Monday, January 31, 2011

John Rice Irwin on dulcimers and Jean Ritchie - mentions "scanting" dulcimer in Middle Tennessee

John Rice Irwin proprietor of the Museum of Appalachia. [He was my American history teacher at Norris High School.] Mentions "scantling" dulcimers in Middle Tennessee, rarity and geographical distribution of dulcimers in Va., N.C. and eastern Ky. Jean Ritchie's role in popularizing the instrument.



____________________

Collecting Irish songs in Co. Galway

In 1952 and 1953 Ritchie landed a Fulbright scholarship to collect variants of her family's songs in Great Britain and Ireland. xxx

Jean Ritchie music in irish kitchens galway
A musical gathering in the kitchen of Daibhi and Maura O'Cronin during a visit by Jean Ritchie. This is an excerpt from SEE HEAR the folk music video magazine. For information vsit JEANRITCHIE.COM [YouTube georgepickow]



Link to article in Galway Advertiser on May 16th 1996 on an exhibition of Jean Ritchie's and George Pickow's collection of material from their Fulbright research in Ireland during the 1950s in the Ritchie-Pickow Archive at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

This, excerpted from the NUI Galway webswite:

In 1996 the Ritchie Pickow Phototgraphic Archive was acquired by the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway, along with tapes of sound recordings. The photographs were taken and the recordings made by the husband and wife team George Pickow and Jean Ritchie on visits to Ireland in 1952 and 1953. Two exhibitions of the Ritchie Pickow Photographic Archive have been held at NUIG in 1992 and 1996. It was under the auspices of Dáibhín Ó Cróinín, lecturer in the History Department of the university and a grandson of one of the vocalists recorded by Jean Ritchie, that the collection was acquired for the Library Archives.
There's a little more ...

JSTOR has a review of a CD and book of Elizabeth Cronin's songs with background on the singer and the beginning of Jean Ritchie's recollections of collecting songs from her (before it goes onto the next page and behind JSTOR's paywall).

-----------------

RETRIEVED LATER AND POSTED HERE BECAUSE IT FITS THE SUBJECT MATTER - it reflects the way I heard "scantling" used when I lived in East Tennessee

David Swann. "Really? I Love Words." Jefferson County Post [Dandridge, Tenn.] April 25, 2011. http://www.jeffersoncountypost.com/jcpbackissues/apr25-2011/page7.htm


... Finally, I really like the words scantling, but find the definition completely inadequate. Apparently, most people think a scantling is a small piece of lumber. To me, a scantling is clearly a toddler dressed only in a diaper. “The scantling ran through Wal-Mart like he owned the place.” Put some clothes on that kid, and change that diaper while you’re at it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - DAA - New Salem - Feb 5

Here are some video clips to supplement our workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 5, at New Salem. We'll meet at the desk in the Visitors Center and find a room.

I'm posting several YouTube clips that demonstrate basic technique ... watch for the way they silde the noter and strum across all the strings to maintain a drone. And below I'll post a couple of versions of the songs we'll cover Saturday, in case you're like me and the tab means nothing to you unless you have something to listen to. The songs are "Cripple Creek" and "Riddle Song (I Gave My Love a Cherry)" from Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil, available for $11.07 from Amazon.com.

Clips on technique, and links to websites with more tips on technique, an online dulcimer community and more ...

Ben Seymour plays "Sheep Shell Corn"

This song is a good introduction to pick-and-noter style playing. It's in a different tuning (a D unison tuning they use around Galax, Va., that fits with old-time string bands), but we can learn a lot from it. For one thing, the song is in our book - it's in a modal scale, and we'll get to it later, but it's a good old fiddle tune. Well worth knowing.

Mostly, just watch the way Ben slides the noter up and down the fretboard. Notice how he keeps his index finger on top of the noter -- that's the traditional Virgina style of holding it. He's playing a fiddle tune up to speed, and he's doing the same thing other players do with hammer-ons and pull-offs. That faint whistling sound is from the noter sliding over the metal frets. You want it! It's the authentic sound of the mountain dulcimer.



Then click on the Ferdot link and go to Ben's YouTube channel called (what else?) Ferdot. He has 37 uploads, more than half of them demonstrating instruments he's made. The Galax dulcimers and the scheitholts he plays with a noter. Click on the "see all" link and keep scrolling down to where he plays "Entre le Bouef" on Walnut Scheitholt (it's about seventh from the bottom out of 37). See how he's holding the noter, with his thumb on top? That's the Kentucky style. I started out Kentucky style (bought my first dulcimer in Kentucky, for one thing), but now I've switched to Virginia style. I prefer it. But how you hold it is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Brian and Lisa [Strumelia] play "Coal Holler"
A fiddle-and-dulcimer duo with good Virginia-style noting on a Galax-style dulcimer. That's the same type that Ben played above. The tuning is different - partly because those high unison D's can be heard against other instruments - but her technique is worth studying. But that's not the only reason I'm posting her clip.

Strumelia, as she calls herself online, administers Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, a "fun online Appalachian dulcimer community" at http://mountaindulcimer.ning.com/ and a Mountain Dulcimer Noter and Drone Blog at http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/. On her YouTube channel - click on the Strumelia link - she has a series of six- to ten-minute instruction videos on how to hold a noter, how to strum, how to play the traditional dulcimer ... and some more videos on traditional technique featuring "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." I can't recommend them highly enough.



Two Songs of the Wilderness Road we'll learn Saturday - posted here mostly so you can get the tune in your head ...

Mike Seeger plays "Cumberland Gap"
At Wintergreen, Va., in August 2007. The tune has numerous variants, especially on the B part. here Mike Seeger, folklorist and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, plays it more or less as Ralph Lee Smith tabs it out in our book.



Mary O'Hara singing "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (Riddle Song)
In concert during the mid-1980s. Mary O'Hara is an Irish soprano, sang a traditional Irish and classical repertoire, influenced Mary Black among others. (Check out "The Fairy Tree" and "An Maidirin a Rua (the Little Red Fox)", if you have any tolerance for art songs.) There are plenty of other versions of the "Riddle Song" on YouTube, including one by Sam Cooke, but O'Hara's is very close to the original(s) collected by Cecil Sharp in the 1910s. Ralph Lee has three variants of the tune, all three lovely.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Irish tunes in D w/ dulcimer and guitar

Dulcimer and guitar (DADGAD) duo from upstate New York - YouTube channel at

http://www.youtube.com/user/5712dbg#p/u

Top of Cork Road
Top of Cork Road Irish Fiddle Tune Traditional Mountain Dulcimer Kristin Gitler Acoustic Guitar David Goldman Central New York



Fiddlers' Companion has:
TOP OF CORK ROAD [1], THE (Mullac Botair Corcaig). AKA and see "Bonny Green Garters [1]," "Cork Road," "Father O'Flynn," "Rollicking Irishman," "To Drink With the Devil," "Trample Our Enemies," "Yorkshire Lasses [1]." Irish, American; Double Jig. USA; New England, southwestern Pa., southern N.Y. D Major (most versions): C Major (Howe, Joyce). Standard tuning. AABB. Bayard (1981) says that despite the Irish-ness of its title, English versions in print predate Irish ones. He reports that Moffat found no earlier Irish versions that 1798, while Kidson found English versions (as "The Yorkshire Lasses") from 1789 and 1781. The melody serves as the vehicle for Alfred Percival Graves’ song “Father O’Flynn,” published in 1874. New York researcher, musician and writer Don Meade says: “The title track of Tommy Peoples’ Shanachie LP The High Part of the Road is a back translation into English of an Irish translation of “The Top of the Road” (Ard an Bothar), which Breandan Breathnach in Ceol Rince na hEireann, vol. 1 mistakenly applied to the preceding jig in Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, a two-part version of ‘The Blooming Meadows.’”

***

The tune was cited as frequently having been played for Orange County, New York, country dances in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly). Perhaps the earliest recording is from 1905 by violinist Charles D’Alamaine, born in 1871 in England, who died in 1943. D’Alamaine immigrated to the United States in 1888, and by 1890 had established himself as “instructor on violin” in Evanston, Illinois; by 1910 he had removed to Yonkers, and in 1920 was a chiropractor in New York City (info. from Paul Gifford). Sources for notated versions: Hiram Horner (fifer from Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pa., 1960), Hoge MS (a fife MS from Pa., 1944) [Bayard]. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 450A‑C, pgs. 429‑430. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; pg. 56. Harding's All‑Round (1905, 1932), No. 176. Harding Collection (1915) and Harding's Original Collection (1928), No. 87. Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; pg. 19. Jarman (Old Time Fiddlin' Tunes); No. or pg. 17. S. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 6: Jigs), 1982 (revised 1989, 2001); pg. 13. Joyce (Ancient Irish Music) 1873/4th ed.; No. 48, pgs. 48-49. Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 1; pg. 38. Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 3; No. 189. Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 4; pg. 22. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler’s Repertoire), 1983; No. 33. Moffat (202 Gems of Irish Melody), pg. 50. O'Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915/1987; No. 163, pg. 91. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1979; No. 1031. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1986; No. 244, pg. 54. Robbins, 1933; No. 127. Roche Collection, 1982, vol. 1; No. 97, pg. 42. Ryan’s Mammoth Collection, 1883; pg. 85. Songer (Portland Collection), 1997; pg. 198. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964; pg. 48. White's Excelsior Collection, 1907; pg. 3.

See also listings at:

Alan Snyder’s Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index

Jane Keefer’s Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources

Alan Ng’s Irishtune.info


http://www.thesession.org/tunes/display/5018 Session -
This song is first published in England as the "Yorkshire Lasses" in 1789. The earliest Irish version stems from 1798. It is also widely known as "The Rollicking Irishman" and the famous song "Father O'Flynn".

---------------

And one that isn't in D (that I know of), and isn't played on a dulcimer ...
Mary O'Hara on harp ... an Irish art song called "The Fairy Tree" ...




Audio of John McCormack on Great Voices of the 20th Century on the Rhapsody website.

Mary O'Hara has music - for harp and voice - in Vol. 2 of Travels With My Harp" series of transcriptions. Available on her website.

Mudcat Cafe has the usual authoritative thread at http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=29496 with complete lyrics:
Subject: RE: The Fairy (Thorn) Tree
From: Alice
Date: 12 Jan 01 - 12:31 PM

THE FAIRY TREE
Isabel Leslie, alias Temple Lane, Clogheen, Ireland

All night around the thorn tree,
The little people play,
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
From break of dawn til moonrise,
Alone it stands on high,
With twisted springs for branches,
Across the winter sky.

They'll tell you dead men hung there,
Its black and bitter fruit,
To guard the buried treasure
Round which it twines its root.
They'll tell you Cromwell hung them,
But that could never be,
He'd be in dread like others
To touch the Fairy Tree.

But Katie Ryan who saw there
In some sweet dream she had,
The Blessed Son of Mary
And all His face was sad.
She dreamt she heard Him saying:
"Why should they be afraid?"
[O'Hara repeats "Why should they be afraid?"]
When from a branch of thorn tree
The crown I wore was made?

From moonrise round the thorn tree
The little people play
And men and women passing
Will turn their heads away.
But if your heart's a child's heart
And if your eyes are clean,
You'll never fear the thorn tree
That grows beyond Clogheen
There's also a page, with local lore, put up by local authorities in Clogheen.

Lyrics on a CD by a Canadian singer named Calistia attributed to Temple Lane. She's Wiccan, leaves out the third and fourth verses on her website.

Primitive Baptist psalmody - Misc. notes

Good summary of folk hymnody in this headnote: Appalachian State. Hymnals and Hymnody in the Appalachian Collection -- A Bibliography
The Sacred Harp , Christian Harmony , Old Harp of Columbia , and Southern Harmony . Emphasis is placed on singing with emotion rather than a mastery of blend and vocal technique, although these tended to follow, the longer a group sang together. Many regions of throughout the South continued and further developed this tradition with its roots in New England. Out of the singing schools grew a tradition of "singing conventions" where people would bring their Harps or Harmonies and sing for hours and days at a time, usually after the crops were planted and before their harvest. Potlucks at the singing "dinner on the grounds" mixed socializing with the singings, and young singers fresh from recent singing schools were given an opportunity to try out their newly honed skills. Folk hymnody remains a rich and thriving form of folk music, but a field that is still little researched.

PRIMITIVE BAPTIST SINGING IN THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS
Beverly Bush Patterson

Discography:
  • Old Hymns Lined and Led by Elder Walter Evans. [c. 1960] Recorded and produced by elder Lasserre Bradley. Sovereign Grace 6444 and 6057–6058. Two LPs.
  • Primitive Baptist Hymns of the Blue Ridge. 1982. Recorded by Brett Sutton and Peter Hartman; edited with booklet by Brett Sutton. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. LP.

Mississippi State Sacred Harp Convention / rudiments in "Southern Harmony"

Sacred Harp Mississippi State Convention 1997 The 69th Mississippi State Sacred Harp Convention, Antioch Church, near Sesbastopol, August 1997, as portrayed on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, December 1997. Interviews with Mark Davis, Warren Steel, Floyd Bennett, Regina Glass, Sharona Nelson.



PDF files from gamut or rudiements in CCEL:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Richard DeLong on Alpharetta [Ga.] June Singing / notes for shapenote article

NewsdayNorthFulton | June 27, 2010 |

Alpharetta's June singing celebrates 142 years. Richard DeLong explains the history of Sacred Harp. (Wondrous Love in the background)



----------------

Notes:

J&J
Very few of us live in a bounded community anymore, but the music that came out of country churches still has a niche in 21st-century America ...

Southern Harmony - "bIG sINGING" - Virgil Thompson

Major: Parting Hand, William Walker

Minor: The Morning Trumpet: Arr. Sacred Harp, 1844.

Idumea /

Sacred Harp Singing: "Idumea, S.M."
Shot with a Flip Video Ultra in a dimly lit 19th century church house. Not much to look at, but the idea was mainly to capture the haunting, beautiful sounds of the Sacred Harp singing. This singing was on the grounds of the Burritt Museum on Monte Sano in Huntsville, AL, on a chilly February night.



Idumea- Eliza Carthy/Tim Eriksen
First song in the second set of "Murder, Misery and Goodnight" at the Sage Gateshead Summertyne Americana Festival last Friday. It was a lot of fun in a great venue, and lots of fun to play in the round with Kristin Hersch (Throwing Muses), Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), The Handsome Family and "house band" David Coulter (musical director) and Neil Harland on bass. Shot by Magdalena Zapedowska Eriksen.



"Idumea" (arr. Bjella) - Millikin University Choir
Rick Bjella's Arrangement of Idumea as interpreted by the Millikin University Choir. From their CD 'Hearts All Whole.' RB is director of choral studies at Texas Tech University, formerly Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings - Feb. 5 - New Salem

Sent to members of Prairieland Dulcimer Strings list ...
Thursday, January 27, 2011 9:57 PM

Dulcimer Workshop Feb. 5 at New Salem

The February session of “Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings,” our off-season workshops on music of the 1830s, is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 5, in the Visitors Center at New Salem. We had people who play guitar and fiddle as well as mountain dulcimer at our first session in November, and everybody is welcome. You don’t have to be an accomplished musician to attend these workshops. They’re for learning ABOUT the music as well as learning the music.

We had half a dozen participants at our first workshop before Christmas, and we decided to read Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil's "Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road." It is a Mel Bay book, and it's available for $11.16 plus postage and handling at Amazon.com and for $15 directly from Ralph's website at http://ralphleesmith.com/ ...

This is one of the best short histories of the dulcimer available, and it has the music for more than a dozen songs that are appropriate for New Salem. Many early Illinois settlers, including Abraham Lincoln's family and several families who lived in New Salem, came down the Wilderness Road through Virginia and up through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky on their way to the lower Midwest. Ralph Lee also has an article "The Appalachian Dulcimer’s History: On the Trail of the Mountains’ Secrets," in the online magazine Mel Bay’s Dulcimer Sessions (July 2003).

We’ll focus our attention Saturday to the parts about the history of the dulcimer, ballads, modal and "gapped" scales, tonal range, etc., in southern Appalachian music, on pages 17-22, and two Ionian songs in DAA (on other instruments, D major):

1. “Cumberland Gap,” pp. 24-27. How to use a noter and a homemade plastic pick on a fiddle tune.

2. “Riddle Song” (I Gave My Love a Cherry), pp. 74-78. Three variants of a Child ballad collected by Cecil Sharp in southern Appalachia.

We'll meet again Saturday, March 5, and I hope to schedule one or two additional sessions so we can cover the most important parts of the book.

For more information, contact Pete Ellertsen at peterellertsen@yahoo.com.

Arkansas Traveler

Chet Atkins "Arkansas Traveler"
This old standard, is played by Chet here with SEVERAL variations! True virtuosity!



Arkansas Traveler - flatpicked guitar learning video by Sean RayArkansas Traveler is one of those cheesy, nursery rhyme tunes that's instantly recognizable. Like Wildwood Flower it lends itself well to crosspicking. On guitar the tune is most commonly played out of the C position with the capo at the second fret (key of D). However Norman Blake's classic version is in the key of C while David Grier capos it to the key of E.





Wil Maring - Arkansas Traveler
Wil Maring performs "Arkansas Traveler". This is a public domain instrumental that Wil wrote new words to.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Notes - John Leland & Big Cheshire Cheese

http://www.flickr.com/photos/autograt/224534882/sizes/l/

License Some rights reserved by Pictophile
Download Download the Large size of this photo (All sizes of this photo are available for download under a Creative Commons license)



Very well researched article "Mammoth Cheese" on the Monticello.org website.

Poems by Thomas Kennedy -- http://books.google.com/books?id=tAFMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA85# --

p. 59 - poem - p. 63 - speech of Logan

85 [88 in pdf file] - 87 [90 in pdf] Ode to the Mammoth Cheese

Excerpt from Kennedy's bio in Maryland House of Delegates website:
From the very beginning of his legislative career, he demonstrated an interest in social issues. In the words of his granddaughter, he "took an active part in politics largely...because of his interest in religious freedom."

Because of this interest, he was, in 1818, placed on a committee in the House that was to consider removing the "political disability of the Jews."

At the time, there were only about 150 Jews in Maryland. Thomas Kennedy had never even met one, but he was outraged by the injustice of excluding an entire group of people because of their religious beliefs. For him, religion was "a question which rests, or ought to rest, between man and his Creator alone."

The bill reported out of the committee in January 1819 was entitled "An Act to extend to the sect of people professing the Jewish religion the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by Christians." When it was defeated, Kennedy pledged himself to renew the fight. The following year, Kennedy reintroduced the bill and it was defeated again by a wide margin.

These efforts to secure religious liberty for the Jews brought him virulent attacks as "an enemy of Christianity" and a "Judas Iscariot" and, in the election of 1823, Kennedy was defeated by Benjamin Galloway, who had spoken out strongly against the "Jew Bill." Even while out of office, Kennedy declared his intention to continue the fight: "although exiled at home, I shall continue to battle for the measure, aye, until my last drop of blood."

More:

JSTOR has an article "ELDER JOHN LELAND AND THE MAMMOTH CHESHIRE CHEESE" by C. A. BROWNE in ... Agricultural History © 1944 Agricultural History Society

Wikipedia account of the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese cites: Sylvanus Urban, "Correspondence of Sylvanus Urban: The Great Cheshire Political Cheese." The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume II, 1869.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

English Traditional Song Forum

The Traditional Song Forum

www.tradsong.org

Frequently Asked Questions



What is the Traditional Song Forum?

The TSF is a national organisation based in the UK that brings together those interested in the research, collecting and performance of Traditional Song. Our aim is to be inclusive of all the traditions found in the British Isles although the majority of Forum members are interested in the songs originating in these islands. For a fuller explanation please have a look at our AIMS. Although forum members are serious about their interests, the style of the organisation is informal and we are determined not to get stuffy or bureaucratic

* * *

Thackeray quote on minstrel shows

Quoted in Love and theft: blackface minstrelsy and the American working class. By Eric Lott

The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century

I heard a humourous balladist not long ago, a minstrel with wool on his head and an ultra-Ethopian complexion, who performed a [N]egro ballad that I confess moistened these spectacles in a most unexpected manner. They have gazed at dozens of tragedy-queens, dying on the stage, and expiring in appropriate blank verse, and I never wanted to wipe them. They have looked up, with deep respect be it said, at many scores of clergymen in pulpits, and without being dimmed; and behold a vagabond with a corked face and a banjo sings a little song, strikes a wild note which sets the whole heart thrilling with happy pity. (187)



LECTURE THE SEVENTH Charity and Humor : p. 285

http://www.bartleby.com/268/4/19.html

-------------


On Charity and Humor

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–63)

(1852)

Notes - Songs of the Wilderness Road in D Modal Tunings

IONIAN

CUMBERLAND GAP
CUMBERLAND GAP [1]. AKA ‑ "Tumberland Gap." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; Arkansas, southwest Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, western North Carolina, Alabama. G Major: A Major: D Major (Tommy Jarrell). Standard, DGdg (Harvey Sampson) or ADad (Tommy Jarrell/Bruce Molsky) tunings. ABCC'DD (Phillips): AABB (Thede): AABBCC (Brody). The Cumberland Gap is a pass in the Appalachians between upper Tennessee and Kentucky. It is through this passage in the mountains that Daniel Boone in 1773 led a group of pioneers into Kentucky along his famous Wilderness Road, an event famous in American history that association with may have helped to popularize the melody (or, rather, populaize the title for a fiddle tune, as there are several different tunes that are called “Cumberland Gap”). The tune is very wide-spread throughout the upland South and many variants exist, along with some unrelated tunes that bear the same title. Alan Jabbour has written that it dates “well back” in the 19th century, and, while it bears melodic resemblance to some Irish reels in part, its derivation is yet to be determined. Mike Yates (2002) says that Bascom Lamar Lunsford maintained that “Cumberland Gap” was a speeded-up version of the ballad “Bonny James Campbell” (also rendered as a southern fiddle tune) while Yates finds the Niel Gow’s “Skye Air” carries a “faint suggestion” of the Appalachian standard. Still, Yates admits there seems to be no early printings of the tune.

***

Various verses have been set to the tune. Banjo player Dent Wimmer of Floyd, Floyd County, Virginia, sang:

***

My and my wife and seventeen chaps,

Walked all the way to Cumberland gap.

***

Cumberland Gap’s an awful dry place,

You can’t get water to wash your face.

***

Jabbour found 32 recordings of tunes with the title “Cumberland Gap” in the Library of Congress sound archives, while Bruce Greene and John Harrod’s field recordings of Kentucky fiddlers alone yielded fifty-two performances of the title. One of the earliest versions was recorded on an Edison Bell cylinder by Allen Sisson. The tune was played by Rock Ridge, Alabama, fiddlers c. 1920 (Devil’s Box, Vol. 17, #2, pg. 20). It was in the repertoires of Fiddlin' Cowan Powers 1877‑1952? (Russell County, southwest Va.) who recorded it in 1924 for Victor {though it was unissued}, and African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram of Kentucky’s Cumberland Plateau region (Bertram recorded it on a 1970 home recording made for his family, see “Cumberland Gap [4]"). Also in repertoire of J. Dedrick Harris, from eastern Tennessee, who fiddled regularly with Bob Taylor in his run for Governor of the state in the late 1800's. Harris moved to western North Carolina in the 1920's and influenced a generation of fiddlers including the Helton brothers, Manco Sneed, Bill Hensley, and Marcus Martin. In the Round Peak region of western North Carolina the melody was known by the title "Tumberland Gap" for many years until the isloation of the area broke down. Near Round Peak, Mt. Airy, North Carolina, fiddler Tommy Jarrell (d. 1986) remembered the tune "came around" the region when he was a young man, around 1915, and was not known before then. The tune was mentioned by William Byrne who described a chance encounter with West Virginia fiddler ‘Old Sol’ Nelson during a fishing trip on the Elk River. The year was around 1880, and Sol, whom Byrne said was famous for his playing “throughout the Elk Valley from Clay Courthouse to Sutton as…the Fiddler of the Wilderness,” had brought out his fiddle after supper to entertain (Milnes, 1999). The title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Sources for notated versions: Luther Strong [Phillips]: Walter Fenell (Latimer County, Oklahoma) [Thede]. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 1, 1994; pg. 62. Thede (The Fiddle Book), 1967; pg. 114. Augusta Heritage Recordings AHR-004C, Harvey Sampson and the Big Possum String Band – “Flat Foot in the Ashes” (1986/1994. Learned by Calhoun County, W.Va. fidder Harvey Sampson from his father). Broadway 5118‑A (78 RPM) {1924} and Library of Congress AFS 4804‑B‑3 {1941}, Osey and Ernest Helton (Asheville N.C.). Cartunes 105, Bruce Molsky and Bob Carlin – “Take Me as I Am” (2004. Sourced to Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham). Conqueror 8239 (78 RPM), Doc Roberts. County 723, Cockerham, Jarrell, and Jenkins‑ "Back Home in the Blue Ridge." County 2702CD, “Tommy and Fred.” Document 8040, “The Hill Billies/Al Hopkins and His Buckle Busters: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, vol. 2” (reissue). Document DOCD-8040, The Hillbillies (reissue, originally recorded 1926). Document DOCD-8057, The Skillet Lickers (reissue). Marimac 9008, The Lazy Aces String Band ‑ "Still Lazy after All These Years" (1986. Learned from the playing of Arthur Smith). Musical Traditions MTCD 321-2, Dent Wimmer (et al) – “Far in the Mountains, Vols. 1 & 2” (2002). Rounder 1005, Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers‑ "Hear These New Southern Fiddle and Guitar Records." Rounder 0058, Corbit Stamper and Thornton Spencer ‑ "Old Originals, vol. 2" (1978). Rounder 0089, Oscar and Eugene Wright (W.Va.) ‑ "Old‑Time Fiddle." Vocalion 14839 (78 RPM, 1924) Uncle Am Stuart (b. 1856, Morristown, Tenn). Voyager 340, Jim Herd - "Old Time Ozark Fiddling." Yodel-Ay-Hee 05, The Wildcats - "On Our Knees" (1992).



Mike Seeger plays "Cumberland Gap" At Wintergreen, Va., in August 2007.



RIDDLE SONG
Mary O'Hara singing "I Gave My Love a Cherry"
Mary O'Hara (born ca. 1935) is an Irish soprano and harpist from County Sligo. ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_O



MIXOLYDIAN



SHEEP SHELL CORN BY THE RATTLING OF HIS HORN. AKA and see "Fuller's Reel." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; Virginia, Arkansas. A Major ('A' part) & D Major/A Major ('B' part). Standard tuning. AB (Silberberg): AABB (Kuntz, Phillips). The title (as "Sheepie Shell Corn") appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Brad Leftwich calls the melody "Fuller's Reel" after his source, who had no name for it.

***

Never seen the like since I was born,

Sheep shell corn by the rattlin' of his horn.

***

Corn's in the cupboard and the butter's in the churn,

Never seen the like since I was born.

***

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,

Never seen the like since I was born.

***

Sheep shell corn by the rattle of his horn,

Swing that gal with the red dress on. (Highwoods)

***

African-American collector Thomas Talley (born c. 1870) printed a song called “Sheep Shell Corn” in his 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes (set to a completely different tune), that contains the first line of the Highwood’s song, but introduces a supernatural element to the lyric:
***

De Ram blow de ho’n an’ de sheep shell co’n;

An’ he sen’ it to de mill by de buck-eyed Whoppoorwill.

Ole Joe’s dead an’ gone but his Hant blows de ho’n;

An’ his hound howls still from de top o’ dat hill.

***

De Fish-hawk said unto Mistah Crane;

I wishes to de Lawd dat you’d sen’ a liddle rain;

Fer de water’s all muddy, an de creek’s gone dry;

If it ‘twasn’t fer de tadpoles we’d all die.

***

When de sheep shell co’n wid de rattle of his ho’n,

I wishes to de Lawd I’d never been bo’n;

Caze when he Hant blows de ho’n, de sperits all dance,

An’ de hosses an’ de cattle, dey whirls ‘round an’ prance.

***

Yonder comes Skilled an’ dere goes Pot;

An here comes Jawbone ‘cross de lot.

Walk Jawbone! Beat de Skilled an’ de Pat!

You cut dat Pigeon’s Wing, Black Man!

***

Take keer, gemmuns, an’ let me through,

Caze I’se gwinter dance wid liddle Mollie Lou.

But I’se never seed de lak since I’se been born,

When de sheep shell co’on wid de rattle of his ho’n!
***

Sources for notated versions: Emmet Lundy (Grayson County, Virginia) and the Highwoods String Band (N.C.) [Kuntz]; Walt Koken & Bob Potts with the Highwoods String Band [Phillips]. Kuntz (Ragged but Right), 1987; pg. 357‑358 (two versions). Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 1, 1994; pg. 217. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 142. Heritage 056, Highwoods String Band‑ "The Young Fogies" (various artists). In the repertoire of Luther Davis, Galax, Va. Marimac 9000, Dan Gellert & Shoofly ‑ "Forked Deer" (1986).



Bruce Hornsby/Ricky Skaggs - Sheep Shell Corn (clogging) Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, and Kentucky Thunder live @ the Ferst Center in Atlanta, GA on Mar. 29th, 2008.



Ben Seymour playing an inlaid Cherry Galax Dulcimer
Ben Seymour playing "Sheep Shell Corn" on a fancy inlaid Cherry Galax Dulcimer built by him at Kudzu Patch Productions. He uses a popsicle stick on this tune :)




AEOLIAN


SHADY GROVE

SHAD(E)Y GROVE [1]. Old‑Time; Breakdown and Song Tune. USA, North Carolina. A Minor. Standard tuning. AA. There are towns called Shady Grove in Virginia or Kentucky, though the title may refer to a place.

***

Shady Grove, my little love, Shady Grove I know
Shady Grove, my little love, bound for the Shady Grove.

***

Cheeks as red as the blooming rose, eyes the deepest brown,

You are the darling of my heart, stay til the sun goes down.

***

Shady Grove, my little love, Shady Grove my darlin/

Shady Grove, my little love, I'm going away to Harlan.

***

Went to see my Shady Grove, she was standing in the door,

Shoes and stockings in her hand, little bare feet on the floor.

***

From Jean Ritchie's Singing Family of the Cumberlands (1955) (condensed):

***

Dad remembered for us the first day he ever heard the fiddle played. He was about nine years old and going to school to old man Nick Gerhart... when Maggard Ritchie came in.

"He'd been off somewheres, courtin in Virginny, and he'd brought a feller home... and they had come to the schoolhouse to visit with Nick. Nick told us not to look up while they talked... But you know that stranger had a fiddle in his hand, and pretty soon he propped it in the cradle of his arm and begun to play that thing. Lordie! It was the prettiest sweepingest music. ... I just couldn't stand to sit still on that log bench and that tune snaking around so.

No sir, that was one tune that didn't stay in one place no time at all. ... I thought I was going plum crazy. You could hear feet a‑stomping all over the house, benches a‑creaking, young uns a‑giggling...

"Finally I let out a yell and lept off'n that bench and commenced to dance and clog around.... some of the other boys jumped up too.... .... after a while they left, and the teacher tried to settle us, back to our books, but I couldn't even see the print. I kept seeing that old fiddle bow race around on "Shady Grove." We around there had always sung that tune middling fast, hopped around to it a little bit, but that fiddle had tuck out with that'n like the Devil was after her. ... I kept laughing and wiggling in my seat, and saying the words to "Shady Grove” instead of my lesson.

Cheeks as red as a bloomin rose,

Eyes of the deepest brown,

You are the darlin of my heart,

Stay till the Sun goes down.

Shady Grove, my little love,

Shady Grove I know,

Shady Grove, my little love,

Bound for the Shady Grove.

(more verses).

***

These verses have also been heard at various times:

***

Shady Grove, my little love, Shady Grove my darling

Shady Grove, my little love, I'm going back to Harlan

(or)

Shady Grove, my little love, Shady Grove I know

Shady Grove, my little love, I'm bound for Shady Grove

***

When I was a little boy, I wanted a Barlow knife
Now I want little Shady Grove to say she'll be my wife

***

Cut a banjo from a gourd, string it up with twine

The only song that I can play is "Wish that gal was mine"

***

Apples in the summer time, peaches in the fall

If I can't have the girl I love, I don't want none at all

***

I've got a big fine horse, and corn to feed him on

All I need's little Shady Grove to feed him when I'm gone

***

Johnson (The Kitchen Musician: Occasional Collection of Old‑Timey Fiddle Tunes for Hammer Dulcimer, Fiddle, etc.), No. 2, 1982 (revised 1988, 2003); pg. 4. Rounder 0113, Trapezoid ‑ "Three Forks of Cheat" (1979. Learned from Kilby Snow). Tradition TLP 1007, Mrs. Edd Presnell ‑ "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" (1956).

X:1

T:Shady Grove

S:Jean Ritchie's 'Singing Family of the Cumberlands'

Q:45

M:2/4

L:1/8

N:”Very lively”

K:Em

E/E/ E/E/4E/4|F/E/ D|E/E/4E/4 F/A/|\

B3/2 B/|d3/4d/4 B/B/|A/(F/4E/4)D|\

E/F/4F/4 A/F/|E2||E/E/E|\

F/E/4E/4D|E3/4E/4 F/A/|B2|d3/4d/4B|\

A/F/4E/4D|E/F/4F/4 A/F/|E2|]

X:2

T:Shady Grove

M:4/4

L:1/8

K:A Dorian

E2|A2 AA A2 AA|BcBA G2 GE|A2 AA B2d2|e3 d e2 ee|

g2 gg e2 ee|dB A2G2 GG|A2 BG d2B2|A3G A2||


David Holt and Doc Watson: Shady Grove David Holt and Doc Watson perform the song "Shady Grove on December 5, 1998 at the Valborg Theatre on the campus of Appalacian State University. Daivid asks Doc about the song as a courting song. Doc talks about the days he sourted Rosalie, his wife of 62 years.



the chieftains & tim o'brien - shady grove




DORIAN


OLD MAN AT THE MILL

The Dillards - Old man at the Mill
The original Dillards, live at the Tonder Festival in Denmark in 1999.
Probably the last time they came to Europe to play.




OLD MAN ... [clawhammer bajo]
Guy Wolff playing Old Man At the Mill learned from Clint Howard and Clarence Ashley . Sawmill tuning gDGCD lowered to F sus 4 on a Ramsey Banjo Dobson Neck



THREE BABES (CHILD 79, WIFE OF USHER'S WILL, LADY GAY)

Three Babes
Cath & Phil Tyler at the Barrles Alehouse, Berwick-upon-Tweed, June 17 2009.



Wife of Ushers Well - Lecture and Discussion
stacyhm - semi-retired and Professor Emiritus for Barstow College ... "CollegeThese videos are casual mini lectures (usually a few minutes long) to make a single point or two.
They are also an attempt to give the feel of the kind of informal class you might take as an elective on a Tuesday afternoon. They are posted for the benefit of my college students and for anyone else interested in these subjects.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dulcimer and psalmodikon at Bishop Hill



Jerry Barton plays dulcimer outside the Colony Store during Midsommar Music Festival at Bishop Hill, Illinois, with Swedish-style psalmodikon in foreground. The instrument is a replica of the psalmodikon in the Steeple Building Museum across the street from the Colony Store.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Forest Green / Carl Daw's Canticle of Zechariah / lead sheet in Em Fmaj ** UPDATED ** w/ very nice guitar arrangement

Links at http://cardiphonia.org/2010/12/02/songs-of-the-incarnation-zechariahs-song/ ... one of them, arranged by Bruce Benedict, has a leadsheet in E minor F major (What was I thinking when I missed it by that much!)

On YouTube, an Episcopal church in New Jersey with Vaughan Williams' tune FOREST GREEN to another Advent text ...

Advent Evensong Processional Hymn, "Forest Green"
Advent Evensong Processional Hymn
"O Promised One of Israel",
Tune: Forest Green
3rd stanza descant, David Willcocks
camcorded live 07 December 2008
1) O promised one of Israel by prophets long foretold,
We wait in urgency and hope to see God's will unfold.
The dark of night and cold predawn arouse our anxious fears.
Help us to see the light ahead through trials, doubts, and tears.

[2 more verses]
Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal
Morristown, NJ, USA

LATER (May 2014). Guitar arrangement with slightly different translation of the Benedictus uploaded by YouTube user Maureen Perez. The song of Zachary (Zechariah) is the Benedictus in the Gospel according to St. Luke. We used to sing it at commencement at Benedictine University Springfield, and it's one of my favorites.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

So how do you say "Pontoppidan?"

As in Erick Pontoppidan, the 18th-century Danish theologian and bishop of Bergen. Pietist. Author of Pontoppidan's Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism (numerous editions from 1737 in Danish, Norwegian and English) and Pontoppidan's Salmebog (1740).

Not exactly a household word.

But Dictionary.com has it (in the entry for another Danish author, Henrik Pontoppidan who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1917 for his realist novels set in the Danish countryside) as [pon-top-i-dahn]

PDF file of a 21-page study of his catechism by Mogens Brøndsted: "HISTORIEN OM PONTOPPIDANS „FORKLARING" I DANMARK OG NORGE" (Fund og Forskning, Bind 12; 1965) available at http://img.kb.dk/tidsskriftdk/pdf/ffo/ffo_1965_12-PDF/ffo_1965_12_100852.pdf

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Evidence for folk use of psalmodikon - notes from Latvia ** UPDATED 1x **

On Music in Latvia website at http://www.music.lv/en/

Valdis Muktupāvels, "Musical Instruments in the Baltic Region: Historiography and Traditions" (excerpt below). Muktupāvels is a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Latvia in Riga

http://www.music.lv/mukti/BalticMI.htm

* * *

An instrument whose origins are strongly linked to musical practices in northern Protestant countries is the monochord (moldpill, laulupill, laulukannel, harmoonik EE, ģīga, ģingas, džindžas, manihorka, meldiņu spēle, akerdonis LV, manikarka LT). It is said to have been reinvented by the Swedish Lutheran pastor Johannes Dillner in 1829 based on the Greek monochord. Swedish authorities approved the monochord’s use as a simple and easy-to-make instrument in parishes that did not possess their own church organ. Since it aided the learning and accompaniment of sung psalms, it was named “psalmodicon.” The instrument was actively propagated from the 1830s to the 1860s, and it spread, in addition to Scandinavia and Finland, throughout Estonia, the Lutheran regions of Latvia and the western Lutheran region of Lithuania. The psalmodicon was above all a church musical instrument, but apart from that context, it also turned out to be good for use in secular musical activities such as choral singing, music education and even to produce dance music.

Valdis Muktupāvels has a 2-CD set called Muktukokles / Tradicionalas Kokles featuring a traditional Latvian psaltry. Blurb in CD Roots website:
The first solo record by the most eminent Latvian ethnomusicologist, composer and multi-instrumentalist is an ode to the kokle or box zither, a traditional Latvian folk instrument. It's a double CD. MUKTUKOKLES, the first CD, consists of original tracks by Valdis Muktupavels. The second CD - TRADICIONALAS KOKLES (Traditional Box Zithers) - contains authentic kokle melodies from the Kurzeme and Latgale districts of Latvia.
All commentaries in the folder are also available in English.
ADDED LATER (Sept. 6, 2012): Brief entry, English version, with pix on Ģīga (trans. Monochord in folklora.lv website on Latvian folk music: "The monochord has been created in Sweden in 1829 for accompaniment of spiritual singing. Probably through the Lutheran parochial schools, monochord has got to the Latvian peasants, and they have begun to play on it, to make it and to improve it (the same instrument, but with two strings has been developed)."

Videos of Decorah Nordic Fest 2010

Decorah Nordic Fest 2010 Part One [8:42]
Koren - "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" - church bells - long horn [lur?] -


Decorah Nordic Fest 2010 Part Two
Nordic Dancers [cont.] - Marc ____ accordion "Five Foot Two" - local [?] rock and old-time bands

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pythagoras - podcast from music history class

This is an introduction to ancient Greek theory for A Survey of Music History and Literature. It includes a brief look at Pythagoras' ideas about perfect intervals and the tetrachord structure of scales. -- Dr. Margaret Hontos, Santa Barbara City College

http://www.youtube.com/user/suonolarpa#p/u

Monday, January 10, 2011

Misc. notes - Kerry slide "Where Is the Cat?" / pix of monochord

at 30 min 30 (?) sec --

Programme 20: Saturday 30th May 2009

Ceili House comes from Hartnett's Bar in Castleisland, Co. Kerry and features a host of local musicians and singers, including the legendary accordion player, Jimmy Doyle.

-------

Robert Fludd, Musik & Harmonik & Monochord & Einsaiter 1624







http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fotothek_df_tg_0006259_Musik_%5E_Harmonik_%5E_Monochord_%5E_Einsaiter.jpg

This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library (SLUB) as part of a cooperation project. This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or fewer.

Downstate Sacred Harp singings - January

January 2011

Champaign Urbana 3rd Sunday Sing 1/16 3-6 p.m. McKinley Foundation corner 5th and Daniel
Info. (651) 231-9269

Feast and Fa So La all day sing and potluck 10:00 -3:30 P.M. Saturday Jan. 29th We’ll meet at a member’s farm home between Peoria and Lincoln. DIRECTIONS: Find the intersection of I-155 & US Rte 136 (10 miles North of Lincoln IL, exit 10 off I-155) Take 136 east. Immediately turn left (north), travel 2 miles on the service road (Prairie Road) to the first overpass. Turn right just after the overpass, go 1/10 mile, turn right on Armington Rd. Follow the signs. Phone 309-303-6951 if you get lost.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Isaac Odell "Lay of the Last of the Old Minstrels" [1907]

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F10910FD385A15738DDDA00994DD405B878CF1D3

"The Lay of the Last of the Old Minstrels: Interesting Reminiscences of Isaac Odell, Who Was a Burnt Cork Artist Sixty Years Ago." New York Times May 19, 1907.

Old Tom Rice was the father of negro [sic] minstrelry in this town. He went on the stage in Kentucky in the thirties and made a hit at Louisville. Whle there he acquired a good negro dialect, and learned to imitate the Southern darky to perfection. Coming to New York he opened up at the old Park Theatre, where he introduced his Jim Crow act, impersonating a negro slave. He sand a song, 'I Turn About and Wheel About,' and each night composed hew verses for it, catching on with the public and making a great name for himself. New Yorkers practically deserted the regular theatrical shows to see Rich in his Jim Crow minstrel act and many comedians in various parts of the country gave up their customary work and picked up Rice's stunt. Rice went away for a while on the road, but returning to New York opened up at the Melodeum on the Bowery. He had set the country minstrel mad, and circuis closns, jig dancers, and acrobats became negro comedians. In nearly all the playhouses at least one minstrel appeared on the stage, but there were no regular bands or minstrel troubes until Dan Emmet, Billy Whitlick, Frank Bower, and Dick Pelham got together and organized the original Virginia troupe, which opened up at the Chatham Theatre. At the same time Ed Christy, who had been in the show business in various parts of the country, organized a minstrel troupe in Buffalo. That was back in 1842. ...

[Odell goes on to reminisce about Rice and, in quote marks, his own days with Christy's Minstrels]

Project Gutenberg - STEPHEN C. FOSTER AND NEGRO MINSTRELSY

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 20, No. 121,
November, 1867.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28285

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org



STEPHEN C. FOSTER AND NEGRO MINSTRELRY

Robert P. Nevin

Thirty-six years ago a young man, about twenty-five years of age, of a commanding height,—six feet full, the heels of his boots not included in the reckoning,—and dressed in scrupulous keeping with the fashion of the time, might have been seen sauntering idly along one of the principal streets of Cincinnati. To the few who could claim acquaintance with him he was known as an actor, playing at the time referred to a short engagement as light comedian in a theatre of that city. He does not seem to have attained to any noticeable degree of eminence in his profession, but he had established for himself a reputation among jolly fellows in a social way. He could tell a story, sing a song, and dance a hornpipe, after a style which, however unequal to complete success on the stage, proved, in private performance to select circles rendered appreciative by accessory refreshments, famously triumphant always. If it must be confessed that he was deficient in the more profound qualities, it is not to be inferred that he was destitute of all the distinguishing, though shallower, virtues of character. He had the merit, too, of a proper appreciation of his own capacity; and his aims never rose above that capacity. As a superficial man he dealt with superficial things, and his dealings were marked by tact and shrewdness. In his sphere he was proficient, and he kept his wits upon the alert for everything that might be turned to professional and profitable use. Thus it was that, as he sauntered along one of the main thoroughfares of Cincinnati, as has been written, his attention was suddenly arrested by a voice ringing clear and full above the noises of the street, and giving utterance, in an unmistakable dialect, to the refrain of a song to this effect:—

"Turn about an' wheel about do jis so,

An' ebery time I run about I jump Jim Crow."

Struck by the peculiarities of the performance, so unique in style, matter, and "character" of delivery, the player listened on. Were not these elements—was the suggestion of the instant—which might admit of higher than mere street or stable-yard development? As a national or "race" illustration, behind the footlights, might not "Jim Crow" and a black face tickle the fancy of pit and circle, as well as the "Sprig of Shillalah" and a red nose? Out of the suggestion leaped the determination; and so it chanced that the casual hearing of a song trolled by a negro stage-driver, lolling lazily on the box of his vehicle, gave origin to a school of music destined to excel in[Pg 609] popularity all others, and to make the name of the obscure actor, W. D. Rice, famous.

As his engagement at Cincinnati had nearly expired, Rice deemed it expedient to postpone a public venture in the newly projected line until the opening of a fresh engagement should assure him opportunity to share fairly the benefit expected to grow out of the experiment. This engagement had already been entered into; and accordingly, shortly after, in the autumn of 1830, he left Cincinnati for Pittsburg.

The old theatre of Pittsburg occupied the site of the present one, on Fifth Street. It was an unpretending structure, rudely built of boards, and of moderate proportions, but sufficient, nevertheless, to satisfy the taste and secure the comfort of the few who dared to face consequences and lend patronage to an establishment under the ban of the Scotch-Irish Calvinists. Entering upon duty at the "Old Drury" of the "Birmingham of America," Rice prepared to take advantage of his opportunity. There was a negro in attendance at Griffith's Hotel, on Wood Street, named Cuff,—an exquisite specimen of his sort,—who won a precarious subsistence by letting his open mouth as a mark for boys to pitch pennies into, at three paces, and by carrying the trunks of passengers from the steamboats to the hotels. Cuff was precisely the subject for Rice's purpose. Slight persuasion induced him to accompany the actor to the theatre, where he was led through the private entrance, and quietly ensconced behind the scenes. After the play, Rice, having shaded his own countenance to the "contraband" hue, ordered Cuff to disrobe, and proceeded to invest himself in the cast-off apparel. When the arrangements were complete, the bell rang, and Rice, habited in an old coat forlornly dilapidated, with a pair of shoes composed equally of patches and places for patches on his feet, and wearing a coarse straw hat in a melancholy condition of rent and collapse over a dense black wig of matted moss, waddled into view. The extraordinary apparition produced an instant effect. The crash of peanuts ceased in the pit, and through the circles passed a murmur and a bustle of liveliest expectation. The orchestra opened with a short prelude, and to its accompaniment Rice began to sing, delivering the first line by way of introductory recitative:—

"O, Jim Crow's come to town, as you all must know,

An' he wheel about, he turn about, he do jis so,

An' ebery time he wheel about he jump Jim Crow."

The effect was electric. Such a thunder of applause as followed was never heard before within the shell of that old theatre. With each succeeding couplet and refrain the uproar was renewed, until presently, when the performer, gathering courage from the favorable temper of his audience, ventured to improvise matter for his distiches from familiarly known local incidents, the demonstrations were deafening.

Now it happened that Cuff, who meanwhile was crouching in dishabille under concealment of a projecting flat behind the performer, by some means received intelligence, at this point, of the near approach of a steamer to the Monongahela Wharf. Between himself and others of his color in the same line of business, and especially as regarded a certain formidable competitor called Ginger, there existed an active rivalry in the baggage-carrying business. For Cuff to allow Ginger the advantage of an undisputed descent upon the luggage of the approaching vessel would be not only to forfeit all "considerations" from the passengers, but, by proving him a laggard in his calling, to cast a damaging blemish upon his reputation. Liberally as he might lend himself to a friend, it could not be done at that sacrifice. After a minute or two of fidgety waiting for the song to end, Cuff's patience could endure no longer, and, cautiously hazarding a glimpse of his profile beyond the edge of the flat, he called in a hurried[Pg 610] whisper: "Massa Rice, Massa Rice, must have my clo'se! Massa Griffif wants me,—steamboat's comin'!"

The appeal was fruitless. Massa Rice did not hear it, for a happy hit at an unpopular city functionary had set the audience in a roar in which all other sounds were lost. Waiting some moments longer, the restless Cuff, thrusting his visage from under cover into full three-quarter view this time, again charged upon the singer in the same words, but with more emphatic voice: "Massa Rice, Massa Rice, must have my clo'se! Massa Griffif wants me,—steamboat's comin'!"

A still more successful couplet brought a still more tempestuous response, and the invocation of the baggage-carrier was unheard and unheeded. Driven to desperation, and forgetful in the emergency of every sense of propriety, Cuff, in ludicrous undress as he was, started from his place, rushed upon the stage, and, laying his hand upon the performer's shoulder, called out excitedly: "Massa Rice, Massa Rice, gi' me nigga's hat,—nigga's coat,—nigga's shoes,—gi' me nigga's t'ings! Massa Griffif wants 'im,—steamboat's comin'!!"

The incident was the touch, in the mirthful experience of that night, that passed endurance. Pit and circles were one scene of such convulsive merriment that it was impossible to proceed in the performance; and the extinguishment of the footlights, the fall of the curtain, and the throwing wide of the doors for exit, indicated that the entertainment was ended.

Such were the circumstances—authentic in every particular—under which the first work of the distinct art of Negro Minstrelsy was presented.

Next day found the song of Jim Crow, in one style of delivery or another, on everybody's tongue. Clerks hummed it serving customers at shop counters, artisans thundered it at their toils to the time-beat of sledge and of tilt-hammer, boys whistled it on the streets, ladies warbled it in parlors, and house-maids repeated it to the clink of crockery in kitchens. Rice made up his mind to profit further by its popularity: he determined to publish it. Mr. W. C. Peters, afterwards of Cincinnati, and well known as a composer and publisher, was at that time a music-dealer on Market Street in Pittsburg. Rice, ignorant himself of the simplest elements of musical science, waited upon Mr. Peters, and solicited his co-operation in the preparation of his song for the press. Some difficulty was experienced before Rice could be induced to consent to the correction of certain trifling informalities, rhythmical mainly, in his melody; but, yielding finally, the air as it now stands, with a pianoforte accompaniment by Mr. Peters, was put upon paper. The manuscript was put into the hands of Mr. John Newton, who reproduced it on stone with an elaborately embellished title-page, including a portrait of the subject of the song, precisely as it has been copied through succeeding editions to the present time. It was the first specimen of lithography ever executed in Pittsburg.

Jim Crow was repeated nightly throughout the season at the theatre; and when that was ended, Scale's Long Room, at the corner of Third and Market streets, was engaged for rehearsals exclusively in the Ethiopian line. "Clar de Kitchen" soon appeared as a companion piece, followed speedily by "Lucy Long," "Sich a Gittin' up Stairs," "Long-Tail Blue," and so on, until quite a repertoire was at command from which to select for an evening's entertainment.

Rice remained in Pittsburg some two years. He then visited Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, whence he sailed for England, where he met with high favor in his novel character, married, and remained for some time. He then returned to New York, and shortly afterwards died.

With Rice's retirement his art seems to have dropped into disuse as a feature of theatrical entertainment, and thenceforward,[Pg 611] for many years, to have survived only in the performances of circuses and menageries. Between acts the extravaganzaist in cork and wool would appear, and to the song of "Coal-Black Rose," or "Jim along Joe," or "Sittin' on a Rail," command, with the clown and monkey, full share of admiration in the arena. At first he performed solus, and to the accompaniment of the "show" band; but the school was progressive; couples presently appeared, and, dispensing with the aid of foreign instruments, delivered their melodies to the more appropriate music of the banjo. To the banjo, in a short time, were added the bones. The art had now outgrown its infancy, and, disdaining a subordinate existence, boldly seceded from the society of harlequin and the tumblers, and met the world as an independent institution. Singers organized themselves into quartet bands; added a fiddle and tambourine to their instruments—perhaps we should say implements—of music; introduced the hoe-down and the conundrum to fill up the intervals of performance; rented halls, and, peregrinating from city to city and from town to town, went on and prospered.

One of the earliest companies of this sort was organized and sustained under the leadership of Nelson Kneass, who, while skilful in his manipulations of the banjo, was quite an accomplished pianist besides, as well as a favorite ballad-singer. He had some pretensions as a composer, but has left his name identified with no work of any interest. His company met with such success in Pittsburg, that its visits were repeated from season to season, until about the year 1845, when Mr. Murphy, the leading caricaturist, determining to resume the business in private life which he had laid aside on going upon the stage, the company was disbanded.

Up to this period, if negro minstrelsy had made some progress, it was not marked by much improvement. Its charm lay essentially in its simplicity, and to give it full development, retaining unimpaired meanwhile such original excellences as Nature in Sambo shapes and inspires, was the task of the time. But the task fell into bungling hands. The intuitive utterance of the art was misapprehended or perverted altogether. Its naïve misconceits were construed into coarse blunders; its pleasing incongruities were resolved into meaningless jargon. Gibberish became the staple of its composition. Slang phrases and crude jests, all odds and ends of vulgar sentiment, without regard to the idiosyncrasies of the negro, were caught up, jumbled together into rhyme, and, rendered into the lingo presumed to be genuine, were ready for the stage. The wit of the performance was made to consist in quibble and equivoke, and in the misuse of language, after the fashion, but without the refinement, of Mrs. Partington. The character of the music underwent a change. Original airs were composed from time to time, but the songs were more generally adaptations of tunes in vogue among Hard-Shell Baptists in Tennessee and at Methodist camp-meetings in Kentucky, and of backwoods melodies, such as had been invented for native ballads by "settlement" masters and brought into general circulation by stage-drivers, wagoners, cattle—drovers, and other such itinerants of earlier days. Music of the concert-room was also drafted into the service, and selections from the inferior operas, with the necessary mutilations of the text, of course; so that the whole school of negro minstrelsy threatened a lapse, when its course of decline was suddenly and effectually arrested.

A certain Mr. Andrews, dealer in confections, cakes, and ices, being stirred by a spirit of enterprise, rented, in the year 1845, a second-floor hall on Wood Street, Pittsburgh supplied it with seats and small tables, advertised largely, employed cheap attractions,—living statues, songs, dances, &c.,—a stage, hired a piano, and, upon the dissolution of his band, engaged[Pg 612] the services of Nelson Kneass as musician and manager. Admittance was free, the ten-cent ticket required at the door being received at its cost value within towards the payment of whatever might be called for at the tables. To keep alive the interest of the enterprise, premiums were offered, from time to time, of a bracelet for the best conundrum, a ring with a ruby setting for the best comic song, and a golden chain for the best sentimental song. The most and perhaps only really valuable reward—a genuine and very pretty silver cup, exhibited night after night, beforehand—was promised to the author of the best original negro song, to be presented before a certain date, and to be decided upon by a committee designated for the purpose by the audience at that time.

Quite a large array of competitors entered the lists; but the contest would be hardly worthy of mention, save as it was the occasion of the first appearance of him who was to prove the reformer of his art, and to a sketch of whose career the foregoing pages are chiefly preliminary.

Stephen Collins Foster was born in Alleghany, Pennsylvania, on the 4th of July, 1826. He was the youngest child of his father, William B. Foster,—originally a merchant of Pittsburg, and afterwards Mayor of his native city, member of the State Legislature, and a Federal officer under President Buchanan, with whom he was closely connected by marriage. The evidences of a musical capacity of no common order were apparent in Stephen at an early period. Going into a shop, one day, when about seven years old, he picked up a flageolet, the first he had ever seen, and comprehending, after an experiment or two, the order of the scale on the instrument, was able in a few minutes, uninstructed, to play any of the simple tunes within the octave with which he was acquainted. A Thespian society, composed of boys in their higher teens, was organized in Alleghany, into which Stephen, although but in his ninth year, was admitted, and of which, from his agreeable rendering of the favorite airs of the day, he soon became the leading attraction.

At thirteen years of age, he made his first attempt at composition, producing for a public occasion at the seminary in Athens, Ohio, where he was a student at the time, the "Tioga Waltz," which, although quite a pretty affair, he never thought worthy of preservation. In the same year, shortly afterwards, he composed music to the song commencing, "Sadly to mine heart appealing," now embraced in the list of his publications, but not brought out until many years later.

Stephen was a boy of delicate constitution, not addicted to the active sports or any of the more vigorous habits of boys of his age. His only companions were a few intimate friends, and, thus secluded, his character naturally took a sensitive, meditative cast, and his growing disrelish for severer tasks was confirmed. As has been intimated, he entered as a pupil at Athens; but as the course of instruction in that institution was not in harmony with his tastes, he soon withdrew, applying himself afterwards to the study of the French and German languages (a ready fluency in both of which he finally acquired), and especially to the art dearer than all other studies. A recluse, owning and soliciting no guidance but that of his text-book, in the quiet of the woods, or, if that were inaccessible, the retirement of his chamber, he devoted himself to this art.

At the age of sixteen he composed and published the song, "Open thy Lattice, Love," which was admired, but did not meet with extraordinary success. In the year following he went to Cincinnati, entering the counting-room of his brother, and discharging the duties of his place with faithfulness and ability. His spare hours were still devoted, however, to his favorite pursuit, although his productions were chiefly preserved in manuscript, and kept for the private entertainment of[Pg 613] his friends. He continued with his brother nearly three years.

At the time Mr. Andrews of Pittsburg offered a silver cup for the best original negro song, Mr. Morrison Foster sent to his brother Stephen a copy of the advertisement announcing the fact, with a letter urging him to become a competitor for the prize. These saloon entertainments occupied a neutral ground, upon which eschewers of theatrical delights could meet with the abetters of play-house amusements,—a consideration of ruling importance in Pittsburg, where so many of the sterling population carry with them to this day, by legitimate inheritance, the stanch old Cameronian fidelity to Presbyterian creed and practice. Morrison, believing that these concerts would afford an excellent opportunity for the genius of his brother to appeal to the public, persisted in urging him to compete for the prize, until Stephen, who at first expressed a dislike to appear under such circumstances, finally yielded, and in due time forwarded a melody entitled, "'Way down South, whar de Corn grows." When the eventful night came, the various pieces in competition were rendered to the audience by Nelson Kneass to his own accompaniment on the piano. The audience expressed by their applause a decided preference for Stephen's melody; but the committee appointed to sit in judgment decided in favor of some one else, himself and his song never heard of afterwards, and the author of "'Way down South" forfeited the cup. But Mr. Kneass appreciated the merit of the composition, and promptly, next morning, made application at the proper office for a copyright in his own name as author, when Mr. Morrison Foster, happening in at the moment, interposed, and frustrated the discreditable intention.

This experiment of Foster's, if it fell short of the expectation of his friends, served, notwithstanding, a profitable purpose, for it led him to a critical investigation of the school of music to which it belonged. This school had been—was yet—unquestionably popular. To what, then, was it indebted for its captivating points? It was to its truth to Nature in her simplest and most childlike mood.

Settled as to theory, Foster applied himself to the task of its exemplification. Two attempts were made while he yet remained in Cincinnati, the pencil-drafts of which, however, were laid aside for the time being in his portfolio. His shrinking nature held timidly back at the thought of a venture before the public; and so the case stood until he reappeared in Pittsburg.

The Presidential campaign of 1844 was distinguished by political song-singing. Clubs for that purpose were organized in all the cities and towns and hamlets,—clubs for the platform, clubs for the street, clubs for the parlor, Whig clubs, Democratic clubs. Ballads innumerable to airs indefinite, new and old, filled the land,—Irish ballads, German ballads, Yankee ballads, and, preferred over all, negro ballads. So enthusiastic grew the popular feeling in this direction, that, when the November crisis was come and gone, the peculiar institution would not succumb to the limitation, but lived on. Partisan temper faded out; the fires of strife died down, but clubs sat perseveringly in their places, and in sounds, if not in sentiment, attuned to the old melodies, kept up the practice of the mad and merry time.

Among other organizations that thus lingered on was one, composed of half a dozen young men, since grown into graver habits, with Foster—home again, and a link once more in the circle of his intimates—at its head. The negro airs were still the favorites; but the collection, from frequent repetition, at length began to grow stale. One night, as a revival measure for the club, and as an opportunity for himself, Foster hinted that, with their permission, he would offer for trial an effort of his own. Accordingly he set to work; and at their next meeting laid before them a song entitled "Louisiana Belle." The piece elicited unanimous applause. Its success in the club-room[Pg 614] opened to it a wider field, each member acting as an agent of dissemination outside, so that in the course of a few nights the song was sung in almost every parlor in Pittsburgh. Foster then brought to light his portfolio specimens, since universally known as "Uncle Ned," and "O Susanna!" The favor with which these latter were received surpassed even that rewarding the "Louisiana Belle." Although limited to the one slow process of communication,—from mouth to ear,—their fame spread far and wide, until from the drawing-rooms of Cincinnati they were introduced into its concert-halls, and there became known to Mr. W. C. Peters, who at once addressed letters requesting copies for publication. These were cheerfully furnished by the author. He did not look for remuneration. For "Uncle Ned," which first appeared (in 1847), he received none; "O Susanna!" soon followed, and "imagine my delight," he writes, "in receiving one hundred dollars in cash! Though this song was not successful," he continues, "yet the two fifty-dollar bills I received for it had the effect of starting me on my present vocation of song-writer." In pursuance of this decision, he entered into arrangements with new publishers, chiefly with Firth, Pond, & Co. of New York, set himself to work, and began to pour out his productions with astonishing rapidity.

Out of the list, embracing about one hundred and fifty of his songs, the most flatteringly received among his negro melodies were those already enumerated, followed by "Nelly was a Lady," in 1849; "My Old Kentucky Home," and "Camptown Races," in 1850; "Old Folks at Home," in 1851; "Massa's in the Cold Ground," in 1852; "O Boys, carry me 'long," in 1853; "Hard Times come again no more," in 1854; "'Way down South," and "O Lemuel," in 1858; "Old Black Joe," in 1860; and (noticeable only as his last in that line) "Don't bet your Money on the Shanghai," in 1861.

In all these compositions Foster adheres scrupulously to his theory adopted at the outset. His verses are distinguished by a naïveté characteristic and appropriate, but consistent at the same time with common sense. Enough of the negro dialect is retained to preserve distinction, but not to offend. The sentiment is given in plain phrase and under homely illustration; but it is a sentiment nevertheless. The melodies are of twin birth literally with the verses, for Foster thought in tune as he traced in rhyme, and traced in rhyme as he thought in tune. Of easy modulation, severely simple in their structure, his airs have yet the graceful proportions, animated with the fervor, unostentatious but all-subduing, of certain of the old hymns (not the chorals) derived from our fathers of a hundred years ago.

That he had struck upon the true way to the common heart, the successes attending his efforts surely demonstrate. His songs had an unparalleled circulation. The commissions accruing to the author on the sales of "Old Folks" alone amounted to fifteen thousand dollars. For permission to have his name printed on its title-page, as an advertising scheme, Mr. Christy paid five hundred dollars. Applications were unceasing from the various publishers of the country for some share, at least, of his patronage, and upon terms that might have seduced almost any one else; but the publishers with whom he originally engaged had won his esteem, and Foster adhered to them faithfully. Artists of the highest distinction favored him with their friendship; and Herz, Sivori, Ole Bull, Thalberg, were alike ready to approve his genius, and to testify that approval in the choice of his melodies as themes about which to weave their witcheries of embellishment. Complimentary letters from men of literary note poured in upon him; among others, one full of generous encouragement from Washington Irving, dearly prized and carefully treasured to the day of Foster's death. Similar missives reached him from across the seas,—from strangers and from travellers in[Pg 615] lands far remote; and he learned that, while "O Susanna!" was the familiar song of the cottager of the Clyde, "Uncle Ned" was known to the dweller in tents among the Pyramids.

Of his sentimental songs, "Ah, may the Red Rose live alway!" "Maggie by my Side," "Jennie with the Light-Brown Hair," "Willie, we have missed you," "I see her still in my Dreams," "Wilt thou be gone, Love" (a duet, the words adapted from a well-known scene in Romeo and Juliet), and "Come where my Love lies dreaming" (quartet), are among the leading favorites. "I see her still in my Dreams" appeared in 1861, shortly after the death of his mother, and is a tribute to the memory of her to whom he was devotedly attached. The verses to most of these airs—to all the successful ones—were of his own composition. Indeed, he could seldom satisfy himself in his "settings" of the stanzas of others. If the metrical and symmetrical features of the lines in hand chanced to disagree with his conception of the motion and proportion befitting in a musical interpretation; if the sentiment were one that failed, whether from lack of appreciation or of sympathy on his part, to command absolute approval; or if the terms employed were not of a precise thread and tension,—if they were wanting, however minutely, in vibratory qualities,—of commensurate extent would be the failure attending the translation.

The last three years of his life Mr. Foster passed in New York. During all that time, his efforts, with perhaps one exception, were limited to the production of songs of a pensive character. The loss of his mother seems to have left an ineffaceable impression of melancholy upon his mind, and inspired such songs as "I dream of my Mother," "I'll be Home To-morrow," "Leave me with my Mother," and "Bury me in the Morning." He died, after a brief illness, on the 13th of January, 1864. His remains reached Pittsburg on the 20th, and were conveyed to Trinity Church, where on the day following, in the presence of a large assembly, appropriate and impressive ceremonies took place, the choral services being sustained by a company of his former friends and associates. His body was then carried to the Alleghany Cemetery, and, to the music of "Old Folks at Home," finally committed to the grave.

Mr. Foster was married, on the 22d of July, 1850, to Miss Jane D. McDowell of Pittsburg, who, with her daughter and only child, Marian, twelve years of age at the date of his death, still survives him. He was of rather less than medium height, of slight frame, with parts well proportioned, and showing to advantage in repose, although not entirely so in action. His shoulders were marked by a slight droop,—the result of a habit of walking with his eyes fixed upon the ground a pace or two in advance of his feet. He nearly always when he ventured out, which was not often, walked alone. Arrived at the street-crossings, he would frequently pause, raise himself, cast a glance at the surroundings, and if he saw an acquaintance nod to him in token of recognition, and then, relapsing into the old posture, resume his way. At such times,—indeed, at any time,—while he did not repel, he took no pains to invite society. He was entertaining in conversation, although a certain hesitancy, from want of words and not from any organic defect, gave a broken style to his speech. For his study he selected a room in the topmost story of his house, farthest removed from the street, and was careful to have the floor of the apartment, and the avenues of approach to it, thickly carpeted, to exclude as effectually as possible all noises, inside as well as outside of his own premises. The furniture of this room consisted of a chair, a lounge, a table, a music-rack, and a piano. From the sanctum so chosen, seldom opened to others, and never allowed upon any pretence to be disarranged, came his choicest compositions. His disposition was naturally amiable, although, from the tax[Pg 616] imposed by close application to study upon his nervous system, he was liable to fits of fretfulness and scepticism that, only occasional and transient as they were, told nevertheless with disturbing effect upon his temper. In the same unfortunate direction was the tendency of a habit grown insidiously upon him,—a habit against the damning control of which (as no one better than the writer of this article knows) he wrestled with an earnestness indescribable, resorting to all the remedial expedients which professional skill or his own experience could suggest, but never entirely delivering himself from its inexorable mastery.

In the true estimate of genius, its achievements only approximate the highest standard of excellence as they are representative, or illustrative, of important truth. They are only great as they are good. If Mr. Foster's art embodied no higher idea than the vulgar notion of the negro as a man-monkey,—a thing of tricks and antics,—a funny specimen of superior gorilla,—then it might have proved a tolerable catch-penny affair, and commanded an admiration among boys of various growths until its novelty wore off. But the art in his hands teemed with a nobler significance. It dealt, in its simplicity, with universal sympathies, and taught us all to feel with the slaves the lowly joys and sorrows it celebrated.

May the time be far in the future ere lips fail to move to its music, or hearts to respond to its influence, and may we who owe him so much preserve gratefully the memory of the master, Stephen Collins Foster.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Harrigan and Braham - JPEG files of sheet music for "McNally's Row of Flats"

https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/6265

[in C major]


Title: McNally's Row of Flats.
Author: Edward Harrigan (lyricist); Dave Braham (composer)
Description:
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strophic with chorus (with dance interlude)
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piano and voice
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To Judge T. Campbell of New York City, With Compliments of the Author and Composer.
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ads on back cover for Wm. A. Pond & Co. stock
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10783-3
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Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection, Box 072, Item 061
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URI: http://jhir.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/6265

Date: 1882

* * *

Pittsburgh, PA based Irish band Na Gaels performing "McNally's Row of Flats" at the Map Room on 5/24/2009. Richard Henry, bodhran; David Yates, guitar; Colleen Rohlf, spoons & harmony vocal; Gerard Rohlf, guitar & harmony vocal; Charles May, fiddle and lead vocal.


Stephen Foster - Schubert, Burns quoted in "Glendy Burk"

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126035325

"The Lyrics And Legacy Of Stephen Foster"

audio 19 minutes, 3 seconds

From NPR blurb: "[Ken] Emerson, a music historian, is the author of a Foster biography, Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster And The Rise Of American Popular Culture. He also edited a new compilation of lyrics penned by Foster and his contemporaries, entitled Stephen Foster & Co.
"In a 1997 interview with Terry Gross, Emerson explained Foster's importance to the history of popular song and also why his songs continue to resonate more than 150 years after he wrote them."

An excerpt:
"There's one song he wrote, for instance, ["The Glendy Burk"] which deliberately quotes two measures of Schubert and then quotes two measures of a Robert Burns Scottish ballad, so that you have sort of a Scottish [sound] and a German [sound] you know, spliced," Emerson explains. "And that kind of wit and craft is something that people didn't realize Foster possessed when we used to think of him as sort of this naive folk poet with his finger on the pulse of the American soul, in a sort of a salt-of-the-earth way. He was a much more conscious writer who didn't just compose his songs. He contrived them."
Stephen Foster's 'THE GLENDY BURK' by Tom Roush

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ben Hecht's obit on Bert Williams

From the Project Gutenberg EBook edition of "One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago" (1922). The original is in the public domain.

Ben Hecht imagines black vaudville comedian Bert Williams joining the "Valhalla of Great Actors" upon his death March 4, 1922. Williams was by all accounts a gifted performer who rose above the vicious racial stereotyping of his day. W.C. Fields famously described him as "the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew."

A YouTube clip of Bert Williams' signature song "Nobody" (1913) gives a hint of what he must have been like in performance. The backup isn't bad, either.



TO BERT WILLIAMS


"Well," said Mr. Bert Williams, in his best "Under the Bamboo Tree"
dialect, "If you like mah singin' and actin' so much, how come, you bein'
a writer, you don't write somethin' about youah convictions on this
subjeck? Oh! It's not youah depahtment! Hm! Tha's jes' mah luck. I was
always the mos' unluckiest puhson who ever trifled with misfohtune. Not
his depahtment! Tha'--tha's jes' it. I never seems to fall jes' exactly in
the ri-right depahtment.

"May I ask, without meanin' to be puhsonal, jes' what is your depahtment?
Murder! Oh, you is the one who writes about murders and murderuhs foh the
paper! Nothin' else? Is tha' so? Jes' murders and murderuhs and--and
things like tha'? Well, tha' jes' shows how deceivin' looks is, fo' when
you came in heah I says to mahself, I says, 'this gen'le-man is a critic
of the drama.' And when I sees you have on a pair o' gloves I added
quickly to mahself, 'Yes, suh, chances are he is not only a critic of the
drama, but likewise even possuhbly a musical critic.' Yes, suh, all mah
life I have had the desire to be interviewed by a musical critic, but no
matter how hard I sing or how frequently, no musical critic has yet taken
cognizance o' me. No, suh, I get no cognizance whatsoever.

"Not meanin' to disparage you, suh, or your valuable depahtment. Foh if
you is in charge o' the murder and murderuh's depahtment o' yo' paper
possuhbly some time you may refer to me lightly between stabbin's or
shootin's in such wise as to say, foh instance, 'the doomed man was
listenin' to Mr. Williams' latest song on the phonograph when he received
the bullet wound. Death was instantaneous, the doomed man dyin' with a
smile on his lips. Mr. Williams' singin' makes death easy--an' desirable.'

"What, suh? You is! Sam, fetch the gen'leman some o' the firewater, the
non-company brand, Sam. All right, say when. Aw, shucks, that ain't enough
to wet a cat's whiskers. Say when again. There, tha's better. Here, Sam.
You got to help drink this. It's important. The gen'leman says if I will
wait a little while, jes' a little while, he is goin' to alter his
depahtment on the newspaper. Wasn't that it? Oh, I see. In the magazine.
Very well. Here's to what you says about me some day in the magazine. An'
when you writes it don't forget to mention somewhere along in it how when
I was playin' in San Francisco and Sarah Bernhardt was playin' there, and
this was years ago, don' forget to mention along with what you write about
mah singin' and actin' that I come to mah dressing room one evenin', in
Frisco, and there's the hugest box o' flowers you ever saw with mah name
on it. An' I open it up and, boy! There plain as the nose on your face is
a card among the flowers readin', 'to a fellow artist, from Sarah
Bernhardt.' And--whilst we are, so to speak, on the subjeck--you can put
in likewise what Eleanora Duse said o' me. You know who she is, I suppose,
the very most superlative genius o' the stage, suh. Yes, suh, the very
most. An' she says o' me when she went back to Italy, how I was the best
artist on the American stage.

[25]

"Artist! Tha' always makes Sam laugh, don't it, Sam, when he heahs me
refuhed to as artist. An'--have another beaker o' firewater, suh. It's
strictly non-company brand. An' here's how again to tha' day you speak of
when you write this article about me. An', boy, make it soon, 'cause this
life, this sinful theat'ical life, is killin' me fast. But I'll try an'
wait. Here's howdy."

* * * * *

He didn't wait. And today a lazy, crooked grin and a dolorous-eyed black
face drift among the shades in the Valhalla where the Great Actors sit
reading their press notices to one another. The Great Actors who have died
since the day of Euripides--they sit around in their favorite make-ups in
the Valhalla reserved for all good and glorious Thespians.

A company of ladies and gentlemen that would make Mr. Belasco's heart stop
beating! The Booths and Barretts from antiquity down, the Mrs. Siddonses
and Pattis, the Cyranos, Hamlets, buffoons and heroes. All of them in
their favorite make-ups, in their favorite cap and bells, their favorite
swords, their favorite doublet and hose--all of them sit around in the
special Valhalla of the Great Actors reading their press notices to one
another and listening to the hosannas of such critics as have managed to
pry into the anterior heaven.

And today Bert Williams makes his entrance. Yes, suh, it took that long to
find just the right make-up. To get just the right kind of ill-fitting
white gloves and floppy shoes and nondescript pants. But it's an important
entrance. The lazy crooked grin is a bit nervous. The dolorous eyes peer
sadly through the opening door of this new theater.

Lawdy, man, this is got a Broadway first night backed off the boards.
Rejane, Caruso, Coquelin, Garrick and a thousand others sittin' against
the towering walls, sittin' with their eyes on the huge door within' to
see who's a-comin' in now.

All right, professor, jes' a little music. Nothin' much. Anything kind o'
sad and fidgetylike. Tha's it, that-a-boy. There's no use worryin'--much.
'Member what Duse said as I was the greatest artist, an 'member how Sarah
Bernhardt sent me roses in Frisco an' says, 'To a fellow artist'? Yes,
suh, they can't do mo' than walk out on me. An' ah's been walked out on
befo'.

All right, professor. Tha's it. Now I'll stick my hand inside the door and
wiggle mah fingers kind o' slow like. Jes' like that. An' I'll come on
slow. Nothin' to worry about--much.

* * * * *

A wrinkled white-gloved hand moving slowly inside the door of the
Valhalla. Sad, fidgety music. Silence in the great hall. This is another
one coming on--another entrance. A lazy, crooked grin and a dolorous-eyed
black face. Floppy shoes and woebegone pants.



[26]

Bravo, Mr. Williams! The great hall rings with hand-clapping. The great
hall begins to fill with chuckles. There it is--the same curious grin, the
lugubrious apology of a grin, the weary, pessimistic child of a grin.

The Great Actors, eager-eyed and silent, sit back on their thrones. The
door of the Valhalla of Great Actors swings slowly shut. No Flo Ziegfeld
lighting this time, but a great shoot of sunshine for a "garden." And the
music different, easier to sing to, somehow. Music of harps and flutes.
And a deep voice rises.

Yes, I would have liked to have been there in the Valhalla of the Great
Actors, when Bert Williams came shuffling through the towering doors and
stood singing his entrance song to the silent, eager-eyed throng of
Rejanes, Barretts and Coquelins--

Ah ain't ever done nothin' to nobody,
Ah ain't ever got nothin' from nobody--no time, nohow.
Ah ain't ever goin' t' do nothin' for nobody--
Till somebody--