Intros, Jan. 25, 2017
Minstrelsy was the most popular form of entertainment in 19th century America. It consisted of white men blacking their faces and doing a gross parody of African Americans. The song we’re about to sing was written in 1910 and recorded that year by Bert Williams, the legendary mime, singer, and comedian. Bert Williams was African American himself, but he was forced to perform in black face in order to appear on a stage before a white audience.
Stephen Foster wrote Oh Susanna in 1848, and it is one of the most popular songs ever. It was a minstrel song, portraying slaves. I always thought this song was shallow and trite until I heard the ukulele player James Hill sing it and I understood that this is a deep song. The character in the song is a slave and he says, “I’m going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.” And why is Susanna, his true love, in New Orleans? Because New Orleans was the slave market.
This next song is our latest creation, a little operetta in 3 minutes, assembled from pieces of other songs. We need a little bit of vocabulary. Bublitchki is Russian for bagels.
Irving Berlin was a founding father of the American Popular Song of the 20th century. A common theme in 19th century songs was absence, the yearning to return to a home far away, the yearning of slaves forcibly separated from home and family. By 1912, when Irving Berlin wrote “When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam’ “, the popular song had evolved. The character in this song is not a slave in the south, but lives in a dreary rented flat in the city. Irving Berlin himself was born in Russia and left that home at age 6.