] 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
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 tattered and is
now lost though found in memory.
] 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.
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
In James Edwin Campbell's poem entitled "Uncle Eph's Banjo Song"
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!"
For the sake of such American poets 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