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RING, RING DE BANJO!
by (Bvt. Sgt.) Pvt. Mike Palada
Is there anything more admirable, romanticized, or lauded in all of history and literature than the warrior-poet? Nay, nary a one exists in this author's opinion. From the ancient Greek and Roman lyricists accompanying the conquering legions, to the nomadic troubadours of Gaul and tribal Europe, to the refined and sophisticated Anglo-Saxon bards, evolving into the marshal airs of imperialist-nationalist powers, the warrior-poet has long sung the praises of chieftain and common soldier alike, standing true to the colors as did those they sought to praise. Although the warrior-poet stands as the venerated defender of the romanticized, honor-bound battlefield, there is another sub-class of minstrels that deserves mention, albeit for their humorous, entertaining, and blatantly comical performances.
Aye, that other side of the coin, or that so-called sub-class is none other that the blackface minstrel. White minstrels performing in blackface, with exaggerated vernaculars, were once a commonplace attraction before, during, as well as after the War of the Rebellion Between the States. Dixie's Land, as well as a host of other popular tunes by the likes of such songsters as Stephen Foster, for one, were originally written to be performed in blackface. But the tradition did not stop there. Indeed the first "talkie" The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, exhibited just such performances. But I digress, that is another story for another time period.
This relic of the past was thought to be long dead and extinct; however, a few authentic living historians, in the persona of The Allendale Melodians, have resurrected this fabled entertainment and have proceeded with burnt cork in-hand to espouse the rich history and significance of this art form on the American tradition, as well as to conjure up a few darky tunes in which to entertain the masses.
As the Melodians are centered in and around the authentic movement, their performances are normally enjoyed by authentic/hardcore living historians around the bivouac fires, the Melodians resorting to "field shows." However, for those that found them at the recent Perryville reenactment, the show was open to all. Like any other aspect within the authentic/hardcore movement, the Melodians strive to present the most historically correct, researched, and documented black-face minstrel impression possible. This is strikingly evident in their first-person personas, mastery of the deep-South slave vernacular, their musical abilities to perform the period-correct minstrel tunes using the proper methods and playing techniques of the time, as well as deep appreciation of and reverence for the impression that they present. While the Melodians seek to entertain their audiences with comic song and dance, they themselves take their roles as blackface minstrels seriously.
"Right," you may be saying, "but just how does the average, mainstream re-enactor apart from the authentic movement go about experiencing a performance by the Melodians?"
Well, friend, I'm glad you asked. Allow me to reply. In order to reach a more robust and diverse audience of re-enactors and living historians, the Melodians have compiled an omnibus of airs and tunes in convenient CD format, with a second anthology in the works, which should be coming available directly.
"I bet the average sutler fails to offer the Melodians' fine, fine work," surely you are lamenting. "I've yet to see it available at the skinners. Is there a place to order it from?"
Right you are, brother, right you are. You too can obtain a highly prized and coveted recording of the Melodians and be the first one on your company street to have one by following these simple steps-Send monies totaling $16.50 (that includes shipping and handling) payable to Chris Propes to: Chris Propes, 4252 1/2 Kingston Hwy, Richmond, KY 40475. Or for more information email Mr. Propes (aka Claudius Horatio Jackson) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Incidentally, Mr. Propes is also the site manager for the Battle of Richmond, KY, Civil War Park.
About this time any other writer would issue a warning or advisory concerning such language and content which is associated with blackface minstrels, including the Melodians, that might be deemed "offensive" to the ubiquitous "Some"; however, your humble correspondent shall dash this endeavor upon the rocks of historical accuracy. If one is unable to put such performances into the historical and societal contexts of the 1860's, then perchance one should find another period of history to represent, relive, and preserve.
True, the blackface minstrel is just as significant as cannon, muskets, ladies waving handkerchiefs, and the rest of the "accepted gamut" of modern living histories. Although Thomas Moore has quickened our step, ensuring us that The Minstrel Boy to the War has Gone, be rest assured that Claudius Horatio Jackson and the rest of The Allendale Melodians are tagging along as well.
Questions, comments, concerns? Fan-mail, hate-mail, something you want to see in a future installment? Share a bowl over it with me around the bivouac fire, or wire it to at TheBarleycornBoys@military.com Bully!
For all you German Romantics and other non-Irish who think that Thomas Moore was executed by Henry VIII because he wouldn't grant the king a divorce, this Thomas Moore (with two o's) was the famous Irish poet (1779-1852), perhaps best known today for his ballad The Minstrel Boy.
This article was originally published in the November-December 2002 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.