] 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 is tattered,
now lost physically 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.
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
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!"
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