The Minstrel Show 2.1 - William Henry Lane & Pattin' Juba
April 4, 2005 9:29 PM   Subscribe

Single shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut; snapping his fingers, rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the backs of his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels like nothing but the man’s fingers on the tambourine. Dancing with two left legs, two right legs, two wooded legs, two wire legs, two spring legs–all sorts of legs and no legs–what is this to him? And in what walk of life, or dance of life does man ever get such stimulating applause as thunders about him, when, having danced his partner off her feet, and himself too, he finishes by leaping gloriously on the bar-counter, and calling for something to drink, with the chuckle of a million of counterfeit Jim Crows, in one inimitable sound!

Dancing Across The Color Line.   In 1842, Charles Dickens came to New York City, where initally, he was wined, dined and theatrically entertained by the upper crust. Afterwards, he then went slumming and soon saw William Henry Lane, aka Master Juba, a man of whose dancing a number of historians say is where tap dance began, step lively in a cellar in the neighborhood called Five Points--the very same neighborhood creatively misrepresented recently by one Martin Scorcese in Gangs of New York. The dance he did was known as Pattin' Juba and the first time it's rhythm--which we think of as the Bo Diddley beat--was used on a sound recording was in 1952, when Red Saunders and his Orchestra, with Dolores Hawkins and and the Hambone Kids recorded Hambone. Continued within
posted by y2karl (3 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, a hat tip to Common-Place, an online magazine of American History of uncommon quality and design. Check out the Previous Issues--where articles like Clinton Hating, A Short History of the High Roll and Gems In The Pasture are but a few examples of what can be found, although more to the point here is Hearing Slavery: Recovering the role of sound in African American slave culture.

Also worth mention is The Juba Project. And here is more on the Juba Dance. And 'Juba' at Vauxhall Gardens provides an image of his dance. Interestingly enough, some claim the Charleston can be traced back to pattin' Juba.

Another thing interesting about Master Juba--as in the man and not the dance--is that, apart from the fact that he was the first black man to appear onstage in blackface in a minstrel show, he was famous for being able to mimic, recognizably and individually, sixteen or seventeen white blackface minstrels who imitated him--talk about pre-post-ironic. Also of interest, too, is, as the first link discusses in detail, just how much race mixing there was in Antebellum New York in the early Nineteenth Century. If blackface minstrelsy is where American popular culture begins, one can argue race mixing in New York City is where minstrelsy begins. Ann Douglas makes much the same point about the birth of Modernism in her Terrible Honesty - Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. And always, in foreground or background, are the sighs and trumpeting of the trombipulating pachyderm--attended or unattended by seven sightless savants--in the American common living space.
posted by y2karl at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Wow. First post where I actually learned a whole bunch without actually clicking on any of the links. This is what everyone should aspire to when posting. Nice job y2karl!
posted by DonnieSticks at 10:04 PM on April 4, 2005

More on Five Points:

Five Pointers also played hard. There was a carnival atmosphere to Five Points, with the Bowery on the neighborhood’s eastern edge the center of the spectacle.

Walt Whitman extolled the Bowery as "the most heterogeneous mélange of any street in the city; stores of all kinds and people of all kinds are to be met with every forty rods. . . .You may be the President or a Major-General, or be Governor, or be Mayor, and you will be jostled and crowded off the sidewalk just the same."

The Bowery was home to the Bowery B’hoys, a subculture of dandy-toughs that flourished for a while by making a name for themselves as lovers of adventure and excitement. (Bowery B’hoys were touted for acts of courage during the Mexican War and were among the first New Yorkers to leave for California during the gold rush.)

Storied Neighborhood Emblematic Of Immigrant Experience

See also An Elegy for the Bowery - Noise on Music Central
posted by y2karl at 10:33 PM on April 4, 2005

« Older neurobion   |   Googlewhack is so, like, whenever Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments