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Old 04-05-2014, 02:31 PM   #21 (permalink)
Lord Larehip
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The cakewalk carried on the tradition of the minstrel show in that noise was the raison d’etre. From the New York Age May 11, 1889 we read: “Prof. Banks’ prize cane and cake walk caught the crowd that was looking for fun ‘off the Bristol.’ The walkers were numerous and the din was equal to an indoor cyclone. The lucky walkers were carried off their feet, so great was the din.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkjsN-J27aU
Michigan J. Frog doing “Hello Ma Baby” and “The Michigan Rag.” The high-stepping dance he does with top hat and cane descended from the cakewalk which was just how the men dressed and moved.

Minstrelsy gave the world some of its best-known songs: Dixie, Camptown Races, Oh Susanna, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, Ring Ring de Banjo, The Arkansas Traveler, Blue Tail Fly (Jimmy Crack Corn), Carry Me Back to Old Virginny (Virginia’s state song), Golden Slippers, Turkey in the Straw (The Zip Coon song), Jenny Get Your Hoe Cake Done, Old Dan Tucker, Miss Lucy Long, The Old Grey Goose, Possum Up the Gum-Tree, Darling Nelly Gray, Little Brown Jug, Nelly Bly, Jingle Bells, Buffalo Gals, etc. Even some songs that weren't written for the minstrel stage came to the American consciousness (and ultimately the world) via minstrelsy such as "Comin' ‘Round the Mountain" which was originally a hymn sung in various African-American churches that the minstrel men picked up on--anything to get the audience clapping and singing along.

The minstrel tradition has not died but was simply so deeply absorbed into American culture that we take it for granted. Rock and roll, for example, is an outgrowth of minstrelsy. In fact, the parallels are startling. The white minstrel man onstage singing and dancing like a black man was updated in the form of Elvis Presley—a white man who went onstage to sing and dance like a black man. Or what was the difference between Dan Emmett singing, “I wish I wuz in de land ob cotton” and Wild Cherry singing, “Play dat funky music, white boy”? Did minstrelsy engender the same reaction among parents of young, white children that rock and roll did? Although I have no evidence that this was the case, we would have to assume this would have happened to some degree. Like rock and roll, minstrelsy was a loud, noisy music meant as a form of rebellion against authority. Many of the strands of rock and roll were directly influenced by minstrelsy—blues, jazz, country and folk. If the reader could be transported back in time to a real minstrel show, he or she would likely be surprised at the amount of audience participation reminiscent of a rock show as well as periodic violence breaking out.

Bluegrass, for example, is really modern day minstrelsy. The song structures, lyrics and instrumentation used in bluegrass is pure minstrelsy. I have argued with people online who try to insist that bluegrass came out of the Celtic tradition. This is sentiment echoed all over the internet and often by people who should know better. Bluegrass sounds NOTHING like Celtic music. When I asked these people for a single example of true Celtic music that resembled bluegrass, I never received a response. I know they checked but, obviously, none found anything because there isn’t anything. Bill Munroe basically invented bluegrass (which is actually younger than Western swing) and many of his original sidemen were former minstrel musicians. While bluegrass does have some roots in old time mountain music which is largely English and Scottish, bluegrass is more firmly rooted in rags, blues and jazz. That “built-in” bluegrass beat is certainly like nothing ever produced in native European music. Some proto-bluegrass musicians as Uncle Dave Macon were also former minstrel musicians whose music has strains of the bluegrass that was to come.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8b-Pbr2GVQ
Uncle Dave Macon doing a Dan Emmett song in the traditional style. As one can hear, minstrelsy had a tremendous influence on bluegrass which is not derived from Celtic music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZuREMOLxAk
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver do a song that is pure bluegrass but has no resemblance to the indigenous music of the U.K. This song could have been performed at a 19th century minstrel show without anyone finding it particularly odd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50_iRIcxsz0
Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” is not bluegrass but it is still PURE minstrel fare. Someone could have performed this on the minstrel stage in the 1840 and had a huge hit overnight.

The point is that there was no stylistic difference between what whites played and what blacks played in America. Although we might think of whites and blacks as keeping segregated prior to the Civil War, this was not any kind of rule. The New York newspapers were full of stories and notices of blacks playing for white dances, black and white marriages and even blacks and whites teaming up as con artists (think of the beginning of the movie “The Sting”—that was not all that rare). Black and white musicians knew each, respected each other’s talents and taught each other songs and techniques.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Elu4YHm-e0
A. C. “Eck” Robertson is one of the founders of country music who made his first recordings in the early 1920s. This song is called “There’s a Brown-Skinned Girl Down the Road Somewhere” which strongly indicates that it derives from black fiddlers. All the available evidence shows however that there was no difference in the way black fiddlers and white fiddlers played. Robertson’s partner, Henry Gilliland, even fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and believed in the “Lost Cause” ideology but still drew musical inspiration from the black musicians around him rather than from European music.

Perhaps white men as Robertson and Gilliland understood at least implicitly the importance of the Africa-American influence in the forging of a purely American style of music. Indeed many European composers understood this explicitly. One was Claude Debussy who wrote “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” in 1913:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JURdxCs2Uls
10-year-old Umi Garrett plays “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.” Since ragtime has a child-like quality to it, then perhaps we can best capture its spirit listening to children play it. Indeed Debussy wrote the piece for his own daughter, Emma-Claude (whom he called “Chouchou”) as one of six pieces that comprised his work “Children’s Corner” and a separate work, “La Boîte à joujoux” (The Toy Box).

Hsin-Yin Ko writes in his doctoral thesis, Evocations from Childhood: Stylistic Influences and Musical Quotations in Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner and La Boîte à Joujoux:

It was John Phillip Sousa [whom Debussy referred to as “The king of American music] who brought ragtime to Europe at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and his influences would soon reveal in Debussy’s music. Although Debussy had first heard music from the “New World” in the 1890’s, artistic representations and historic portrayals of American culture and its Negro heritage began surfacing in Europe around 1900. The earliest documented manifestations of such exposés appeared in fairs and boardwalks in the French resort of Deauville. One of the main characteristics of minstrel groups was their use of the cakewalk. As a musical form, this 19th century dance of African-American origin incorporated syncopation and a habanera-like rhythm into the regular march rhythm…

The composer Antonin Dvorak came to America to study its folk traditions and afterwards states that “the future American school will be based upon the music of the Negro.” This was considered radical for its time but he has been indisputably correct. When Dvorak was appointed director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, his assistant was a young African-American named Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh said he often sang the plantation songs he learned as a boy from his grandfather (a slave who bought his freedom) to Dvorak. The music Dvorak heard inspired his composition “New World Symphony”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETNoPqYAIPI

Concerning the piece, Burleigh stated that Dvorak based it quite consciously on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” He wrote: “Part of this old ‘spiritual’ will be found in the second theme of the first movement ... given out by the flute. Dvorak saturated himself with the spirit of these old tunes and then invented his own themes. There is a subsidiary theme in G minor in the first movement with a flatted seventh [a blue note] and I feel sure the composer caught this peculiarity of most of the slave songs from some that I sang to him; for he used to stop me and ask if that was the way the slaves sang.”

When Burleigh sang “Go Down Moses” for Dvorak, he said, “Burleigh, that is as great as a Beethoven theme.” This was no off-the-cuff remark for Dvorak who so idolized Beethoven that he had his students develop themes and then apply them to a Beethoven sonata as a skeleton and follow it measure for measure to teach them about key relationships and modulation in composition.

Burleigh belonged to the free African Church of St. Philip’s in New York in the Tenderloin district. Dvorak was very impressed by the skill of the St. Philip’s musicians and choir. Two other musicians from St. Philip’s were recruited to study under Dvorak at the conservatory, Edward B. Kinney and Charles Bolin (who later changed the spelling to “Bohlen”). Before Dvorak’s tenure as director was over (1895), over 150 African-Americans were enrolled at a conservatory with a student body of 600 seats. Kinney and Dvorak would conduct the St. Philip’s choir at Madison Square Garden in 1894 while Bohlen would go on to work with James Reese Europe at Carnegie Hall in the 1910s.


Antonin Dvorak.


Harry Thacker Burleigh spent much of the rest of his long musical career making artistic expressions of African-American folk music as he learned to do from his esteemed mentor, Dvorak. When Joplin moved New York, he lived in the Tenderloin district where he certainly would have heard about the efforts of Dvorak and Burleigh and so the work of these two men played a large role in the eventual transformation of jazz into art music.

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 04-05-2014 at 03:00 PM.
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