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Folklore: Pickaninny in closet

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MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 07:07 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 07:44 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 07:53 PM
Joe Offer 09 Aug 13 - 08:42 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Aug 13 - 08:51 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 09:54 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 10:48 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 10:49 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Aug 13 - 11:15 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 09 Aug 13 - 11:59 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 12:11 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 12:18 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 01:49 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 04:52 AM
Joe Offer 10 Aug 13 - 05:17 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 05:32 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 10 Aug 13 - 05:26 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 11 Aug 13 - 02:53 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 11 Aug 13 - 05:09 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 11 Aug 13 - 06:29 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 11 Aug 13 - 06:36 PM
GUEST,Stim 11 Aug 13 - 08:18 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 11 Aug 13 - 09:53 PM
GUEST,Stim 11 Aug 13 - 11:01 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 02:10 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 12 Aug 13 - 04:50 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 08:18 AM
GUEST,Stim 12 Aug 13 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 05:45 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 Aug 13 - 06:45 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 06:51 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Aug 13 - 07:32 PM
GUEST,JTT 12 Aug 13 - 07:58 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 Aug 13 - 08:00 PM
GUEST,Stim 12 Aug 13 - 08:05 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 08:28 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 Aug 13 - 09:10 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 12 Aug 13 - 10:19 PM
Joe Offer 13 Aug 13 - 04:03 AM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Aug 13 - 06:45 AM
GUEST,Stim 13 Aug 13 - 10:02 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Aug 13 - 12:00 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 13 Aug 13 - 06:28 PM
GUEST 13 Aug 13 - 08:57 PM
GUEST,Stim 13 Aug 13 - 09:00 PM
GUEST,Morwen Edhelwen 13 Aug 13 - 10:44 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 14 Aug 13 - 05:12 PM
GUEST,Stim 14 Aug 13 - 06:40 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 14 Aug 13 - 08:43 PM
GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1 15 Aug 13 - 12:48 AM
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Subject: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 07:07 PM

This post is going to be long. I'm a fan of the kind of music people in my parents' or even grandparents' generation listened to, including some of the singers mentioned on here (although I wouldn't call myself a "fan" of say Pete Seeger, I like their music, but not enough to listen to it repeatedly, which is how I figure out if I'm a fan or someone or not. But I'm a fan of calypsonians like Lord Invader. And of folk-influenced singers like Billy Joel.)

Some of the singers my parents listen to and are fans of cover standards by composers like Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Mild digression here: I think being exposed to those singers influenced the kind of songs I like to sing, and as soon as I've had enough early nights to get rid of my stuffy nose and sore throat, I'm recording Irving Berlin's 'I'll See You In C-U-B-A'' and Billy Joel's ''Rosalinda's Eyes'' (a sentimental ballad about a Cuban musician which was actually inspired by the songwriter's parents) to test out whether I can put across a song to an audience of people over the Internet when there's nothing blocking my nose.

The point of this background is that recently, I was googling stuff related to Tin Pan Alley "Latin" songs, Irving Berlin, and Billy Joel out of interest and came across the urban legend that Irving Berlin kept a "little colored boy" or "pickaninny" in his closet to write his songs and thought, "Huh?" After googling a bit more and asking on a few other forums, I'm still not clear on what exactly was meant by this, other than that it was clearly intended to denigrate Mr. Berlin and isn't true, but I have three ideas:

1. It was meant literally as a joke which commented on White exploitation of Black music, because let's face it, if you look at it superficially, claiming that your rival keeps a Black kid in his closet to write his songs sounds ridiculous. And Berlin was suspected of having paid a Black guy to write "Alexander's Ragtime Band," and/or stealing a melody from "A Real Slow Drag," a section of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha which wasn't performed until 1972. (Of course, Joplin was very sick with syphilis by 1911, so according to some rundowns about "Alexander" I've found, quite a few scholars suspect his accusation was due to the disease's effects on his mind.) So I can imagine somebody at a party in 1911 telling the story and getting the laughs he wanted.   

2. It was meant as a bawdy/racial reference, implying that a) Berlin must have had Black ancestry in order to write a song like "Alexander"
or b)(here goes) slept with a Black man in order to write those songs, because the thinking back then was that no White man could possibly do that without something along those lines happening.

3. It was meant as a take on a phrase like "skeleton in the closet."

Something about point 2 (b) seems off to me so I'm inclined to think it's either 1 or 3. Of course it could've been any combination of the three meanings, and it's likely we'll never know, but do any Mudcatters have opinions on what was meant? (Someone on here must have come across the story somewhere).

Whew! Sorry for the long post, but I hope it's clear!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 07:44 PM

"of."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: "Pickaninny" in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 07:53 PM

And also, don't take this the wrong way, but could we please not turn this thread into a racism discussion? It's not about whether or not the word "pickaninny" is racist. It is., but the point of the thread is me trying to find out what was meant by something that's puzzling me.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 08:42 PM

Interesting question, Morwen. Did you read this excerpt from Larry Karp's The King of Ragtime? (hope the link works in all nations)

I think that certain American music of the early 20th century was considered "black," and people harbored some doubt that white people could write music like that.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 08:51 PM

I'm not sure it would necessarily have been knocking Irving Berlin. It could be taken as a kind of backhanded compliment - "this stuff is good enough to have been written by a brother."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 09:54 PM

@Joe: Hi. Yeah, I did. Seems the story was known around Broadway during Berlin's early career. In fact it followed him for most of his life.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 10:48 PM

@McGrath: Thought of that interpretation too.

I've been looking at pages 114-115 of A Right to Sing The Blues by Jeffrey Melnick claim that the story was meant to be an accusation of homosexuality and linked to ethnic and racial stereotypes of Jewish and Black people. But I don't know whether "in the closet" would have been understood that way in 1911.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 10:49 PM

*which*


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 11:15 PM

Welcome Back   ME ( one can only imagine your recent adventures at "the Y"'..but surely NOW you are fully enrolled in school.)

About 1961

I asked a question to a close friend...a question presented to me from my family, "How old must a negro boy be...until one stops referring...to them as a pick-a-ninny?"

The black friend replied, "Until they are old enough to fight."

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

You will lots of other assburgers here.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 09 Aug 13 - 11:59 PM

:Groan:

I knew gargoyle would post here. I've actually read the exact quote he posted in an older thread. What's the point of bringing that up again?

Again, I KNOW the word "pickaninny" is racist. Nearly everyone knows that. It was used here in Australia too, to refer to Aboriginal children. I heard it on a documentary my CAFS teacher at TAFE had our class watch when we discussed ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, for those unfamiliar with the term) issues. It goes without saying that I'd never use the word. But the word isn't the point of this discussion. My disabilities aren't the point of the discussion, so why mention those? They've got nothing to do with this.

This discussion is about an old rumour I came across, which is obviously not true but raises er, interesting images if you assume that the people spreading it meant it literally.

EDIT: Sorry, I tend to get heated when gargoyle's posts crop up.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 12:11 AM

BTW, getting back on-topic:

Irving Berlin actually gave a number of sarcastic responses to this rumour about "the little coloured boy in his closet," including one in the form of a song medley/parody referenced
.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 12:18 AM



It's hard to get used to this site again...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 01:49 AM

*preparing for thread derail*.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: "Pickaninny" in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 04:52 AM

refresh. Does anyone have any ideas on whether or not "closet" was meant literally?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 05:17 AM

Hi, Morwen - I don't believe the phrase "in the closet" surfaced until the late 20th century, as a phrase meaning to conceal one's sexual orientation.

I believe there were "monster in the closet" or "bogeyman" stories in which the creature in the closet was supposedly black.

But I don't think that either of these had anything to do with what was said about Irving Berlin. I think the implication was that his music was "black," as in written in an African-American style.

I thing the "pickaninny in the closet" bit was just to add impact to the insult, but I think maybe it's best not to read too much into the comment. "Back in the day," people made racial comments like that all the time and thought nothing of it. I remember being embarrassed by the way my grandmother talked about other races, and she didn't have a hateful bone in her body - that's just the way people talked back then.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 05:32 AM

Thanks, Joe. Mild digression- I know what you mean about racial comments. My friend's grandma supposedly would not approve of her having a non-White boyfriend.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 Aug 13 - 05:26 PM

Refresh for some reason. I think the most noticeable thing about this legend is the fact that the person in the closet is described ambiguously as a child (keeping in mind that "boy" could also refer to a grown man).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 02:53 AM

Here's some of the information I found on the story from A Right To Sing The Blues: Jews, African Americans, and American Popular Song by Jeffrey Melnick:


****
pages 114-115

-snip-

"Irving Berlin's major biographer recounts that the songwriter was a self-taught pianist who hit only the black keys. Berlin referred to these as "nigger keys" and to his instruments as "nigger pianos."
(Berlin's lack of skill initially restricted him to the key of F-sharp major. Later he bought a transposing piano which could change keys with the switch of a lever below the keyboard.) The racist language----which biographer Laurence Bergreen says was typical of the heavily Jewish Tin Pan Alley---- is not surprising coming from a man whose early successes in music were accompanied by the dogged rumor that he kept a "little colored boy" in his closet (or basement) to write his music.

The anecdote offers a compelling narrative of Black-Jewish relations in which powerful Jews control hapless African Americans. The rumor also hints at an intimacy between the Jew and the African American which was unsettling for many observers.

In this anecdote, as in the Jewish use of the nickname "Nigger," we find a decidedly anti-utopian rendering of the connections of African Americans and Jews. Rather than the usual melting pot romance of Jewish involvement of African American music, the case of Irving Berlin's "little colored boy" emphasized a bleak version of group relations in which Jew and African American seem at once unhealthily close and yet estranged. The anecdote interprets Jewish interventions into African American culture as the result of theft and force rather than in talent and voluntary cultural merger. While the rumor imagined the Jew and the African American as physically intimate---- although it did not make clear whether Berlin was in the closet with the "little colored boy"---- it also suggested that the terms of the relationship were dictated by Jews, for the benefit of Jews. In the mythology of Berlin's "little colored boy", the Jew emerged as exploitative and paternalistic, and perhaps (most frightening) as sexually interested in the African American."

-snip-


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 05:09 AM

To what extent was the tin-pan alley / Hollywood / Broadway tradition of Berlin (et al) strictly (& culturally) Jewish? There's a case to be made here (with The 4 Marx Brothers et al for whom Berlin provided early scores) but it's not Jewish in the same sense as (say) the paintings of Marc Chagall are Jewish (interesting to note Chagall & Berlin were both Belarusian Jews born within a year of each other). How that music relates to the Blues is vague to say least, and confined so a few notes & clichés by way of a dumbed-down popularist exotica rather than a serious attempt to understand The Blues as a music born of The African Experience in the New World. Are there any hints of Jewish folk / village music in Berlin's work I wonder? The only song of his I really know is The Monkey Doodle-Doo from The Marx Brothers' The Cocoanuts (1929) and Say It Isn't So from Sun Ra's Reflections in Blue (1987) so I'm no expert.

The P-word remains deeply offensive regardless how previous generations might have callously bandied about such hateful & dehumanising terminology. It is born from social & cultural apartheid and the glib use of such a lexicon by older generations just goes to show how deep seated such hatred was (and IS) in American society. No amount of retrospective / revisionist 'folk-tolerance' can hide that much.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 06:29 AM

@Blandiver: Re: your first point, I have no idea. But I can say that a lot of Berlin's music reminds me of some of the stuff Billy Joel does. Catchy melodies and harmonies that are easy to sing but hard to play (I've tried to figure them out on the piano- not easy). Sentimental, very clever lyrics. I'm especially thinking of 'Worse Comes To Worst' and 'Somewhere Along The Line' from Piano Man, which I recently bought. 'Rosalinda's Eyes' from 52nd Street could have been a Latin number in an old Broadway musical, except the lyrics are much darker than most 'latunes.'

RE the racism of the P-word: I'm not even going to go there, except to state that I know it's racist, and I'm not excusing its use.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 06:36 PM

Refresh. It could've also been a slang term.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 08:18 PM

So Blandiver, you've never heard, "White Christmas"?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 09:53 PM

Maybe he forgot to mention it, Stim.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 11 Aug 13 - 11:01 PM

How can you forget "White Christmas"?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 02:10 AM

I have no clue...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 04:50 AM

White Christmas is part of the general cultural ambience of things which are just there. You don't have to out of your way to find such things - on the contrary, the difficulty is in avoiding them! I dare say on that level there are hundreds of Irving Berlin songs that I know, but do not know it. Did I know White Christmas was a Berlin song? I don't think I did. The instances I mentioned (there are bound to be several more) DO mean something to me and those meanings are quite specific. These things you have to dig a little deeper to find. I can't remember ever seeing The Cocoanuts on (UK) TV - and no matter how 'straight' Sun Ra could get, he never quite found the popularist appeal he was undoubtedly looking for at various times in his long & varied career.

White Christmas is a good example of the absence of any overt Jewishness in Berlin's work. On the contrary - it celebrates Whiteness on more than the one level (especially in the context of this thread) and is, in any case, quite forgettable as a piece of mind-numbing middle-American mawkish schmaltz.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 08:18 AM

I don't think all that many people would know who wrote White Christmas. Or Blue Skies, either.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 09:44 AM

Actually, Irving Berlin had an amazing sensitivity to the idiomatic scansion of American spoken language, and a lot of his earlier work uses the slang, phrasing, and rhythm of the various ethnic groups, including the characteristic Yiddish left dislocation.

As to "White Christmas", it's a song about peace, and far better known, and more remembered than most of the traditional ballads we like to fuss about.

And Morwen, here in the US at least, we all know what a "Berlin Ballad" is...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 05:45 PM

@Stim: Would most Americans be able to name the xomposer of White Christmas though?

Also, what do you think the rumour mentioned in the OP means?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 06:45 PM

Most Americans, like most people, know fragments of songs, rarely able to sing more than a chorus at best, unless they play an instrument. Before TV the computer, pianos were fairly common in the home; now they are rare- so no sheet music in the home.
Composers? More guesses now than correct identifications.

Irving Berlin is better known than most, "Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning" would be well-known, learned in school along with some WW2 history, but not much else.

Berlin died almost 25 years ago, so is little known to the 30 and under set.

He was still on the hit parade in 1935-1945, when I was in my teens, so I would know a number of his songs, including "White Christmas," bought as a record, often heard on the radio, and possibly picked up as sheet music.
Now "W. C." is played in the Christmas season, and the average person cannot name the composer, any more than they can name the composer of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 06:51 PM

@Q: Thanks for that. It's the same way in Australia.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 07:32 PM

We've been learning Puttin' on the Ritz in a choir I sing in, and it has struck me there's a distinctly Klezmer feel about some of it.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,JTT
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 07:58 PM

Humans are amazing, the way we give cruel names to each other, and even make these names out of others' languages.
As for the 'legend', it sounds to me like a joke that may have come out of Berlin's own racist speech - he mocked black people, so people ask mockingly whether he might have a black child writing his beautiful songs.
And the racism: that came from other hatreds - the Jews who went to America were subject to sneering anti-semitism, and in response they turned on the black Americans. Same thing happened with the Irish. Same thing will happen with the blacks as they rise and stamp on the next unfortunate group of outcastes.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 08:00 PM

I refreshed the thread with Will Fly playing "Puttin' ....."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 08:05 PM

I would disagree with Q on Berlin--anyone who is a fan of films, theatre, or music before the rock era knows Berlin. And they teach him in school now. And the under 30's with those tastes are children of the information age, and have access to way more, They've seen the Fred Astaire movies, and White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Easter Parade, etc, either on AMC, TMC, or Netflix. They can find the soundtracks to all the movies on Spotify, and, in ten seconds, can come up with things like "Irving Berlin: A Tribute to his Music, which is a collection of original recordings from 1921-1931. He's way more accessible than he was, even 40 years ago.

As to the OP, I think it's a sly joke that is a tribute to his facility with ragtime(they used to kid about things like that once), which, incidentally, was in it's third decade of popularity when ARB was first a hit. Ben Harney, who was regarded as the father of Ragtime because he brought it from Louisville to Vaudville, was accused of "passing", though his father and mother were both from distinguished Southern families, so it was not exactly a new thought.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 08:28 PM

@JTT: Why supposedly a child though, instead of supposedly a grown adult? (Grown adult- sounds funny). Anyway, why did they claim that a child was writing them instead of an adult? There are child musical prodigies, but they are rare. Is it because a child is a) small and b) easy to stuff into a closet?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 09:10 PM

"Puttin' On the Ritz" sounds to me like a lot of the sounds from the revues in Harlem back in the 30s.
Where did Berlin "mock' Black people?
Racist talk was everywhere, good and bad-natured, Jewish, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Italian, etc. etc.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 Aug 13 - 10:19 PM

@Q: TBH I had a "Huh?" moment reading that.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 04:03 AM

I haven't seen any evidence Irving Berlin was racist, although I don't doubt that he may have engaged in the racist speech that was the usual practice of the time. This excerpt (click) from Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater (by Jeffrey Magee, 2012) makes it seem that Irving Berlin was almost heroic in defending the Afro-American cast members of This Is the Army in 1942. But yeah, I suppose he must have used racist speech - everybody did.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 06:45 AM

@Joe: I can't find the exact quote now, but Berlin once told a reporter that "American composers are not Negroes, but of Russian birth and ancestry and of pure white blood."

EDIT: Apparently it was "Our popular songwriters are not Negroes, but of Russian birth and ancestry and of pure white blood."

So yes, very iffy. It might have been a way of getting people to accept him writing in different styles and different voices because there was apparently pigeonholing going on back then, as in "You're an X, so you can only write 'X' songs and not Y." Also, I think some groups of people were seen as impossible to assimilate.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 10:02 AM

If you want to discuss Irving Berlin and racism, you should consider this:

In 1933 Berlin wrote "Supper Time" for his topical revue "As Thousands Cheer". It was the first song about lynching, some years before "Strange Fruit". He got Ethel Waters to perform it on Broadway and she was deeply impressed:

"If one song can tell the whole tragic history of a race, 'Supper Time' was that song. In singing it I was telling my comfortable, well-fed, well-dressed listeners about my people" (Waters, p. 222).

Berlin and producer Sam Harris even sent the whole show including "Supper Time" and Ms. Waters on tour down south, "the first time a colored person had been co-starred with white players below the Mason-Dixon line" (Waters, p. 224).

From here" Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" Oh, and here's the song" Ethel Waters sings "Suppertime"


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 12:00 PM

The Harlem Renaissance- A very important survey in the book, "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance," by Aberjhani and West; a preview available on Google.
The subject is too large to outline in one post; it is better to read the excerpts and the many other articles on urban Black society and its strengths.
The Black community in New York City developed their own fashions, events, and shows which were an important part of the New York scene.

The Harlem Easter Parade, as they say was legendary. Enjoyed and commented on by all New Yorkers.
The Seventh Avenue events and "scene" were observed and were the subject of several songs, including "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Don't forget to look at the stories of the "Cotton Club,", the Savoy and the Apollo Theaters which brought talented Black performers to white eyes.

Much material on Google; it would take too long to give their content, but they are there to read for anyone interested in early urban history and the first leanings toward recognition of Black artists and, I believe, the important movements toward equality in the urban communities. Similar events took place in other northern cities.

"High Yellow," by Reginald Marsh, was published in "Life Magazine," which came to many American households at the time. It is typical of the recognition of Black Society by artists. Berlin's "Ritz" was an earlier attempt to picture this segment of urban life. These efforts were an eye-opener in many ways- mock? no, a sense of wonder. (See definition of High Yellow in the Urban Dictionary
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vielles_announces/4035808638/

Henri Cartier-Bresson made notable photographs of the Harlem Easter Parade, which were published internationally.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 06:28 PM

@Stim: How could I have forgotten 'Suppertime'?

@Q: Never knew that about POTR! I personally love the original version- sounds much less clunky IMO than the later one.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 08:57 PM

Check the lyrics:

Have you seen the well-to-do
Up on Lennox Avenue
On that famous thoroughfare
With their noses in the air

High hats and Arrow collars
White spats and fifteen dollars
Spending every dime
For a wonderful time

If you're blue
And you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where Harlem flits
Puttin' on the Ritz
Spangled Gowns upon the bevy of
High browns from down the levy
All misfits
Puttin' on the Ritz

That's where each and every lulu-belle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin' elbows

Come with me and we'll attend their jubilee
And see them spend
Their last two bits
Puttin' on the Ritz

If you're blue
And you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where Harlem flits
Puttin' on the Ritz
Spangled Gowns upon the bevy of
High browns from down the levy
All misfits
Puttin' on that certain Ritz

That's where each and every lulu-belle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin' elbows

Come with me and we'll attend their jubilee
And see them spend
Their last two bits
Puttin' on the Ritz


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 09:00 PM

Sorry, that was from me, and it got away before editing. The Fred Astaire version from "Blue Skies" changes Lennox Avenue to Park Avenue and has different verses.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Morwen Edhelwen
Date: 13 Aug 13 - 10:44 PM

Thanks, Stim- as I said, I love that version.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 14 Aug 13 - 05:12 PM

In that context, why is POTR sometimes seen as racist?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 14 Aug 13 - 06:40 PM

People might be uncomfortable with the reference to "High browns from down the levy". It's not one of my favorite Berlin lines, because it harkens to a time when skin color was connected to social standing, and legal rights. That wasn't his intention, though. Consider that POTR was introduced in a 1930 film of the same name, and had the distinction of being the first song ever sung in a film by an interracial chorus. Not really something any sort of racist would be likely to do.

Anyway, he re-wrote the lyric when the song was filmed again 1946.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 14 Aug 13 - 08:43 PM

During the Harlem Renaissance, there was a relationship of social standing and income to the shade of brown.

The lighter the color, the easier it was for a performer to get a job in the Cotton Club and the other venues in Harlem, which were well-attended by white New Yorkers, or to get a job in the City.

This color shade form of "racism" is well-known in Haiti and the Caribbean.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Pickaninny in closet
From: GUEST,MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 Aug 13 - 12:48 AM

Q and Stim: Thanks for the explanation.

Do you think the "high browns" in the song referred to the women who worked at the Cotton Club? For some reason I always thought the song referred to "slumming", mzybe because of these lines:

Come with me and we'll attend their jubilee
And see them spend their last two bits
Puttin' on the Ritz.


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