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 tattered and is now lost 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.

         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!"

         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 their art.