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The Creolization of American CultureWilliam Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy$
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Christopher J. Smith

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037764

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037764.001.0001

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Minstrelsy’s Material Culture

Minstrelsy’s Material Culture

The Evidence of Mount’s Portraiture

(p.122) 4 Minstrelsy’s Material Culture
The Creolization of American Culture

Christopher J. Smith

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the material culture of blackface minstrelsy, and particularly of instrumental dance music in the “creole synthesis,” using evidence drawn from William Sidney Mount's four paintings: Just in Tune (1849), Right and Left (1850), Just in Tune () and The Banjo Player and The Bone Player (1856). Three of the four images in the portraits are most likely of dance musicians (both fiddlers and the bones player), while the fourth (the banjo player) could be imagined to accompany singing but equally likely completes the dance-band instrumentation—fiddle, banjo, and bones representing three-fourths of the iconic ensemble of minstrelsy. All of these works provide confirmation of Mount's expertise in and admiration for the details of African American vernacular music. This chapter analyzes the relationship between Mount's “private” pencil sketching and his “public” oil painting, as well as the complex layers of racial, economic, and political symbolism in his work. It also explores the musical detail of each of the four paintings and their significance to our understanding of the roots of minstrelsy.

Keywords:   blackface minstrelsy, instrumental dance music, creole synthesis, William Sidney Mount, paintings, African American vernacular music, pencil sketching, oil painting, material culture

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