On "De Camptown Races" - (2016)    

for piano


 

The song through it's lyrics is known alternately as "Gwine to Run All Night," or "De Camptown Races" is by Stephen Foster (18261864), published in 1850. According to sources, that publisher put out another edition in 1852 titled "The Celebrated Ethiopian Song/Camptown Races," and the song was performed in minstrel shows of that era.

 

The lyrics echo a dialect, as do poems by American poets whose work I have set as song, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson  , though today it becomes fashionable to say such forms of dialect are racist, though other poets and songwriters have written in many other dialects of English without generating similar complaints.  [ 1 ]

 

The lyrics in one version begin: 

 

De Camptown ladies sing this song, doo-dah, doo-dah!
De Camptown racetrack five miles long, oh, doo-dah-day!
I come down there with my hat caved in, doo-dah, doo-dah!
I go back home with a pocket full of tin, oh, doo-dah-day!
Goin' to run all night, goin' to run all day!
I'll bet my money on the bobtail nag, somebody bet on the bay.

 

Though there is a Camptown in Pennsylvania, the term "camp town" was also used to identify temporary areas, this one being where an informal race might be held. The original "gwine" for "goin' " echoes the dialects of Gullah and Geechee, often associated with the sea islands and low Country of South Carolina as well as Georgia. The well-known tune by Foster [ 2 ] is treated to some variations.

 

 

 

3 pages, circa 3' 15" - an MP3 demo is here: 

 

The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano score.

 

On "De Camptown Races"

                    

 

 NOTES

 

[ 1 ]   The notion of critiquing lyrics and poetry from another era through the lenses of a modern era has become fashionable, though perhaps misguided. For more on the notion of racism as has been charged in regard to this and other song lyrics, conisder the rhyme, addenda and footnotes in a discussion-in-art of Everything's about my colored skin - (or sadly, Why racism works).

         For more on the notion of dialect in song lyrics, consider Johnson's delightful Brer Rabbit, you's de cutes' of 'em all , for its dialect and a footnote on the notion of dialect in song.

         There is an anecdote about the French-born conductor, Pierre Monteux, was traveling in the American south. Stopping in a town, he went to a local restaurant. The waiter told them, "I'm sorry, but this is a restaurant for colored people only." Monteux looked at him incredulously and then said (in his thick French accent) "Mais, je suis rouge." Since my teenage years I had a notebook I'd made with Monteux' picture as its cover, this little anecdote remaining in my thoughts. As with well-used musical scores and favorite books, it is tattered, now lost physically though found in memory.

 

[ 2 ]   As societal fashions change amid swirls of accusation, this American composer is caught up, Of him as represented in a statue, one reads:   "Foster, a Pittsburgh native who died in 1864, is famous for classic songs including 'Oh! Susanna' and 'Camptown Races.' Many of his songs were used in minstrel shows in which actors performed in blackface. The statue depicts Foster sitting above shoeless, banjo-playing 'Uncle Ned,' a slave character from a Foster song. The statue has been controversial for years, with groups occasionally asking for it to be removed. Public comments were being taken on a website, in addition to two public hearings being held in October." In "Pittsburgh Art Commission votes to recommend removal of Stephen Foster statue," WTAE Pittsburgh, 25 October 2017.

          The statue was removed, as one reads further:  "Foster, a Pittsburgh native, is often called the father of American music and was known for enduring tunes from the 1800s. His songs include 'Camptown Races,' 'My Old Kentucky Home,' 'Beautiful Dreamer' and 'Old Folks at Home' (Swanee Song). He died penniless in New York City in 1864 at age 37." In "'Oh! Susanna' songwriter's statue removed from Pittsburgh park after criticism," by Associated Press, 26 April 2018.

          As to "Old Uncle Ned," depicted as sitting at Foster's feet, is concerned, one reads:   "It's perhaps ironic that 'Uncle Ned,' published in 1848, was the first of Foster's songs in which audiences recognized anti-slavery sentiments." In "Stephen Foster statue: Wrong place or wrong time?" by Brian O'Neill, Post-Gazette, 30 July 2000.

         As to those who played banjo, one might consider some American poets and their "banjo" poems which I have set as art songs.  Paul Laurence Dunbar's A Banjo Song  composed for baritone and piano in 2009 reminds us in dialect that "...dere's lots o' keer an' trouble / In dis world to swaller down...."  

          In James Edwin Campbell's poem entitled "Uncle Eph's Banjo Song" in Echoes from the Cabin , a woman in the lyric is described using a dialect not as black, but "yaller."  That text reads in part,  "De yaller gal she dawnce so neat, / De yaller gal she look so sweet, / Ring, my bawnjer, ring!"

          As to "Old Uncle Ned" in terms of lyrics, composed in 1848, it begins:   "Old Uncle Ned" composed in 1848 with lyrics which begin "Dere was an old Nigga, dey call'd him uncle Ned - / He's dead long ago, long ago! / He had no wool on de top ob his head - / De place whar de wool ought to grow."

          The politics of today operates with little regard to historical roots and even less regard for comparable art in this "modern" day. As an example, Hot Nigga, an album by Bobby Shmurda, "born Ackquille Jean Pollard on August 4, 1994, is a Brooklyn rapper signed to Epic records," wrote and performed these lyrics: "I'm Chewy, I'm some hot nigga / Like I talk to Shyste when I shot niggas / Like you seen him twirl, then he drop, nigga / And we keep them 9 millis on my block, nigga /And Monte keep it on him, he done dropped niggas / And Trigger, he be wildin', he some hot nigga / Tones known to get busy with them Glocks, nigga...."

          Many such modern instances are found, as anotehr example illustrates.  Jay-Z and Kayne West perform a song titled "Niggas in Paris," which begins: "So I ball so hard muhfuckas wanna fine me / But first niggas gotta find me / What's 50 grand to a muhfucka like me / Can you please remind me?" One reads: "Niggas in Paris" (edited for radio as "In Paris" or simply "Paris"; censored on the album as "Ni**as in Paris") is a song by American rappers Kanye West and Jay-Z from their collaboration album Watch the Throne (2011)." In "Niggas in Paris," Wikipedia article, n .d.
          If a statue in a park should come down based on modern sensibilities regarding racism and the so-called "n-word" as this substitute is found so often, then one waits for the withdrawal from Wikipedia and performances on YouTube and other media by the same logic. The inanity and inconsistency in the public discourse is astounding.

         For the sake of such American poets as mentioned above who with their art recorded an era now past as did Foster in his songs, perhaps the latest fashion of decrying something historical will not wash away their art.