Throughout the nineteenth century musical features from a variety of ethnic cultures were introduced from time to time as exotic decoration to drawing-room ballads. Afro-Americans and Celts, however, were subject to cultural assimilation on a broader scale: no one could mistake a drawing-room 'Hindostanee' ballad for the real thing, but many blackface minstrel songs and pseudo-Celtic songs came to be accepted as the authentic cultural expression of black Americans and of Irish and British Celts. As a consequence of cultural assimilation, the true voice of these peoples was almost silenced. That it survived is a tribute to the fierce independence of those who fought to preserve it, and to whom it held meanings closely allied to a sense of community and racial identity. The present chapter, though, is only incidentally concerned with trying to define authentic culture; the subject under consideration is the process of part appropriation and part invention which went into the creation of fake ethnic songs.
In the eighteenth century curiosity was occasionally shown in the culture of African slaves working on colonial plantations. Dibdin developed a black character in his act named Mungo; he first appeared in Dibdin and Bickerstaffe's opera The Padlock (1768). Mungo was used to preach contentment with one's lot: for example, in 'Kickaraboo' (from Christmas Gambols, 1795) he sings,
One massa, one slave, high and low, all degrees,
Can be happy, dance, sing, make all pleasure him please . . .
and the song 'Negro Philosophy' (from The General Election, 1796) contains the lines:
Then let um wait till that world come,
Where overseers no jerk ye.
Mungo is a mixture of clown and 'noble savage'; he is not used, as are the blackface-minstrel corner men, to deflate high culture. That is the province of the comic Irishman: Dibdin's 'Irish Italian Song', for example, is intended to poke fun at Italian opera. This song is in Dibdin's Table Entertainment The Wags [81/82] (1790), which also includes 'The Negro and His Banjer', a song demonstrating an early appreciation of the importance of the banjo to black culture. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to describe the instrument, calling it a 'banjor', in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1784).
Before the minstrel show, a blackface performer would normally be found in a circus; additionally, in Britain, there were blackface 'folk' customs. Until the end of the War of 1812 in America, the dominant attitude to the black slave was similar to that of Dibdin's. When the war with Britain ended in 1815, a demand grew for a specifically American form of culture. Contained within that demand was the need for a better understanding of the cultural significance of the Afro-American. The Yankee, however, beat the Afro-American as the first stereotype to tread the stage, a figure courageous and simple, patriotic and strong in moral fibre. The key moment for blackface performance came when Thomas D. Rice took a song and dance, 'Jim Crow', from a black street performer in 1828, and acquired overnight fame. The details concerning his discovery of the song and his first performance of it have passed into legend and are surrounded by conflicting evidence and competing claims (Wittke 21, 23-24). Rice was not the first to appropriate black culture (the first definite example was the Englishman Charles Matthews's use of 'Possum up a Gum Tree' in his entertainment A Trip to America, 1823), but his unique success came from his developing an entire entertainment based on close imitation of an actual black performer. He thus set a precedent for the mediation of black culture by white entertainers which has continued to the present (blues, jazz, reggae, hip-hop, etc.).
Credit for turning blackface performance from a solo entertainment into a minstrel show is generally given to the Virginia Minstrels. They were formed by Daniel Emmett in New York in 1843 and began as a quartet (violin, banjo, tambourine, and bones). The market swiftly opened up for minstrelsy: blackface performance may have started in the South and Mid-West, but blackface minstrelsy was concentrated in the industrial North-East (New York, Philadelphia, and Boston). The class orientation of the early minstrel show is difficult to assess: Toll sees it as 'unabashedly popular in appeal' (Toll 25), yet notes that it was performed by 'middling' Americans. It is not a simple question of judging which theatres minstrels performed in, because each American theatre was divided up internally on clear class lines — boxes for the elite, the pit for the 'middling' class, the gallery for the lower orders. The images of plantation slaves, moreover, were not shaped by class consciousness and black realities, but by racial consciousness and white prejudices. The minstrel show enabled the already racially mixed white Americans to develop a sense of national identity, and to perceive the place of black Americans within that identity. While guarding against the pitfall of presentism by being wary of applying today's attitudes on race to the nineteenth century, it is none the less evident that minstrel shows were racist in suggesting the superiority of one race to another.
At the same time, minstrel racism was full of contradictions: patronizing mockery, for instance, became ambiguous when black culture proved to be thrilling (as was the concluding minstrel hoe-down, based on the black ring-shout) . Minstrels were picking up ideas for dances from black slaves in the South [82/83] throughout the 1850s; the texts of songs, too, often demonstrate an African interest in animal fables and fantasy. There was a shifting level of identification with the blackface performer which related to the meaning of his mask. The mask is a traditional means of obliterating the individual personality; it requires that the character be seen as symbolic of something that extends beyond the purely personal. It does not need to be an actual mask: Buster Keaton's blank expression was a mask, and so is the blacked-up face in minstrelsy. The blackface minstrel denoted a particular kind of theatricality. The adoption of the blackface mask allowed the loss of inhibition without the loss of dignity: once the burnt cork was applied, a transformation of character could take place. This helps to explain why minstrelsy was as popular in Britain as in America. In an age of inhibitions and social restraint, it was desirable to have a valve for letting off steam. For the bourgeoisie this must have been a major factor in minstrelsy's appeal; certainly there were great numbers of middle-class minstrels who lacked all but the slightest acquaintance with the behaviour of black Americans.
It is unlikely that the minstrel projection of the African as a person in need of paternalistic care from a civilized slave owner would work on the same level of recognition in Britain as in America. Wilberforce, after all, had fought for years against just that sort of image (and the contrast, made with hypocritical concern, between poor white workers and happy black slaves) before his bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed in 1807. For the British working class, the minstrel show must have been attractive, not so much in its caricatures of a little-known Afro-American population, but in its inversion of much of the dominant ideology of the day, an inversion which inevitably posed challenges to the values by which they were asked to live (for example, the Protestant work ethic). There is no doubting that the minstrel show had the broadest cross-class appeal of any Victorian entertainment. Yet there is surely no one who doubts, either, that blackface minstrelsy did help to promote ruling-class interests by contributing to the growing racism of nineteenth-century Britain. Notwithstanding the general rejection of paternalistic arguments for slavery, many came to accept the idea of a paternalistic Pax Britannica, notions of 'responsible governments' abroad, and then the need for imperialist expansion and the scramble for Africa. In America it is noteworthy that before the Civil War Indians were represented in minstrel shows as 'noble savages', but during the big push west in the 1870s, when Indians blocked white expansion, they became 'scalping savages'. The racist side to minstrelsy, therefore, should not be wholly dismissed in the face of the accusation 'presentism'.
Blackface minstrelsy developed chronologically in the same manner in Britain ss in America: 1836—50 saw the progression from solo performer to minstrel troupe; 1850-70 was its hey-day; 1870—1900 was the period of growing lavishness and gimmickry, the buying up of troupes and the formation of bigger and fewer companies. Minstrelsy, therefore, followed the ordinary course of evolution of capitalist consumer industries. Minstrelsy, in a form mixing blackface men and whiteface women, has not entirely disappeared in Britain: a 'Black and White Minstrel Show' was presented at the New Theatre, Hull, in 1986. Rice was as big a sensation when he performed in Britain in 1836 as he had been in America. [83/84] Coincidentally, he appeared in London the same year as Henry Russell made his debut in New York. Russell was the first Englishman to build a repertoire of 'Negro melodies', although he did not perform in blackface. An open champion of the abolition of slavery, Russell points to further contradictions in the ideological significance of this sort of material. Most of the early minstrels were pro-slavery, yet they often sang the same songs as Russell. In Russell's repertoire was 'Dandy Jim of Caroline', which, along with 'Zip Coon', established the stereotype of the black dandy, holding up to ridicule his strutting around in patent boots, pantaloons, and long-tailed blue coat. Dandy Jim's girlfriend has the obligatory enormous feet - 'eighteen inches from de heel to de toe' - and his male potency is beyond dispute (he intends to have twenty-four children). Yet, while on the one hand the song can be seen as satirizing an Afro-American trying to rise above his station, on the other hand it can be interpreted as a universal indictment of vanity, begging the question why anyone at all should dress in such a manner.
The melody of 'Dandy Jim' is typical of early minstrelsy in owing much, if not everything, to Afro-American music-making. Unlike the thematic style of Western European song, the fondness for broad archlike shapes, and the careful positioning of climax, 'Dandy Jim' is constructed in short melodic and rhythmic cells and generates excitement through repetition. The two motives, or cells, are marked (a) and (b) in the complete tune given below.
Cell structure, which may be presumed to be of African origin, characterizes many of Russell's 'Negro melodies' as well as many of the songs sung by early [84/85] troupes like the Virginia Minstrels, the Ethiopian Serenaders, and the Christy Minstrels. Other features which suggest appropriation of black culture are syncopation ('Buffalo Gals', 'Old Dan Tucker') and an absence of modulation. Often the leading-note is absent too (though strict pentatonicism is rare), or the leading-note is flattened, 'blue note' fashion. The distinctive effect of the latter, plus one or two other resemblances, helps identify a kinship between Russell's 'De Merry Shoe-Black' and the Ethiopian Serenaders' 'My Old Aunt Sally'. Compare the following extracts (Russell's tune has been transposed up one semitone to facilitate the comparison):
Comparing the two songs reveals some of the changes, especially those resulting from adding new texts, which might be wrought upon the same ethnic material; but which song is closer to that material in its original appropriated form is impossible to say (though a guess would naturally favour the Ethiopian Serenaders' version for its avoidance of the leading-note amongst other things).
The 'call and response', common in the black religious rituals of the South, also finds its way into minstrel song. Stephen Foster (1826—64) uses cell structure and call and response' in his famous song of the late 1840s, 'Gwine To Run All Night' (or 'De Camptown Races'). He carefully marks the verse to be sung as solo, alternating with chorus every two bars. Foster became familiar with black culture [85/86] as a boy, when his father regularly allowed him to visit 'a church of shouting colored people'.3 The other features 'Gwine To Run All Night' shares with typical minstrel songs of the 1840s are a near pentatonic tune and simple duple metre. Absence of modulation and 2/4 time are ideally suited to the banjo: the former because of the banjo's drone string (it is not certain whether this was added by Joel Sweeney of Virginia in 1831, or whether he added the lowest string 4), and the latter because it is the rhythm of the basic banjo strum. That this strum, inherited by today's clawhammer banjoists, was the same as that used in the first minstrel shows, is confirmed by Foster's song 'Way Down in Ca-i-ro' (1850) which imitates a banjo in its piano accompaniment.
Foster's involvement with minstrel songs demonstrates how quickly they were accepted into bourgeois culture, for he writes to E. P. Christy in 1852, saying:
I had the intention of omitting my name on my Ethiopian songs, owing to the prejudice against them by some, which might injure my reputation as a writer of another style of music, but I find that by my efforts I have done a great deal to build up a taste for the Ethiopian songs among refined people. [Letter printed in Chase 293]
Two-thirds of Foster's output is unconnected with minstrelsy: 'Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair' (1854) typifies his drawing-room manner — wider range, modulation, gentle pace, flowing phrases, pervasive melancholy — but in the 1850s these two styles began to intermingle. His letter to Christy in 1852 was written to ask if he could be given credit for having written 'Old Folks at Home', which had appeared, by agreement, under Christy's own name in the previous year. It must have been obvious to Foster that there was no great divide between a song like this and a genteel ballad like Bayly's 'Long, Long Ago!' Indeed, the use of repetition in the latter even suggests 'call and response' form (compare it, for example, with the spiritual 'Zion's Children'). Bayly's song, incidentally, was converted into a popular song entitled 'Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree', in 1942. In 1850 Foster must have already had his sights on the domestic market when he arranged the chorus of 'Nelly Bly' for two harmonizing sopranos for the sheet music published by Firth, Pond & Co., New York. The song had been written for the Christy Minstrels who, like all the troupes at that time, were entirely composed of men. Foster became uncertain about the use of dialect: in 1853 he wrote 'My Old Kentucky Home' first in dialect and then without. He began to avoid dialect in other songs, for example, 'Old Black Joe' (1860), and finally abandoned it altogether after 'Don't Bet Your Money on de Shanghai' (1861).
There was in America, besides the minstrel show, a tradition of respectable entertainments given by travelling families, who offered simple, catchy songs as well as melodramatic pieces. The teetotal Hutchinson Family, for example, sang short, lively tunes like 'Cape Ann' as well as long, dramatic ballads of the gran scena type like 'The Vulture of the Alps' (a harrowing tale of a father who finds his child has been eaten by a vulture- the bird has considerately left the boy's cap on his skull to aid identification). The humour and rhythmic drive of 'Cape Ann' are not far removed from contemporary minstrel songs and, just as the sentimental minstrel song was a blend of parlour and plantation, the exuberant minstrel song must have combined black culture with the more vigorous elements of the white [86/87] tradition represented by the Hutchinsons. Furthermore, the text of 'Cape Ann' is full of the nonsense humour and exclamations of early minstrelsy (though obviously related to English 'folksongs' like 'The Three Huntsmen'):
One said it was a frog,
But the other said nay;
He said it was a canary bird,
With its feathers washed away
Look ye there!
The Hutchinsons were accompanied by an ensemble with the European tone colour of violins, cello, and guitar; the minstrel ensemble was dominated by the African sound of the banjo and percussion.
The minstrel show won respectability in Britain as quickly as in America: the Ethiopian Serenaders performed at the White House in 1844, and on their British tour in 1846 they performed before Queen Victoria at Arundel Castle. Barlow's Nigger Melodist was published in 1846, claiming to provide a 'choice collection of all the original songs' including those of the Ethiopian Serenaders and celebrated (unnamed) banjo players. In the early 1850s Davidson was marketing his Cheap Edition of the Songs of the Ethiopian Serenaders alongside his 'cheap editions' of Russell's songs, Dibdin's songs, and Jenny Lind's 'Swedish Melodies'. Although the Ethiopian Serenaders prided themselves in being the most refined of the troupes, the Virginia Minstrels were also at pains to avoid anything which might be considered vulgar, and the Christy Minstrels spoke of their 'unique and chaste performances' which had been 'patronized by elite and fashion' (Advertisement quoted in Wittke 51). It was the last-mentioned troupe whose name became almost synonymous with minstrelsy in Britain, the name 'Christy' being used like 'Ethiopian' merely as a convenient label for blackface minstrels.
The rapid acceptance of the minstrel show as respectable entertainment contrasts with the bourgeois reception of music-hall. In spite of its broad cross-class appeal, however, it was 'just as much about English social relations as it was about a scantily known Afro-American population'.7 The black struggle in America may have held very different meanings to the different classes in Britain, as does, say, the struggle for free trade unionism in Poland today. Minstrelsy's links with bourgeois humanitarians like Russell gave it a more elevated status than music-hall, but it would be wrong to identify the blackface minstrel too closely with the Afro-American plantation slave. Again, it must be stressed that the blackface mask denoted a certain kind of theatricality, and when genuine black performers confirmed the minstrel stereotypes, it was because they needed to adopt the conventions of blackface entertainment to enjoy success (see Bratton 1986: 78-80). The black stereotypes projected by the minstrel show had their repercussions in other musical genres: no longer was it possible in 1870, as it had been in 1770, for a black actress to take the part of Polly in The Beggar's Opera.
The two biggest British troupes, both based in London, were the Moore and Burgess Minstrels and the Mohawk Minstrels. The former were formed in 1857, the year that E. P. Christy's Minstrels visited London, and they also named themselves 'Christy Minstrels'. The Mohawk Minstrels were formed in 1867. [88/89] The British minstrel show came to maturity during and after the American Civil War, and its heavy content of sentimentality derives as much from the changes wrought upon minstrelsy by that conflict as from a deliberate appeal to the bourgeois drawing-room market. In the 1850s minstrels were continuing to paint a picture of contented black slaves, perhaps playing the occasional prank on an overseer (something they did not do in the 1840s), but happy with their families, and needing to be supervised by whites for their own good. When George Aiken's stage version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was greeted with enthusiasm in New York in 1853, minstrel shows began to include parodies of it (Barnum also staged a pro-Southern version at his American Museum). Uncle Tom's Cabin was a more uniform success in Britain, Henry Russell and Eliza Cook responding to it with particular warmth. All the same, the majority of minstrel troupes found themselves out of favour in the South immediately before the Civil War despite their pro-plantation ideology; the reason was simply that they came from the North. Towards the middle of the Civil War, minstrel shows were dominated by patriotic Unionism: gaiety passed into martial vigour, and the sentimental songs now reached out to the audience's concern for friends and relatives in the war. Foster remarks in 'That's What's The Matter' in 1862 (a song for Bryant's Minstrels):
We live in hard and stirring times,
Too sad for mirth, too rough for rhymes.
An irony of the conflict, which emerges unspoken from such songs as 'Dear Mother, I've Come Home to Die' (words by E. Bowers, music by H. Tucker), is that brother fought brother while both sides believed in family values. It was only in 1863 that the emancipation of slaves became an issue, partly because Lincoln needed to recruit blacks into the Union army. Till then the cause had been simply the restoration of the Union, a thing minstrels had always supported. Reluctantly minstrels began to accept the need for emancipation when it became impossible to overlook the part played by black soldiers in fighting for the Union. A key moment arrived when minstrels felt able to sing songs by the fervent abolitionist Henry Clay Work (such as 'Kingdom Coming') whose family home in Illinois had been a station on the underground railroad for runaway slaves. Sentimental songs, however, never concerned dying black soldiers, and they never consisted of a blanket condemnation of war (which would have been unpatriotic). It was the Hutchinson Family who sang Walter Kittredge's anti-war song 'Tenting on the Old Camp Ground', a song which was revived by Pete Seeger in the 1960s as part of the protest movement against the Vietnam War. The American Civil War drew out further contradictions in minstrelsy when the South adopted as a favourite patriotic song 'Dixie's Land', written and composed as a minstrel walk-around by the patriotic Northerner Daniel Emmett in 1860. In Britain Foster's minstrel songs were thought to be Confederate ballads, but some of his other songs, such as 'We Are Coming Father Abraam, 300,000 More' (1862) and 'Nothing but a Plain Old Soldier' (1863), prove he was a committed Unionist. The Christy Minstrels made their allegiance public by singing 'John Brown's Body'. To British publishers all this was irrelevant: Hopwood & Crew published [88/89] the latter — advertised as 'Federal Hymn' — as well as Celebrated Songs of the Confederate States of America.
The minstrel show and the Civil War gave the two biggest boosts to American music publishing in the nineteenth century. Federal ballads outnumber Confederate ballads like Harry Macarthy's 'The Bonnie Blue Flag' (1861) for the reason that all the major publishing firms were in the North. After the War there was a slump, and minstrels faced competition from new variety shows offering wholesome family entertainment. Minstrel shows were therefore under pressure either to compete in terms of respectability, or to take an opposite direction. An example of the second option was the female minstrel show, which would nowadays merit the description 'soft porn'. Perhaps in reaction, the respectable minstrel show remained exclusively male, although the female impersonator (for example, Francis Leon) became an important character in the show. The lachrymose minstrels of this period, obsessed with morbidity and 'Old Black Joe' nostalgia, were eventually reinvigorated by more black culture which filtered through to them via the black-minstrel shows.
Black-minstrel troupes had emerged in 1855 but did not establish themselves until after the Civil War. Unfortunately, the necessity of making money drove them to confirm the minstrel stereotype at first. Again, it must be emphasized that this was because people expected a particular kind of entertainment when they went to a minstrel show; in different circumstances, the African Theatre in New York had flourished (it was here Charles Matthews heard 'Possum up a Gum Tree' in 1822) and was, in fact, forced to close by whites envious of its success. Black troupes got into the business of minstrelsy by capitalizing on the authenticity of their material, and by stressing slave connections. Whites started to take over ownership of black troupes in the 1870s. Sam Hague organized a ten-man 'Slave Troupe' for a British tour in 1866. J. H. Haverly's Colored Minstrels came to Britain in 1881 and received acclaim; they were presented as spontaneous and natural, as opposed to his artistically refined blackfaced Mastodon Minstrels.
James Bland (1854-1911) of Callender's Georgia Minstrels, the finest minstrel composer of the 1870s and 80s, was black. The texts of his songs (he wrote both words and music), however, express the dominant culture and endorse black stereotypes in just the same way as the songs by women, discussed in the previous chapter, confirmed female stereotypes. 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginny' (1878), the official state song of Virginia, has been attacked in recent years as racist. Bland's 'Oh, Dem Golden Slippers!' (1879) shows the effect of the conventions of blackface minstrelsy on a black minstrel: it adheres to the limits of what was felt to be comfortable when the subject of religion entered the songs of blackface minstrels. It seemed incongruous for certain subjects to be sung about in blackface; on these grounds Pickering feels that minstrel comic love songs subvert the parlour ballad (Bratton 79). However, love songs of the serenading type were not so common in the home as those love songs concerning separation and death, and here minstrels acquiesced in the same kind of sentimentality from the days of 'Lucy Neal' onwards. Indeed, one of the most famous parting songs was 'Darling Nelly Gray' (1856) by the abolitionist Benjamin Handby. Its serious [89/90] intent is evident from its avoidance of dialect, and the directness of its third verse:
One night I went to see her but 'she's gone!' the neighbours say,
The white man bound her with his chain,
They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.
There was undoubtedly a widespread feeling of incongruity at blackface minstrels singing religious songs, and a reluctance on the part of publishers to categorize a minstrel song as sacred: for example, 'Still Watch o'er Me Little Star,' which is certainly religious in its content (click here for performance by the author), was listed in London publishers Howard & Co.'s 'Musical Library' under the category 'song' rather than 'sacred song'. Here is further evidence that the blackface mask did not operate on a realist level, for whereas blackface minstrels rarely sang religious songs, one of the most successful groups of black musicians in the nineteenth century was the Jubilee Singers, who sang almost nothing but religious songs (see the following chapter).
The musical style of minstrelsy during its British heyday in the 1860s and early 70s points to the diverse class character of its audience. The songs of Harry Hunter, a celebrated 'interlocutor' (a minstrel master of ceremony) of the period, illustrate the rapprochement with music-hall: 'The Doctor Says I'm Not To Be Worried' is musically indistinguishable from a music-hall song. It has the music hall's 6/8 jollity (inherited from the comic 'Irish song') rather than the 2/4 vivacity of arly minstrelsy, and it follows a typical music-hall form of eight-bar introduction, sixteen-bar verse, and eight-bar refrain; considered harmonically, too, it empties the passing modulations characteristic of music-hall song. There is nothing in the music which sets the song apart from, say, George Leybourne's 'That's Where You Make The Mistake'. The crucial difference with Hunter's songs was that they could be assumed to be, in the language of the day, entirely devoid of all vulgarity in their texts. An advertisement for his song 'Little Joe' declared with wry humour: 'the song suits both dark and fair singers, as it may be appropriately sung either in evening dress or nigger costume.'10
Hunter also sang parody songs: for example, 'I Dreamt That I Dwelt on the Top of St. Pauls', a parody of Balfe's 'I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls'; and 'Just Behind the Battle, Mother', a parody of George Root's American Civil War ballad Just Before the Battle, Mother'. The last-mentioned parody is a good example of minstrel inversion, and the challenge it could pose to dominant ideology; consider verse 3 and chorus:
Gently falls the night, dear mother,
Gently slopes the battle plain,
While I glide from sight, dear mother,
Gently sloping home again.
I care not for wars and quarrels,
Or for laurels on my brow,
I'd prefer to see the laurels,
In your kitchen garden now. [90/91]
(CHORUS) Dearest mother, here the hissing
Of the bullets is too plain,
So I'll be numbered with the missing,
But oh! never with the slain.
Compare this with the message of the original song, which is summed up in the first four lines of verse two:
Oh, I long to see you, Mother;
And the lovin ones at home;
But, I'll never leave our banner,
Till in honor I can come.
Minstrel parodies had a double-edged appeal, which again relates to the cross-class nature of their audience: to some they would appear to deflate, to others they would seem to natter (the parodies tended to be affectionate). Whichever was the response, the songs Hunter parodied must have been well known to his audience for the humour to work. Minstrel parody songs are a key to discovering to what extent familiarity with the drawing-room genre was spread among the working class. Moreover, they lend further emphasis to the speed with which minstrel shows associated themselves with bourgeois song, since even in the early 1850s there were parodies of Tom Moore ('The Young May Moon' became 'De Big White Moon') and Henry Russell ('A Life on the Ocean Wave' became 'A Life by de Galley Fire'). In their turn, minstrel songs might be parodied in the music-hall: for example, at the Oxford, W. Randal sang of a seaside holiday in Margate in 'On the Sands', a parody by J. Caulfield of 'Dixie's Land'. When minstrels were not actually performing there, minstrel songs also found their way into the music-hall in medley songs, such as Harry Clifton's 'Robinson Crusoe'.
While some minstrel songs parodied drawing-room ballads, with much of the humour resulting from the contrast of the polite musical style with the new text, other minstrel songs embraced the genteel idiom and squeezed the utmost sentiment out of it. Horace Norman, the lyric tenor of the Moore and Burgess Christy Minstrels, sang ballads like 'I'm Lonely Since My Mother Died' which made Cook and Russell's 'Old Arm Chair' (Performance by present author) seem positively restrained. The English Buckleys, who emigrated to America and formed one of the first minstrel troupes, also specialized in the polite style and returned to make a triumphant British tour. Apart from songs like J. R. Thomas's 'The Cottage by the Sea', which is a ballad of the Claribel type, they included burlesque opera in their programmes. Their wholesomeness is epitomized by the song which gave them their 'greatest hit', 'I'd Choose To Be a Daisy'. The Musical Bouquet, which concentrated on publications aimed at the drawing-room market, published all the Buckley Serenaders' songs. Hopwood & Grew, who had an extensive music-hall catalogue and therefore lacked the genteel status of the Musical Bouquet, were keen to point out that the Moore and Burgess Christy Minstrels' songs, too, were 'ever welcomed and highly appreciated in the drawing room'.11
A satiric view of the banjo's popularity: Banjonalities by George DuMaurier from English Society. Not in print version.
One effect of the acceptability of minstrel songs in the drawing room was that it became fashionable to play the banjo. The Prince of Wales took banjo lessons [91/92] from James Bohee (of the genuinely black Bohee Brothers), and middle-class males throughout the land were eagerly taking up the instrument. Walter Howard's Banjo Tutor and Banjo Songs catered for the demand for tuition; it was advertised without undue modesty as 'the best instruction book in the world, combined with an unequalled budget of popular songs & ballads'.12 Walter Howard was a member of the Mohawk Minstrels, and his tutor was published by Francis Bros. & Day, London, who also published the Mohawk Minstrels' Magazine and Mohawks' Annual. Harry Hunter's Balfe parody, 'I Dreamt That I Dwelt on the Top of St Pauls', was sung by Walter Howard, and the sheet music was available in a version for voice and banjo (also published by Francis Bros. & Day). Another effect of the respectability of minstrelsy, and tied to the fashion for the banjo, was the emergence of 'plantation songs' targeted straight at the drawing room rather than being directed there via a minstrel show. Alfred Scott Gatty's Plantation Songs, which consist mainly of his own verse and music, show that the assimilation of Afro-American culture into English bourgeois culture has reached its final stage. He had four volumes published in the 1880s, the first three giving an option of piano or banjo accompaniment. The first song of volume 1, 'Click! Clack!', reasserts, in spite of recent history, the preferred view of the plantation as a lost Eden of uninhibited joy.
De oberseer he turn him back,
Click! clack! clatter go de clogs!
De banjo out in half a crack,
Click! clack! clatter go dc clogs!
Den Joe, he lead out lubly Nell
ThoJim swear Dinah am de belle,
And off to de dance dey run pell mell,
Click! clack! clatter go de clogs!
Last modified 23 May 2018