The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 7

Dance Beat
Eight Hands Up!
Square Dance Calls by
Black Musicians on 78 Records

by Burgin Mathews

The predominant image of old-time musicand dance remains an overwhelmingly, sometimes exclusively, white one. When African Americans do enter into this picture, they are typically represented under a “roots” framework—which highlights their long-ago contributions to contemporary white traditions—or as curious anomalies. In this article, we’ll look at the work of artists like Stovepipe No 1., Andrew and Jim Baxter, and Henry Thomas. By exploring the similarities between black and white traditions—and the square dance provides one excellent entry point—we can start to decipher the differences that shared traditions reveal, whether across racial, geographic, generational, or other cultural “lines.” Despite the limited development of some of the calls I have described, their existence is crucially relevant to the discussion of square dance calls of the 78 era. Like the work of Freeny’s Barn Dance Band, the Williamson Brothers and Curry, the West Virginia Mountaineers, and other white groups, the recordings and careers of black string band artists like the Baxter Brothers, Stovepipe No. 1, and Henry Thomas may help us better understand the interactions of southern music, dance, and recording.


 


The predominant image of old-time musicand dance remains an overwhelmingly, sometimes exclusively, white one. When African Americans do enter into this picture, they are typically represented under a “roots” framework—which highlights their long-ago contributions to contemporary white traditions—or as curious anomalies. In this article, we’ll look at the work of artists like Stovepipe No 1., Andrew and Jim Baxter, and Henry Thomas. By exploring the similarities between black and white traditions—and the square dance provides one excellent entry point—we can start to decipher the differences that shared traditions reveal, whether across racial, geographic, generational, or other cultural “lines.” Despite the limited development of some of the calls I have described, their existence is crucially relevant to the discussion of square dance calls of the 78 era. Like the work of Freeny’s Barn Dance Band, the Williamson Brothers and Curry, the West Virginia Mountaineers, and other white groups, the recordings and careers of black string band artists like the Baxter Brothers, Stovepipe No. 1, and Henry Thomas may help us better understand the interactions of southern music, dance, and recording.

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