849 by arranging to have himself mailed to Philadelphia abolitionists in a dry goods container.  Born into slavery in Virginia, Brown was sent to Richmond in 1830 to work in a tobacco factory.  There, he married another slave, and the couple had three children.

With the help of James C. A. Smith, and a sympathetic white storekeeper named Samuel Smith, Brown devised his escape plan.  Brown paid $86 (out of his savings of $166) to Smith, who contacted Philadelphia abolitionist James Miller McKim, who agreed to receive the box.  During the trip, which began on March 29, 1849, Brown’s box traveled by wagon, then railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon. Several times during the 27-hour journey, workers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly, but Brown was able to remain still enough to avoid detection.  The box containing Brown was received by McKim, black abolitionist William Still, and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.  When Brown was released, one of those present remembered his first words as “How do you do, gentlemen?”  He then sang a psalm from the Bible he had previously selected for his moment of freedom.

He published two versions of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown; first in Boston in 1849 and the second in England in 1851.  Brown exhibited a moving panorama titled “Mirror of Slavery” in the northeastern United States until he was forced to move to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.  Brown toured Britain with his antislavery panorama for the next 10 years, performing several hundred times a year and visiting virtually every town and city over that period.

Brown stayed on the British show circuit for 25 years, until 1875.  Leaving his first wife and children in slavery, he married a second time, to a white British woman, and began a new family.  In 1875, he returned to the U.S. with a family magic act.  The cause and date of his death are unknown.