Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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40              STEPHEN COLLINS FOSTER
from a negro in attendance at Griffith's Hotel on Wood Street, named Cuff, who won a precarious living by let­ting out his open mouth as a mark for boys to pitch pennies into at three paces, and by carrying passengers' trunks from steamboats to hotels. The negro accom­panied Rice to the theatre one evening and loaned his costume, for a brief period, to the service of art. Rice's appearance, with blackened face, clad in a ragged old coat, a forlornly dilapidated pair of shoes composed equally of patches and places for patches, a coarse straw hat in a melancholy condition of rent and collapse, and a black woolly wig, created a sensation which was greatly heightened by the rendition of the "Jim Crow" song and dance. But the success of the occasion was made doubly sure when the negro, hearing the whistle of a steamboat approaching Monongahela Wharf, and fearing loss of both business and prestige among his asso­ciates, rushed half-clad onto the stage and demanded his clothes.
"So," writes Nevin, "was born a school of music destined to excel in popularity all others, and to make the name of an obscure actor famous.
"The next day the song of'Jim Crow'was on every­body's lips. Clerks hummed it at counters, artisans at their toils to the thunder of sledge and hammer, boys whistled it in the streets, ladies warbled it in parlors and housemaids repeated it to the chink of crockery in the kitchen." The tune was written down and provided with a piano accompaniment by W. C. Peters, a music dealer with a shop on Market Street, Pittsburgh. The music was reproduced on stone with an elaborately em­bellished title-page by John Newton, being the first specimen of lithography ever executed in Pittsburgh.
Although Rice is usually credited with having been the first "negro minstrel," his performance was not by any means the first time that a negro character had ap­peared on the stage to sing a song in character. As far







E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III