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Black Hillbilly - or - What you really know about the Upper South?

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 9, 2015 09:08am | Post a Comment
The first non-Native American settlers of Appalachia and later, the Ozarks, were of primarily of three ethnicities: Scots-Irish, English, and German. These hard-working farmers and craftsmen created a distinct culture which in the 19th Century came to be named “hillbilly.” Although the Northern European roots of hillbilly are routinely acknowledged, even scholars on the culture are far less likely to recognize hillbilly’s other significant place of ancestral origin, West Africa.


Hillbilly music’s biracial parentage should be immediately evident to anyone with any knowledge of the music’s primary instruments, the fiddle and the banjo. The modern fiddle (or violin) may have originated in 16th Century Italy but similar bowed instruments preceded its development by several centuries and the violin made its way to the Americas thanks to English colonists. The banjo, descended from the numerous plucked instruments of West Africa such as the akonting, ngoni, and xalam, was introduced to the Americas by African slaves.


Famous slave owners like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson routinely required their forced laborers to learn to play violin to entertain their friends and themselves at plantation balls and the White House.



The fiddle and the banjo soon made their way to the mountains of the Upper South where they were played at barn dances and frolics by free men. Although it’s probably a widely held assumption that free blacks all hightailed it to the North, most actually remained in the South. Many free black southerners came from the Caribbean or had lived in France’s La Louisianewhere blacks were free until it was purchased by the US. Even more were freed former slaves who either elected to remain or were unable to leave. In 1860, 84% lived not in the Deep South, however, but in the hilly Upper South (Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia).



Although black musicians were influenced by white minstrels — often adding minstrel compositions to their repertoire — white minstrels of course took most of their inspiration from black culture. Although the earliest known document of the banjo and fiddle being played together is by The Virginia Minstrels in 1840, black banjo players were documented as having played both the banjo and fiddle in the proximity of one another as early as 1774 in southern Maryland. The Virginia Minstrels’ first banjoist, Bill Whitlock, also had learned his instrument from black musicians when he was a member of a traveling circus.


The Armstrong Brothers Band


Although hillbilly music, then, had revolved around the pairing together of the fiddle and banjo for many years, in the recording age record companies segregated music into racially-specific genres to simplify their marketing. Companies marketed race music to the black, record-buying public — which included blues, gospel, and jug band music among other genres. “Hillbilly music” was targeted toward the white public. Black hillbilly musicians, then, quickly learned some other tunes if they hoped to cut music for anyone besides field recorders and ethnomusicologists.


The Ebony Hillbillies (image source: Canberra Jazz Blog)


Take the case of DeFord Bailey. Bailey was the first black musician to play on the Grand Ole Opry, had a grandfather who’d been a champion Tennessee fiddler in the 1880s, and as a child played alongside relatives at the Wilson County Fair with The Bailey Family Band. In 1975 he revealed to an interviewer, “I never heard the blues till I came to Nashville to work. All I heard as a boy back then was what we called black hillbilly music.”


The Carolina Chocolate Drops (image source: MTV)


Beginning in the 1910s, all of hillbilly culture had begun to vanish along the hillbilly highway, an exodus from the mountains in which many hill folk moved to cities in search of work in the industrial sector and led to a good deal of popular entertainment based on regionalist stereotypes. In the 1940s, field recorders documented some black hillbillies, whose music by then often blurred the lines between blues and jazz. More musicians passed on and few of their descendants followed in their ancestors’ musical footsteps — although a few taught white musicians with whom hillbilly music came to be almost exclusively identified, musicians like A. P. Carter (taught by Lesley Riddle), Bill Monroe (taught by Arnold Shultz), and Hank Williams (taught by Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne).


If you’re interested in hearing black mountain music, here’s a discography which includes examples from all eras of recorded music:

Blind James Campbell and his Nashville Street Band: Blind James Campbell and his Nashville Street Band (1995)

Butch Cage and Willie B. Thomas: Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (2006)

Cannon’s Jug Stompers: The Best of Cannon’s Jug Stompers (2001)

Cats and the Fiddle: Killin’ Jive: 1939–1940, Complete Recordings, Volume 1 (1999)

Carl Martin: Carl Martin / Willie "61" Blackwell - Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order (1994)

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (2006), Carolina Chocolate Drops & Joe Thompson (2008), Genuine Negro Jig (2010), Heritage (2011), Leaving Eden (2012), 

The Chicago String Band: Chicago String Band (1966)

Deford Bailey: The Legendary DeFord Bailey (1998)

The Ebony Hillbillies: Sabrina's Holiday (2004), I Thought You Knew (2005), and Barefoot And Flying (2011)

Elizabeth Cotton: Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes (1989)

Gus Cannon: Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order: Volume 1 (November 1927 To 20 September 1928) (1990)

Henry ThomasTexas Worried Blues: Complete Recorded Works 1927-1929 (1991)

Howard Armstrong: Louie Bluie (1995)

Joe Thompson: Family Tradition (2009)

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong: Barnyard Dance (1972), Martin Bogan & Armstrong (1974), and That Old Gang Of Mine (1978)

Mississippi Sheiks: Complete Recorded Works Presented In Chronological Order, Vol. 5 (1991), Mississippi Sheiks & Chatman Brothers - Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order: Volume 4 (26 March 1934 To 15 October 1936) (1991), Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order Volume 3: 25 October 1931 To 2 6 March 1934 (1991), Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order Volume 2: 15 December 1930 To 24 October 1931 (1991), Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order Volume 1: 17 February To 12 June 1930 (1991)

Peg Leg Howell & Eddie Anthony: Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order: Volume 1 (8 November 1926 To 13 August 1928) (1993)

Sankofa Strings: Colored Aristocracy

Spirits of Rhythm: The Spirits Of Rhythm 1932-34 (1985), Spirits Of Rhythm 1932-1941 (1996)

Tommie Bradley - James Cole Groups: 1928-32 (Complete Recorded Works In Chronological Order (1991)

Various Artist Compilations:

Ain’t Gonna Rain No More: Blues and Pre-Blues from Piedmont North Carolina (2006), Altamont: Black Stringband Music From The Library Of Congress (1989), Before the Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene, vol. 1–3 (1996), Black & White Hillbilly Music: Early Harmonica Recordings from the 1920s & 1930s (1996), Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (1997), Black Fiddlers (The Remaining Titles Of Andrew & Jim Bxter, Nathan Frazier & Frank Patterson. The Complete Recorded Works Of Cuje Bertram) (1929-c.1970) (1999), The Cornshuckers’s Frolic: Downhome Music and Entertainment from the American Countryside, vol. 1 and 2 (1999), Country Negro Jam Session (1993), Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia: String Bands, Songsters and Hoedowns (1999), From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music (1998), Old Time Black Southern String Band Music (2006), String Bands: 1926–1929 (1993), and Virginia Traditions: Non-Blues Secular Black Music (1995)



Further Reading:

A Man Apart: The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774 - 1781, (2009) edited by George M. Curtis III and Harold B. Gill, Jr. 

African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Tradition
(1995), by Cecelia Conway

Blacks in Appalachia (2009), edited by William H. Turner and Edward J. Cabbell

Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music
(2013), edited by Diane Pecknold

Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South
(1974) by Ira Berlin

Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War
(1977), by Dena Epstein

“Black String Bands: A Few Notes on the Lost Cause”
(1987) and “Rural Black String Band Music” (1990), by Charles K. Wolfe

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Show me the Mo Movies!!! - Missouri in Film and TV

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 30, 2010 10:00pm | Post a Comment
Some folk that know me know I have to see dang near err movie that's filmed in, set in or tied to Missouri (whurr I grew up). With the Bourne Trilogy, those ties were somewhat tenuous... Badass Jason Bourne is merely informed that his real name is David Webb and he's from Nixa. No wonder he joined the military. Needless to say, people are sick of hearing me talk about my home state, but most of yins are strangers so it will hopefully be only a fraction as annoying as what they put up wither pritnear err time I sip on somethin'.


I just sawl Winter's Bone the other day. What can I say? The boyz (and gulz) in the woodz is always hard! Wisely, they actually filmed in the Ozarks rather than in Canada or some other pale stand-in. Not much in the way of distracting celebrities either. Perfect music by Tindersticks' Dickon Hinchliffe. Real recognize real, ya heard? Anywho, hurr's my pretty complete timeline of Mo Films.


MO MOVIES IN THE SILENT ERA

  

Silent Movies were ideal for the people who made "Show Me" thurr motto. With outlaws from Missouri including Tom Horn, and badass cowgirls Belle Star and Calamity Jane, it's kind of surprising how many Missouri-set Westerns overwhelmingly favor popular Missourian Jesse James. Apparently, the most Missouri silent movie would have Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer joining the James Gang. Just consider the following silent films set in the state:

The James Boys in Missouri (1908), Coals of Fire (1911), In Mizzoura (1914), Tom Sawyer (1917), In Mizzoura and Shepherd of the Hills (both 1919), Huckleberry Finn (1920), Jesse James as the Outlaw (1921) and Jesse James (1927).

MO MOVIES IN THE EARLY SOUND ERA


People have always love songs about Missourians wildin' out. Just consider "Frankie and Johnnie," about Frankie Baker, who rubbed out her man in 1899 after she found him with another woman. It inspired the films Her Man (1930) and Frankie and Johnnie (1936).

Then thurr's Lee "Stagger Lee" Shelton, a Mack who killed William Lyons in 1895 after he made the mistake of touching his pimp hat. "St. Louis Blues" is relatively peaceful by comparison, and was in essence, one of the first music videos.

There were more movies about the creations of Mark Twain and Robert and Zerelda James too. Interestingly, thurr seems to've been a short-lived vogue for movies about people ('specially dames) from Missouri, probably in part due to the popularity of Missourian actress Jean Harlow. Consider the following:

 Meanwhile, the events of her famous lovers quarrel inspired films, including Her Man (1930) and She Done Him Wrong (1935). After that, her legend spread nationally and people hounded her for autographs and prank called her. Frankie and Johnnie (1936) followed.

St. Louis Blues (1929), Tom Sawyer (1930), Huckleberry Finn , Kitty from Kansas City (both 1931), The St. Louis Kid, The Girl From Missouri and Kansas City Princess (all 1934), St. Louis Woman (1935), The Voice of Bugle Ann (1936), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), I’m From Missouri,  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer – Detective, Jesse James and Days of Jesse James (all 1939).

Huckleberry Finn 1931Voice of Bugle Ann

Adventures of Tom Sawyer 1938           

MO MOVIES IN THE '40s

The '40s were pritnear a continuation of the previous decade as the nation remained obsessed with popular, racist murderer who stole from everyone and gave to himself (Jesse James). Just look at these'n's:

In Old Missouri and The Return of Frank James (1940) Bad Men of Missouri, Belle Starr, Jesse James at Bay, and Shepherd of the Hills (all 1941), A Missouri Outlaw (1942), Meet Me in St. Louis and Kansas City Kitty (both 1944), Down Missouri Way (1946), Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948) and Calamity Jane and Sam Bass and I Shot Jesse James (both 1949).

    

 

TV AGE MO

Finally, movies about Missouri started to get a little more interesting in the 1950s, focusing often on modern crimes and juvenile delinquents, and not just outlaws from the Old West. Consider the following:

The Great Missouri Raid, Return of Jesse James and The Missourians (all 1950), Pete Kelly's Blues (1951), The Pride of St. Louis and Kansas City Confidential (both 1952), Calamity Jane and The Great Jesse James Raid (1953), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Jesse James’ Women (both 1954), The Delinquents (1955), The True Story of Jesse James (1956), The Pride of St. Louis (1957), The Cool and the Crazy (1958) and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959).

     True Story of Jesse James



MO MOVIES IN THE '60s

After nearly half a century, Americans seemed to have finally had enough of films about Tom Sawyer and Jesse James. As a result, movies taking place in Missouri became fewer and farther between; consider:
Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (both 1960), Hoodlum Priest (1961),  Beetle Bailey and Hottenanny Hoot (both 1963), and Ride a Wild Stud (1969).




MISSOURI IN THE '70s

After a decade away from screens, a new generation of film-goers clamored for cinematic representations of Tom Sawyer and Hollywood obliged. Missouri-loving audiences were also blessed with many new characters.

Huckleberry Finn and Kansas City Bomber (both 1972),Tom Sawyer (dir. Don Taylor), Tom Sawyer (dir. James Neilson) and Paper Moon (all 1973), Huckleberry Finn and Lucas Tanner (1974), Huckleberry Finn, Bucktown, Linda Lovelace for President and Kansas City Massacre (all 1975), The Student Body (1976), The Baxters (1977) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1979).

 
   

MISSOURI IN THE '80s

When most people think of '80s cinema, teen sex comedies often come to mind. Not in Missouri, thank you. For Hollywood, Missouri in the '80s meant a revival of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn films... and Mama's Family. Things began, finally, to change toward the end of the decade.

Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (all 1981), After MASH, The Day After and Mama’s Family (all 1983), Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (all 1984), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985), The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (1986), Huckleberry Finn and Bird (both 1988) and Miss Missouri, Parenthood and Road House (all 1989).
After MASH 


MISSOURI IN THE '90s

For whatever reason, in the '90s it became somewhat popular to set things seemingly randomly in the Show Me state... that, and the subject matter began to expand in odd directions. Look the these:

The Josephine Baker Story, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, White Palace (all 1990), Child’s Play 3 (1991), Sniz and Fondue and Article 99 (all 1992), King of the Hill, Adventures of Huck Finn, Huck and the King of Hearts, The John Larroquette Show and What’s Love Got to Do With It? (all 1993), On Our Own (1994), Casino (1995), Malcolm and Eddie and Kansas City (both 1996), The "Airport" episode of Newsradio and Waiting For Guffman (both 1998) and Ride With the Devil (1999).

Josephine Baker Story        


 Article 99King of the Hill


THE NEW MO-LLENNIUM

For some reason, the new millennium brought a decrease in Missouri's star turns. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Lookout were both obviously filmed in Canada and the latter film was a steaming piece of horse pockey.

 



Living in Missouri
(2001), The Games of Their Lives (2003), Jesus Camp (2006), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Lookout (both 2007), Albino Farm (2009).


MO IN THE 2010s

I haven't been home in a while but Winter's Bone made me nostalgic; so far it's the only MO Movie of the decade that I know of. Update: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth was great too. 

Winter's Bone (2010)



The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2012)


 
Masters of Sex

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Happy Missouri Day! - Yup, It's aready been a yurr since the last'n

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 15, 2008 12:42am | Post a Comment
MISSOURI DAY

The 3rd Wednesday of the October, this year the 15th.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Missouri


In my experience, when you'ins tell people you’re from Missouri, most people reply self-satisfiedly with "don't you mean Missouruh?" or, alternately, "where is Missouri? I don’t think I’ve ever been there."

Whether Missouri is Lower Midwestern or Upper Southern (or the Border South or, the Upland South, or less commonly today, the Yeoman South) is a somewhat common debate amongst Missourians... at least on the internet.

In my experience, Missouri's Midwestern neighbors, centered along the Great Lakes, (haters) tend to disparage Mighty Mo as a hick state whurr test scores are low, the accent is ugly and you'ins can buy fireworks, liquor and ammo... all in the same place.

Missouri's neighbors in the Deep South (also haters) usually don't consider it to be Southern because Missouri didn't side with the South in the Civil War (well, that's complicated-- thurr were 30,000 gray and 109,000 blue) and because South Coasters love to equate the entire South with just the Deep South aka the Lower South aka the Plantation South.

As far as Southern credentials go, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, Thomas Hart Benton all seem fairly Southern, do they not? On the other hand, natives like T.S. Elliot, William Burroughs and Maya Angelou don’t so much, huh? Cultural cringe I reckon, plays a part in this confusion, as do geographical overlap and historical shifts.