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Caffery, Joshua C. International Bluegrass Music Association. Lomax, Alan. Winick, Steven. As I began looking through images of bluegrass musicians from almost a century ago, I realized that amidst the controversial discussion about which culture bluegrass music sprang from, one element in this polarized history remains constant.
It was present whether the musician was Celtic or Cajun, young or old, man or woman. Front porches … they abound in the bluegrass music world.
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Scroll through the Lomax photo archives from the s, or do a quick, modern-day Google search, and your results will be similar. Front porches have become a constant, universal symbol of a bluegrass musician. Front porches had no racial bias—they crossed the lines between races at a time when no other thing did.
I think that by playing on a porch, these musicians were inviting neighbors, relatives, and friends to enjoy this musical tradition. The front porch lives on in the modern bluegrass scene. Front porches remain in country music today. Lomax, Alan, photographer. Bahamas Cat Island, Pete Steele and family, Hamilton, Ohio. Hamilton Ohio United States, Lomax, Ruby T, photographer. Lolo Mendoza and Chico Real, with guitars, at the home of Mrs.
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Sarah Kleberg Shelton, Kingsville, Texas. Kingsville Texas United States, Bill Tatnall, sitting, playing guitar, Frederica, Georgia. Frederica Georgia United States, Cajun fiddler, Louisiana. Louisiana United States, Wayne Perry playing fiddle, Crowley, Louisiana. Crowley Louisiana United States, None. Cajun singers, southwest Louisiana.
Growing up, I had a specific image of a banjo player in my mind. I imagined a white male wearing overalls sitting on the front porch of a white house with a white picket fence surrounded by farmland. Now, I recognize how close this picture is to an idea of the American Dream, a hope often associated with, home ownership, comfortable living, wealth, opportunity, and fame. But, how come my image of a banjo growing up was so aligned with a version of the American Dream? Each photo contained either an individual playing the banjo, or a group of musicians, one of which is playing a banjo.
Two crucial traits were consistent throughout all the images: white and male.
One, for example, is an image from of the Bog Trotters Band, where one of the players is on the banjo below. They are looking at sheet music in a house with lace curtains, wearing a variety of clothing from overalls to a suit, playing instruments in good condition. While subtle, the three factors of well-taken care of instruments, nice clothing, and delicate lace curtains represent, to me, success, crucial to the American Dream.
It appears as though these men are living out their American dream, using the banjo as a stepping-stone to their success [ 1 ]. The Bog Trotters Band was such a staple of bluegrass that there is now a new band in the 21st century, the Galax Bogtrotters, who found their music so inspiring they decided to use their name.
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It seems imbedded in the history of the bluegrass genre, and Rosenberg questions if bluegrass began in with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys or in when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were performing with Bill Monroe. However, Rhiannon Giddens in her Keynote speech at the International Bluegrass Music Association Conference would argue that bluegrass began much earlier, as she defines bluegrass as complex Creole music coming from African, European, and Native American roots. She adds that the banjo used to be a symbol of African American expression, as it started as a plantation instrument, but it has done a [ 3 ].
Southern Cultures: 2011 Music Issue, Enhanced Ebook: Winter 2011 Issue, includes Music tracks eBook
She evaluates how the banjo and bluegrass has become known as a white art form, but it rather began with roots in slavery. Fast forward to the now. There are still popular bands that feature banjo playing, such as Mumford and Sons. As you can see in the picture above, these men all still identify as white. In a way, they are continuing the same image that the Bog Trotters Band did: white men living out the American Dream of fame and success, but ignoring an entire race who contributed to the evolution of the banjo and bluegrass.
Bluegrass: A History. PDF file. In a article published in Ebony magazine a magazine written by and for an African American audience , Lynn Norment talks to Whitney Houston. Houston explains:. I was raised in a Black community with Black people, so that has never been a thing with me.
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This idea of not belonging seems to be a common theme among female pop singers of color. In a recent example, pop artist Lizzo has experienced the tug-of-war between being in the black community, yet appealing to largely white audiences. People from the black community are releasing tweets like the following:.
There are some strong opinions present here, and these social media posts are obviously not representative of entire communities, but I think it is important to see how the general public is perceiving Lizzo as an artist. So what can I do as a listener and performer to break down these stereotypes? Is it okay for me as a white woman to attend concerts or to perform music by these black female artists? Professor Louis Epstein, of St.
In class, we also discussed strategic essentialism the idea that under pressure and in the context of oppression, minority groups draw together while ignoring differences to present a unified front , as something that has positive intentions like protecting oppressed minorities and giving them political power. Waters performed throughout the Harlem Renaissance, but as her fame grew she performed for primarily white audiences. We need to build on these moments, on these incredible opportunities [like going to a Lizzo concert] to expand understanding . I have a hard time knowing how to handle issues like this.
Another way is to keep up the conversation. Talk to peers, other musicians, and people outside of your own community. XLVI no. Lecture to his American Music class, September Portrait of Bill Tatnall 1. Hurston and others 2. Hurston and others 3. These were some of the few images listed that were not plain photographs, but images of commercial publications.
As both feature whites, they were likely both intended for white audiences. More striking, though, is their representation of African Americans. African Americans, though, are depicted only as cotton pickers, confining their place in the South to the cotton fields. The second image is even more striking; the two figures in the foreground are whites with guns, and in the background is an African American hanging from a tree, a lynching victim.
This shows an even more explicit and extreme racial dynamic. These two publications publications serve as a reminder that, for most of the commercialized white South of the early 20th-century, African Americans were African American first and Southerners second. They were cotton pickers and lynching victims, separate from the culture of white Southerners, from their horses and poor children to their banjo- and guitar-playing, despite the evidence we have that they were part of these cultural and musical phenomenon just as much as Southern whites.
Photographic prints. Photomechanical prints. Drawing on illustration board, crayon.
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And while the history of Southern music, and bluegrass in particular, would be incomplete without legends such as Bill Monroe or JD Sumner, the contributions of musicians of other races and ethnicities should not and cannot be brushed over. The art of Black String Bands goes back to the 19th century, predating the Blues, Bluegrass, and Country by several decades.
A paper by Sean K McCollough explores the background of bluegrass as it relates to race article found here. This tradition of fiddle playing was then passed down through the generations as a new part of the distinctly African-American culture that was arising which I differentiate from Black American culture, as not all Black Americans can trace their lineage back to Africa and the slaves taken from their.