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The minstrel performers lived in a world of imagination. Some of the lyrics in their songs are as outlandish as their costumes.  Here is an example of a poem I copied out of an 1880 called “Dat Golden Chariot” Songster by  Lawell & Drews.  It is a cute poem of how the banjo was invented.  There are many variations of this story. I have recorded it as a song on my “Minstrel Banjo” CD about the same subject but, with different lyrics.  I took the liberty in a few places to carefully correct any “Politically Incorrect” words so no “blue nose” will be shocked and have a heart attack at reading such a dreadful stuff!  I don’t want it thought that I’m not sensitive and civilized in these “politically correct” times.

How dreadfull indeed!   

So this poem will be of social redeeming value, there are a couple of old time banjo terms that need to be learnt. Yes, learnt.  The “apron” mentioned is an old-time term for a tailpiece and the “Thimble” is what they used to call a fingerpick for playing the knock-down, stroke style now called clawhammer or frailing with the back of your finger as is done today.    

HOW THE BANJO WAS INVENTED 

Oh, have you never heard
How the banjo was invented?
It is the strangest story,
But to me it was presented.
Of the possum tail I’m going to tell,
And I want you all to listen,
About de hair dat isn’t dere
And why de hair is missin’.

It’s about old Noah and de ark,
That I’m about discussin’,
And about that Ham, his black son,
And about de snakes and possums.
Noah had a buttin’ billygoat,
And a hundred head of cattle.
He drove them aboard de ark as soon’s
He heard the thunder rattle.

De ark she kep a sailin’.
And a sailin’, and a sailin’.
De lion got his dander up,
And like to break de pailin’.
De  serpants hissed, de painters yelled,
Till what with all de fussin’
You couldn’t hardly hear old Noah,
A bossin’ round and cussin’. 

Now Ham, de only black man*
Dat was runnin’ on de packet,
Got lonesome in de barber shop,
And couldn’t stand de racket.
And so for to amuse himself,
He steamed some wood and bent it,
And soon he had a banjo made,
De fust dat was invented.

He wet de leather, stretched it on,
Made a bridge, some screws and apron*,
And fitted in a proper neck,
‘Twas very long and taperin’.
He took some tin and twisted him,
A thimble for to ring it.
And den de mighty question rose,
How was he gwine to string it?

Now, de possum had as fine a tail,
As de one dat is’a singing;
De hairs so long and thick and strong,
Dey’s fit for banjo stringing.
So Ham, he shaved ‘em off as close,
As washday dinner graces,
And sorted of ‘em by de size
From little E’s to basses.

He strung it, tuned her, struck a jig,
“Twas nebber mind de wedder;
It sounded like forty leven bands,
A playin’ all together.
Some went to pattin’, some to dancin’,
Noah danced the Can Can.
And dis is how the banjo was
Invented by de black man.

 

 
     


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