Oldest Banjo Recording Known

Here is a podcast from the Washington Post about someone’s awesome junk pile find. In a box of old wax cylinders there was a recording from 1891 of Charles Asbury playing Haul the Woodpile Down.

It was recorded during the height of Minstrelsy by one of its top stars. While modern sensibilities are rightly horrified at the thought of white performers donning blackface to portray stereotypical characters, at the end of the 19th Century, it was by far the most popular form of “authentically American” entertainment.

How popular was it? Literally every stereotype of African Americans was born on a minstrel stage. Kids today still hear Campton Races when they turn their jack-in-the-box handles. Modern variety shows still employ the staging of the minstrel shows.

Minstrelsy was a weird time in American history that produced a lot of ugliness that we reject directly, yet built the backbone of American entertainment that still delights.

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