Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Minstrel & "Darky" records

Well, I have two "yes" votes for posting the Minstrel & "Darky" discs. I was worried about how to preface these, but the zenman posted his comments... and I could not state it any more eloquently. Herewith follows his comments about the issue:
Posting what we now think of as racist material? I would vote yes, actually.

I think that it's very important, especially for listeners of the types of music you so graciously present, to [have] a genuine understanding of the cultural differences between Then and Now. Nothing can present this better than the most popular of media from that earlier period, the 78 RPM record.

There are several other sites that already make this type of material available - the 78rpm collection is quite full.

The first time you hear this 'Minstrel Show' material your jaw drops. Listen to more and you find that there are brutal racial stereotypes being presented of not only Blacks, but of Italians, Jews, Poles, the Dutch and Germans, and so on. This was an accepted fact of life in those times. Blackface is anathema now but a given in vaudeville then.

You don't see 'Amos and Andy' on television any more for good reasons. And unless you search them out, you also won't be seeing cartoons with these racial stereotypes, nor will you, wthout a bit of looking, se Irving Belin's 'This Is The Army' (from WW2), which features several blackface numbers. And so it should be, as we have grown, somewhat, out of these cruel stereotypes that genuinely offend and hurt so many people who frankly deserve much better from this country and this culture.

By posting this material -with the proper caveats- [emphasis added] you do the world a favor. I think it's very important to show how ingrained such thoughless cruelty was at one time, and how we have grown - albeit slowly, and with resistance from many - out of this. It's especially important for mainstream whites to hear this, as many of them are blissfully unaware of how common this was only a few decades ago.

But most people don't know anything about history anyway. Maybe this could shake up their brains and make them think about it a little.

Wow. I could not have said it any better myself.

Now, on to the discs. These came out in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and, as stated by zenman, contain RAMPANT racial slurs and stereotyping.

The Victor Minstrel Company always had the one line in their recordings, at least the ones that I have heard... "Gentlemen, be seated!" at which point the 'show' would begin. The first one, Mississippi Minstrels, according to the label, contains the following songs: "I Guess I'll Have to Telegraph My Baby", I Want to go Back to the Land of Cotton", and Remus Takes the Cake". You may hear some of the then-current Victor recording artists in here, I think Campbell & Burr, Billy Murray, and members (if not the entireity) of the Peerelss Quartet had done some of the minstrel recordings. You have the songs, interspersed with anecdotal humourous segues, and the the players march off the stage.

Minstrel records like this were actually one of the ways that a lot of sheet music was sold during the period... people heard the snippet of the tune, then went to go get the sheet music so they could play it on the i=piano in their parlors.

Speaking of the Peerless Quartet, they are on the other side of this record, with a "Descriptive Negro Medley", Down on the Levee. Songs included are "Sunshine", No Use Awaitin' Till To-morrow", "Oh, Ma Yaller Gal", "On the Mississippi", "Hallelujah", "Checkerboard Suit", and "Take Your Feet Out of the Sand".

Again, I MUST CAVEAT... these guys dropped the Ni**er-bomb more times than I would care to count. These are presented for HISTORICAL REFERENCE as well as a view of the times, which is vastly different than what we have now. And for that, I thank the Gods.

Next up is Golden & Hughes' "Darky" Specialty number, Unlucky Mose. The duo tell the story about a man who thinks himself the luckiest man in the world because he has a hat on his head, shoes on his feet, bacon in his pan, etc. and then is told by a compatriot otherwise. Something like that. Again, heavily stereotyped, just like the blackface artists did on the vaudeville stage (and on shows like Amos and Andy, etc.). This is a sketch number as opposed to purely musical.

The other side of the Victor disc gives up another VIctor Minstrel Company number, New Orleans Minstrels. Are we noticing a bit of a regional theme here? Remember, these were concocted and recorded by men in New York City that had probably never been to the Deep South, and this is how they characterized that region to the rest of the country, and the world. Anyway, the songs here include "At A Georgia Campmeeting", "All I Wants is My Black Baby Back", and "On Emancipation Day".

If you're offended by these, I apologize. But, they're a piece of American history, whether we like it or not. History cannot, and SHOULD not, be revised just because it makes some people uncomfortable.

I have more of these, along with some other period pieces, which I may bring out on a later posting. Some of them are quite musical, actually...

Ah well, enough history for a while.

Hi Brad, these early recordings are of a time gone by, historically speaking, censorship sucks! how else will anybody learn how not to be anymore if not for these rarities, me being part black and native american will never be offended being so openminded to times then and now.
I also have mixed feelings about such stuff I have a copy of a song called "laugh you little ni**er" but in the end i agree you can't ignore the may be interested in my blog, I've started posting music
One thing I've learned from exposing myself to the racial stereotypes of the pre-WWII era is that they've never gone away -- they've just been updated. In music, Stag-o-lee is alive and well and rapping. In movies, well, Mantan Moreland used to say, "Ghosts! Nosuh, boss, I ain't gwine in dat house!" and in modern horror films, the token black guy says, "No f*in' way I'm gonna go in there. That ghost shit is wack!" I haven't watched TV in a while, but for a while there, there wasn't a Black comedy on UPN that didn't feature Mr. Bones, Mr. Interlocuter, Old Jim Crow, Mandy, and Mammy, all gussied up in hiphop clothes.

It's important to learn from the past so we can realize how far we haven't come.

Oh, and thanks for the shares -- I just found you today.
Wow. Thanks for the trust in using my missive. Glad you post4ed thises things.

Yeah, HP is right, to a certain extent...that stuff never really goes away, but covers itself over with a new guise and pretends that it's something else. But how are you gonna know what it IS until you can see and hear what it WAS? Otherwise this material keeps showing up, pretending it's all new. Anybody who has not seen Spike Lee's 'Bamboozled' better go rent it and sit down and watch it.

And when you have a chance after you have listened to the music that made such racism palatable (and hummable) to the general public, take a look at the graphics that came with them. Shee music was full of images from the blackface-styles of minstrel shows. I've got quite a few of them. And - this is real-life true - I had a beloved uncle for many years whose name was Jim Crow, and he was always aware og what his name meant when not in direct reference to him.

I'm not black - I'm about as white as you get - but that does not mean that I subcribe to any philosophy of hatred. When I was eight, my father took me to one side, opened a file drawer and took out an old document, which he gave me to read. It was a bill of sale for a ten-yer-old black boy, made out to my many times great-grandfather. "ALways be aware of that", my father said, "and remember the shame that ut brings upon our family and allthose who owned slaves'. And he went on to each me to recognize racism, to hate it, and to not allow it in my life or in my family.

So over the years I've collected things that at one time contained statements, artwork or points of view that were consdered acceptable, and then not onl;y to hold them up to mockk them, but also to show how much of this still exists, but in a very different form. Please remember that in 2006 neither socially acceptable racism or UPN are truely gone...
Zenman, your words were, and are, brilliant. You're right, by putting examples of racism before the public, then they are part of the record of culture (and all the scars contained therein). When I posted these, I was afraid that I would be accused of racism myself, and of 'glorifying' what these records stood for. It is not my goal to glorify racism, it is to expose a part of history that is not so glamorous. It is where we came from, and I'm saddened that it still exists, even in its' current form. Maybe these recordings (and the ones I will post in future) will help open some eyes.

Thanks all for your insightful and heart-felt comments.
i think this stuff is fantastic!
When considering any kind of historical racist or offensive content, you have to think- what has really changed? Does the media represent black culture any differently than it did a hundred years ago? I'd say no. I'd even go so far as to say that most (but not all) black people on TV are represented as violent, uneducated buffoons. I realize I'm painting with a broad brush and that it doesn't always apply, but in general I'd say it seems to. (Especially on MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and a whole long list of some of the other top money making networks.) And I'd say that today, what's presented is a hundred times more degrading and insulting that what it was in days gone by. Does this image accurately represent the black culture? No way. Far from it. But whether we like it or not, the images are there and every day they are burned into the minds of all who watch them, young folks in particular. (Including young black folks who emulate them and reinforce it.) And as long as these stereotypes exist so ambiantly, racism will always exist in this country. A hundred years ago, it was the white people who were portraying blacks offensively. Now, black people are portraying themselves this way. And if you ask me, I think they are doing the black community as a whole a great injustice. The only difference between now and then is that then, whites wore the blackface. Who's wearing the blackface now?

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