Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Vaudeville Song

"Coontown Troubles" was written in 1919 by Bugbee and Berg, as music to be performed 'black face' on the Vaudeville stage. As such, the music and its theatrical performance can be considered one of the many ways American racial stereotyping surfaced in those times.

The sheet music is prefaced with suggestions as to how to stage and interpret the music.:

"To make this song more effective, all should be dressed in odd or outlandish costumes. They should carry dilapidated satchels and bags of all descriptions, and should appear very sad and depressed.
"During chorus they should appear to weep, using large bandana handkerchiefs. As they sing last two lines of the chorus, they appear to brighten a little.
"One character may represent Josephus Johnson, and another, Uncle Rastus, and each act very sad as their names and troubles are mentioned. All walk off with baggage at last chorus."

Cover (Click each page to enlarge and read song lyrics, if you like. Click again to enlarge even more.))

Page One

Page Two


Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Wedding That Went Before Me

My grandparent's, on my father's side. It was a wedding portrait. No white gown. No flowers. They were Appalachian folk. You wore the best you had, and that was the best you could do.

He was of uncertain origins. It is still not clear who his real parents were, since he was adopted by some Smiths, which makes me a Smith today. He became a coal miner at an early age, since in those parts, there were few options for making a living. He had a farm, but since he was in the mine all day, he was what people called, a 'moonlight farmer'. He worked the fields by moonlight. He was trapped underground for three days beneath a large slab of coal, and as the family stories go, when they brought him out, he had more broken bones, than whole ones. Prior to the incident he had been known as a faith healer in the small coal mining town he lived in. After the incident, he disappeared into the woods, carved out an untamed hollow, built a house at the very end, and spent his last days there; mostly content to be left alone.

She came up the hard way, as well. After her mother died, her father remarried. He then died. She was left as the oldest child in a large family of mixed-family siblings. She became the care-taker of these younger ones. She never attended a day of school, but somehow learned to read by following recitations of bible scripture in her bible. All her grandchildren called her 'Other Mom', because, quite simply, she was our other mom.

It is interesting to think of what it is that makes us up, besides all the stuff each day throws at us. In my own life, the other side of the family tree is all about Irish immigration to the US, and making it in New York City. So, I grew up with these clearly different histories, and in some way, I was some off-shoot of it all, living in a whole different world. And, now I have grandchildren of my own, and can hardly imagine what their future may throw at them. They come from hardy stock, so, I hope for the best.