Jolly Raftsman

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JOLLY RAFTSMAN. American, Minstrel Air (3/8 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The melody appears in one of the earliest collection of minstrel songs and tunes, The Complete Preceptor for the Banjo (1848), by 'Gumbo Chaff', a pseudonym for Boston collector and music publisher Elias Howe. Howe published his book in 1848, but soon afterward sold the rights to it and several of his other publications to fellow Boston publisher Oliver Ditson, who re-issued the tutor in 1851. The Chaff book can only be considered a 'tutor' in the broadest sense--there are a few pages devoted to fingering and scales on the banjo, but the majority of the book is in simple music notation, with no effort at describing how the melodies are to be played on the instrument. Ditson adapted Howe's publication for the fiddle as well, issuing nearly the identical work as a fiddle tutor in 1851.

The raftsman was, like the negro 'dandy', a stock character of many blackface minstrel shows. Sometimes the stage would even be set as a riverboat for scenes in more elaborate minstrel performances. Eric Lott, writing in his book Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1993) points out that minstrel shows often began with a series of songs performed in a more urban setting ("and often featuring the northern black dandy"), followed by an olio in which stump speeches and other novelties were given, and finally a burlesque skit in a Southern rural setting.

I believe this structure must be read as in every sense an attempt to compass city and frontier, or more precisely free metropolis and outland slavery. Most obviously a way or burlesquing as many black types as possible, the "narrative" performance practice of moving from the first part's North to the third part's South, from urban dandies to rural slaves, not only implied the necessary relationship of these realms but in a feat of cognitive mapping pursued their unity--their union--as a positive goal. ...[p. 193]

Lott points to the lyrics of "The Jolly Raftsman" as an "imagining (of) the road from bondage to freedom as a simple transplantation of slave customs to a northern urban setting."

Oh, leabe your mammy, my deary lub;
In New York we'll fry dem steaks;
We'll feed de folks "up to de hub,"
An' you shall "hurry up dem cakes!"

So good bye we bid to ole Virginny!
Niggers, we bid you all farewell!
Our massas dey may go to Guinea!
In Free States we will dwell!

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Chaff (The Complete Preceptor for the Banjo), 1851; p. 14.

Recorded sources:




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