Thursday, October 29, 2015

Golden Slippers

I just learned the D Major harmony (Cathy Clasper-Torch graciously allowed me to record it and put it up on youtube so you can see the fingering) on a song, but now I have mixed feelings.

You see, after poking around a bit (mostly on Wikipedia), I found out that what most of us call "Golden Slippers" (as played by Beth Williams Hartness) is actually a minstrel song, to be performed in blackface, and a parody of the song made popular by the Fisk Jubilee singers.



Fisk University (named after abolitionist Clinton Bowen Fisk), in Nashville, is an African-American institution, established in 1866. The Fisk singers were recorded, and you can hear them here - though I'm not sure when that recording was made. 

The Fisk Singers toured first the Underground Railroad path, and then Europe. Spirituals, including “Golden Slippers”, were their usual fare.

But they also sang minstrel songs written by Stephen Foster, a white musician from Pennsylvania - not the one responsible for the minstrel song in question, however.

The minstrel parody of “Golden Slippers”, the spiritual, was originally called “Dem Golden Slippers”, and was written in 1879 by James A. Bland, an African American musician, from Flushing, New Jersey, graduate of Howard University (another great African-American institution).


According to Wikipedia:

“Music historian Alec Wilder calls Bland the black writer who 'broke down the barriers to white music publishers' offices.' Bland was one of the most prolific minstrel composers of all time; he is reputed to have written over six hundred songs, though only about fifty were published under his name.”



So, hurrah! Right?

Except, blackface, minstrel, making fun of the group that toured the original spiritual along the path of the Underground Railroad...

What would Harriet Tubman say? That it's a great tune, with, as my fiddle teacher says, a checkered past?


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