Dandy Broadway Swell

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DANDY BROADWAY SWELL. American, Minstrel Song (2/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABC. The song was published in a folio called Music of the Original Christy Minstrels, published by C. Holt, Jr., in New York in 1848, as well as on single sheets and other songsters of the era. The lyric begins:

Oh what ar dandy niggers? dare's not one dat can compare
Wid dis dandy Broadway swell, when he goes to take de air.
He breaks de hearts of de yaller gals, he's envied by de men,
Look at dis nigger, and you'll say he's de first of dandies den.

CHO.
For he's de kick, de go, de cheese, as ebery one can tell;
De yaller gals he's sure to please, dis fine dandy Broadway swell.

William John Mahar, in his book Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Culture (1999), offers this cogent analysis:

The dandy stereo types are, as Jane Tompkins has argued about female stereotypes in nineteenth-century American sentimental novels, "the instantly recognizable representatives of overlapping racial, sexual, national, ethnic, economic, social, political, and religious categories; they convey enormous amounts of cultural information in an extremely condensed form." The idea that assuming the superficial characteristics of sartorial style and etiquette will somehow bring gentility is one of the great tropes of American popular culture....

The various (and different) dandy caricatures should no be confused. The "Dandy Broadway Swell" and "Zip Coon" (he claims to be from "Tuckyhoe" or some other non-New York locale) are not the same type, and both differ from "Dandy Jim of Caroline" But they all reflect the parvenu or nouveau riche convention that was a typical and efficient method of parodying class distinction. The minstrel performers' choices of material were probably not governed by a need to display racist attitudes even though minstrelsy was based on them. Neither racial aversion nor desire is by itself a concept sufficient to explain the relationships shared by performers playing for an American audience of whites and blacks, both of whom found something funny in the minstrel caricatures. The satirized dandy figure is a prentender, a charlatan, a confidence man who is insincere and ignorant of the values associated with social station or power. The blackface dandy embodies the same feelings of disdain coupled with class envy captured in the epithets heard outside Astor Place Opera House the night when firebrand orators urged the crowd to "Burn the damned den of the aristocracy!" and complained, "You can't go in there without...kid gloves and a white vest, damn 'em." .... [pp.203-209]

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Chaff (The Complete Preceptor for the Banjo), 1851; p. 15.

Recorded sources:




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