Edited By William M. Reynolds
Chapter Eight: Banjos and Shit: Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge and the “Hermeneutics of Minstrelsy”
Banjos and Shit: Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge and the “Hermeneutics of Minstrelsy”
[I]t’s not inherently heinous. The black minstrel tradition has provided great entertainment and great art. Black performers have played it shamelessly, signified on it, or attacked it—but they’ve had to deal with it in one way or another—it’s something that every American or fan of American culture should care about. They should care because that culture wouldn’t exist without minstrelsy. And because minstrelsy hurts—a lot. (Taylor & Austen, 2012, p. 5)
“Gentlemens Be Seated”
As rhythmic clapping and stomping begins, the room becomes still, as if the audience knows that something powerful is coming just by the coming together of hand to hand, foot to floor. With building tension, the fiddle comes in, haunting and rich with unspoken knowing, joined by the bones and the percussive “click-clacking” of history. The tune drifts out over the heads of those of us watching, speaking to the diasporic self within us all. And so begins “Genuine Negro Jig,” a hermeneutic exploration of the meanings and history behind the black minstrel musical tradition.
“Genuine Negro Jig,” also known as “Snowden’s Jig,” although originally credited to Dan Emmet, a white musician of the time, has since been said to have been written by the black family of string musicians that lived just down the road from Emmet—the Snowdens. For a number of...
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