[Dixielandjazz] "Shine" the slang meaning

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 2 13:43:22 PST 2004

For those who are still unsure about "Shine" and "Pipe The Shine".

"Shine" is/was a derogatory term for "Nigger" which is/was a derogatory term
for Black people.

It was still in use in the 1940s, 50s and 60s in parts of, if not all of the
USA. Probably still is in use today.

"Pipe the shine" meant to beat the "shine" with a lead pipe, or blackjack
which had their own slang terms as being a "nigger knocker".

In the USA, if a black ventured into "white" territory, or what was
perceived as white territory, he/she would often be beaten up or killed.

Happened as late as the 1960s when the Freedom Marches were taking place
here. Even in the Northern USA like York, Pennsylvania where in the 1960s,
several blacks, including one woman, were shot and killed while riding in a
car after they lost their way and drove into a white section. Pennsylvania
just last year, convicted a couple of people, including a policeman and the
then mayor for inciting that cowardly attack.

Many black jazz musicians were also victims of beatings at the hands of
whites, especially the police. Bud Powell in Philadelphia, Thelonious Monk
in Philadelphia and then Wilmington Delaware, Miles Davis in NYC etc., etc.,
etc., in the 1960s. They were still considered undesirables who did not know
their place. The slang term for them was "uppity niggers".

In Miles' case, he was standing outside Birdland smoking a cigarette when
assaulted by a policeman who asked him to move on, claiming he was
loitering. When Miles protested that he was working inside the club, the cop
whacked him a couple of times with his nightstick, arrested him and put him
in jail. 

It is amazing how quickly this history is not learned, or gets forgotten or
otherwise glossed over. Because jazz was considered "nigger music" by most
people, all jazz musicians, black or white (me included) were still very
wary of the police in the 50s and 60s. We were all classed as "nigger
lovers", vermin and fair game for a quick beating or arrest if we showed any
sign of thinking we were equals to the rest of the population.

I don't think there is an old jazz man around today, white or black, who did
not hate the cops back then. And some of us are still very wary even in
these changed times.

And by all accounts, it was a hell of a lot worse in the early 1900s when
"That's Why They Call Me Shine" was written.

Perhaps, upon reflection of the history of the music and the musicians, this
"happy music" we call jazz is/was not always so happy after all?

Perhaps it was, and still is, whether we like it or not, the music of social

Certainly, from the black perspective, it is the music of social protest and
if we peruse the below web site, we will find out how and why the blacks
used the theater and music in their struggle for equality. And if we think a
little bit about it, we may also gain some insight as to where Wynton
Marsalis is coming from and why his perspective differs from ours.


Or we can ignore the historical aspect of the positive music and just chalk
it up to "political correctness" which is what most other folks do in their
continuing efforts to live in denial.

Steve Barbone

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list