Tag Archives: Minstrelsy

GOOD ENOUGH!

GOOD ENOUGH!

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

ADarlingJohnMaryJones

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.

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YOUNG EPH’S LAMENT

Young Eph's Lament

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

Title of Song:  “Young Eph’s Lament”

Composer:  J.B. Murphy

Engraver:  W.E. Foote

Publisher:  Jacob Endres

Year & Place:  1862, St. Louis, Missouri

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music A-1032

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  a1032

Basic Description

Arguably, this gesturing, black-faced/white-lipped man shares the engraving’s focal point with assorted titles, lyrical excerpts, and artistic bylines. Dressed in patched, striped, and too-short-and-tight-for-decorum trousers, the man’s impoverished fashion sense is further underscored by his rag-tag coat, collapsed stove-top hat, and bundled belongings on a stick.

Personal Description

Despite the downtrodden demeanor and the adjacent “lament” transcribed in an illiterate “darky” dialect, the man’s obvious burnt-cork-and-kaolin makeup, as well as his classic contraposto pose and indicatory gesture, suggest a masquerade or, perhaps, a tongue-in-cheek dramatis personae of pro-slavery mimicry, knowingly performed and proselytized here by Murphy and Purdy.

Reality Check

ife__Kingdom_of_Calloway_Historical_Society_

James Milton Turner (1840-1915)

James Milton Turner was a prominent politician, education advocate, and diplomat in the years after the Civil War.  Turner was born a slave in St. Louis, Missouri in 1840.  His father, John Turner (also known as John Colburn), was a well-known “horse doctor” in St. Louis who had earlier purchased his freedom.  In 1843 John Turner was able to buy freedom for his wife, Hannah, and his son James.  When he was fourteen James attended Oberlin College in Ohio for one term until his father’s death in 1855 forced him to return to St. Louis to help support his mother and family.

During the Civil War Turner enlisted in the Union Army and served as the body servant for Col. Madison Miller.  After the war, Governor Thomas Fletcher (Miller’s brother-in-law), appointed Turner Assistant Superintendent of Schools responsible for establishing freedmen schools in Missouri.  Turner was also behind the effort to establish Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, the first school to offer higher education for blacks in Missouri.  Turner was also active in organizing African Americans as a political force in Missouri.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner Ambassador to Liberia in 1871, making him the first African American to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps.  He held the post until 1878.  Following his return to the U.S. he worked for relief and aid for Exoduster immigrants to Kansas.  In 1881 he and Hannibal Carter organized the Freedmen’s Oklahoma Immigration Association to promote black homesteading in Oklahoma.  In the last two decades of his life Turner lobbied strenuously for the rights of Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw freedmen in the Indian Territory.  Turner died in 1915 in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

WHEN SOUSA COMES TO COON-TOWN

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

jamesreeseeurope

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.

WHISTLING RUFUS

WHISTLING RUFUS

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

harrytburleigh

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.

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.

(Source: http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/explorers/dboone/harding.html)

Ole Virginy Breakdown

virginy

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.

TELL ME JOSEY WHAR YOU BIN

Tell Me Josey Whar You Been

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

Title of Song:  TELL ME JOSEY WHAR YOU BIN

Composer: John Smith and Lubly Dinah

Illustrator: Bufford

Lithographer: Thayer’s Litho, Boston

Publisher: Henry Prentiss

Year & Date:  1841, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #hasmsm002

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasmsm002

Basic Description

Rendered as a horizontally-oriented oval, this lithograph depicts an outdoor scene dominated by a smiling, barefoot man, reclining at the base of a tree trunk and holding a garden hoe on his lap.  In the middle-to-far distance of this scene, one can discern: (middleground left) two white gentlemen seated and conversing while drinking; (extreme background left) a small group of animated figures; (middleground and to the immediate upper right of the reclining man) a gun-toting and bearded white man; and (middleground right) another group of animated figures.

Personal Description

The visual marginalia of relaxing white men, one lone white male hunter, and several unidentified groups of animated figures indict the grinning and reclining central figure in this scene, bringing into question his cavalier and jocular attitude.  The artist clearly knows about several major antebellum paintings (especially by William Sidney Mount) that, like this lithograph, make African American leisure a public indiscretion and, as seen in the gun-carrying white man immediately behind him, a punishable act.

Reality Check

WilNell

William Cooper Nell (1816–1874)

William Cooper Nell, historian, journalist, orator, and abolitionist, was born into a Boston abolitionist family.  Nell attended an African American grammar school and graduated from an interracial school.  As a student, he earned the right to an academic prize but, because of his race, was denied the award.  The experience led him at an early age into battles against race discrimination and segregation in public schools.  After studying law, Nell dedicated himself to antislavery work, lecturing, organizing meetings, and assisting fugitive slaves.  He helped establish in 1842 the Freedom Association.  Inspired by white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Nell joined Garrison’s journal, The Liberator in the early 1840s. He managed the paper’s Negro Employment Office and wrote articles, while continuing to lecture and organize antislavery meetings.  Like Garrison, he consistently opposed separate African American antislavery conventions and organizations.  In 1847, Nell moved to Rochester where he joined Frederick Douglass in publishing Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star.

In 1851, Nell finished his pamphlet, Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812, one of the first pieces of historical writing devoted to the experiences of African Americans.  Following the breach between Garrison and Douglass, Nell resigned at The North Star and in 1852 returned to Boston.  In April 1855, Nell published The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, the first comprehensive work of African American history.  In 1862, he became a postal clerk, one of the first such federal appointments for an African American, and he held the position until his death in 1874.