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The Creolization Of American Culture: William Sidney Mount And The Roots Of Blackface Minstrelsy [PDF]
- Authors: Christopher J Smith
While black-white exchange has long been recognized as a major element in shaping North American vernacular music, the extent, geographic distribution, breadth of time span, diversity, and terminus post quem of that exchange have sometimes been misunderstood. Minstrelsy, conventionally understood since the 1840s as a significantly new synthesis of vernacular forms, was in fact not the inception but rather the culmination of an exchange, rooted in the combination of culture-crossing vernacular idioms that significantly predate the first theatrical blackface performances. The Afro-Caribbean elements whose entry into Anglo-American music-and-dance made both blackface minstrelsy and the creole synthesis possible in the United States can be identified not only in textual descriptions or music notations, but also through reconstruction of performances and in the body vocabularies depicted in a range of iconography. The paintings and drawings of William Sidney Mount, the eponymous focus of this book, present particularly rich, detailed, and reliable portrayals of instrumental music making and dance, and as a result provide particularly solid and comprehensive evidence for the presence of the creole synthesis among the African American and Anglo-Celtic populations he represented. But Mount’s evidence, especially considered in light of parallels between his life experience and those of his musician and artist contemporaries, also confirms the presence of the creole synthesis beyond his own localities of Long Island and of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Contemporaneous demographics, iconography, biography, and other data reveal that analogous conditions, conducive to the creole synthesis, existed in riverine and maritime contexts all over the early-nineteenth-century United States. Evidence for such conditions can be identified from New York, Albany, and Boston in the North; Charleston and Savannah in the Southeast; Cincinnati and Louisville
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on the frontiers; Mobile, Natchez, and New Orleans on the Gulf Coast; and out into several islands of the West Atlantic and the Caribbean.