...The narrative of the blues got hijacked by rock ’n’ roll, which rode a wave of youth consumers to global domination. Back behind the split, there was something else: a deeper, riper source. Many people who have written about this body of music have noticed it. Robert Palmer called it Deep Blues. We’re talking about strains within strains, sure, but listen to something like Ishman Bracey’s ''Woman Woman Blues,'' his tattered yet somehow impeccable falsetto when he sings, ''She got coal-black curly hair.'' Songs like that were not made for dancing. Not even for singing along. They were made for listening. For grown-ups. They were chamber compositions. Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.'' It has no words. It’s hummed by a blind preacher incapable of playing an impure note on the guitar. We have to go against our training here and suspend anthropological thinking; it doesn’t serve at these strata. The noble ambition not to be the kind of people who unwittingly fetishize and exoticize black or poor-white folk poverty has allowed us to remain the kind of people who don’t stop to wonder whether the serious treatment of certain folk forms as essentially high- or higher-art forms might have originated with the folk themselves.From Unknown Bards: The blues becomes apparent to itself by one John Jeremiah Sullivan. I came across it while browsing Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers On The Albums That Changed Their Lives. For Sullivan, that album was American Primitive, Vol. II: Pre-War Revenants (1897 - 1939), which is my favorite CD of the year. Which came out in 2005 while I just got around to buying it this year. Foolish me. It is a piece of art in itself in every respect--all CDs should have such production values. [more inside]
Jump Jim Crow, through the hoops of one Robert Christgau's erudition as he surveys the literature extant in In Search of Jim Crow: Why Postmodern Minstrelsy Studies Matter, through multiple readings of Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World and and Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Consider, too, The Minstrel Cycle from Reading The Commitments and other various and sundry attempts to peek inside the minstrel mask—all multiple readings reading blackface minstrels from the pejorative to the explorative, subversive to oppressive, past to future, unfolding tesseractly, if not exactly, with singing, dancing and extraordinary elocutions. Buy your tickets and step within for The Meller Drammer of Minstrelsy in The Minstrel Show 2.0…
Race/Music: Corrine Corrina, Bo Chatmon, and the Excluded Middle. Bo Carter is not the household name that, say, Robert Johnson is but he first recorded and most likely wrote one of the standards of the 20th Century. The essay linked deals with him, his song and the push me-pull you of race and culture in America. It's a post graduate thesis rife with postmodernist terminology--yet full of ideas and insights, not all of which I necessarily endorse or agree with--but which I've found thought provoking. (Details Within)
The Minstrel Show The Minstrel Show presents us with a strange, fascinating and awful phenomenon. Minstrel shows emerged from preindustrial European traditions of masking and carnival. But in the US they began in the 1830s, with working class white men dressing up as plantation slaves. These men imitated black musical and dance forms, combining savage parody of black Americans with genuine fondness for African American cultural forms. By the Civil War the minstrel show had become world famous and respectable. Late in his life Mark Twain fondly remembered the "old time nigger show" with its colorful comic darkies and its rousing songs and dances. By the 1840s, the minstrel show had become one of the central events in the culture of the Democratic party.. The image of white men in blackface, miming black song, dance and speech is considered the last word in racist bigotry for some. And yet, standing at the crossroads of race, class and high and low culture, blackface minstrelsy is one fascinating topic in academic circles. It’s history is intertwined with the rise of abolitionism, the works of Mark Twain and the histories of vaudeville, American vernacular music, radio, television, movies, in fact all of what is called popular culture. Details within.