Posts tagged blackface
Posts tagged blackface
HAGERSTOWN, Md. — With their slouch hats, whiskers and time-worn instruments, members of the 2nd South Carolina String Band look and sound like a Civil War camp band. And while they play “Oh! Susannah” and other familiar fare, they don’t shy from other historical songs with inescapably racist overtones that may offend some modern listeners.
The aim of these musical re-enactors is to accurately recreate music that soldiers from both the North and South enjoyed around battlefield campfires at Gettysburg, Antietam and Bull Run. Along with “Buffalo Gals” and “Dixie,” they perform lesser-known songs in the exaggerated dialect of blackface minstrels from that tumultuous era when slavery was breaking apart.
“A-way down in de Kentuck’ break, a darky lived, dey call him Jake,” Fred Ewers sings on “I’m Gwine Ober de Mountain,” by “Dixie” composer Daniel Emmett.
“Angeline the Baker,” a Stephen Foster song in the band’s repertoire, begins, “Way down on de old plantation, dah’s where I was born.” It’s the story of a slave who was “so happy all de day” until his beloved Angeline disappears.
The camp bands don’t perform in blackface and typically shun the most offensive words and lyrics with cruel or violent imagery. Still, it’s a tricky business presenting such racially jarring songs.
Historically accurate? Certainly. The music comes from the minstrel shows that were the nation’s most popular form of entertainment in the mid-1800s. Usually featuring white performers with blackened faces, the shows included songs and skits that often lampooned black people and portrayed slaves as happy and care-free.
The minstrel shows produced some of America’s most beloved songs and contributed mightily to jazz, bluegrass, country and folk music. Blackface minstrels also helped popularize the banjo, an instrument with African roots.
Some scholars and musicians question whether a Civil War re-enactment is the best place to hear such songs performed. Some of these critics play similar material at banjo workshops and scholarly gatherings designed for discussion that they hope can help heal the wounds of American slavery.
The 2nd South Carolina String Band seeks to present the music as true as possible to what was played in the camps.
“We are performing, not lecturing,” said banjoist Joe Ewers, Fred’s brother and the band’s chief spokesman. [READ THE FULL STORY HERE}
——Boy GOOD NIGHT. What is the point of performing with NO context. Then DON’T DO IT AT ALL. WHY PERFORM? WHYYYYYYYYYY????? Just to say you’re performing a frigin minstrel show. I really can’t take ya’ll.
“They’re very good, they’re a very fine group as musicians,” Winans said. “But I would be much happier if they would do a little bit more to provide context and raise the questions that certainly are inherent in the material.”
Banjo historian Greg Adams of Germantown, Md., said camp bands should help their audiences understand how blackface minstrelsy helped move an instrument with African roots into the mainstream of popular music.
THATS ALL I’M SAYING!!!!!