[Dixielandjazz] Interesting article on new performances ofMinstrel Shows

Mike Durham mikedurham_jazz at hotmail.com
Sun Nov 16 20:55:11 PST 2003

This whole area of early American music is very fraught, and it's not just 
crazy political correctness, some  - no, a lot! - of the early stuff is 
really offensive to modern ears, and not just to 'liberals' (whatever they 
are) either. Some things are easily fixed, like references in lyrics to 
'darkies' which can be subtly changed without altering the meaning of the 
song (as in Mississippi Mud, where we substitute 'people' for the 'D-word'. 
What do we do, however, when we play a great old ragtime tune called 
"Coontown Chimes"? Change the name? Or explain how things were back in 1910, 
and give the piece its correct name? Or just not play it? Otherwise you get 
things like bands playing Ben Harney's "All Coons Look Alike To Me" (a huge 
hit for this black songwriter) under the title "All Raccoons Look Alike To 
Me". I'm not sure this isn't even worse than playing the damn thing under 
its proper title. Any views out there? I find this a genuine dilemma....

Mike D.

>From: david richoux <tubaman at batnet.com>
>To: dixie <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Interesting article on new performances 
>ofMinstrel Shows
>Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2003 11:06:23 -0800
>One thing I forgot to mention - I learned of this article while reading a 
>later issue, a letter-to-the-editor triggered my search:
>>It may be history but it's not always pretty
>>  You wrote: "Minstrelsy hasn't merited serious cultural study since its 
>>awkward birth in the 1830s." In fact, there are a number of 
>>well-researched and in-depth books on minstrelsy. There are straight 
>>histories out there, but the ones that interest me the most are those that 
>>discuss how minstrelsy was used to construct and cross boundaries of 
>>class, race, and gender. See especially Eric Lott's Love and Theft.
>>  The issue of whether this should be performed is a sticky one. Within 
>>the context of historical reenactment, it seems a relatively benign 
>>activity. I'm led to question the drive to reenact itself and the 
>>attendant emphasis on objectivity. Imagining history as a script to 
>>perform seems rife with problems.
>>  Drew Beck, Berkeley
>There was the recent Spike Lee movie "Bamboozled" that gets deeply into 
>this subject in a different way...
>Dave Richoux
>On Sunday, Nov 16, 2003, at 10:48 US/Pacific, david richoux wrote:
>>a snip:
>>>Written off by most mainstream historians and musicologists as nothing 
>>>more than racist theatrics and overwrought melodrama, minstrelsy hasn't 
>>>merited serious cultural study since its awkward birth in the 1830s. 
>>>However, a very small but steadily growing cadre of musicians from across 
>>>the country intends to resurrect it. They're intently researching 
>>>yellowing sheet music and sepia-hued photographs to ensure absolute 
>>>authenticity -- from constructing period instruments and donning 
>>>near-perfect replicas of clothing from the era, to performing the old 
>>>minstrel classics exactly as they originally were, sometimes even in 
>>>blackface. The endeavor is done so faithfully that, as one modern-day 
>>>minstrel player put it, "If you squint your eyes and your ears a little, 
>>>you can travel right back to the 1840s."
>>>                   Of course, such a journey would dump you in a briar 
>>>patch of racial stereotypes repulsive to modern-day Americans, so it's 
>>>not surprising there's a contentious debate over whether such a project 
>>>is legitimate at all.
>>the whole article is very interesting... not exactly OKOM but one of the 
>>many roots.
>>Dave Richoux
>>Dixielandjazz mailing list
>>Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
>Dixielandjazz mailing list
>Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com

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