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Ambolina Snow, by Bodine and Maywood. London: Wickens & Co., 1896

Ambolina Snow, by Bodine and Maywood. London: Wickens & Co., 1896

Caricatures of Black Americans : sheet music, 1861-1947

White perceptions of African American as portrayed in the cover illustrations of sheet music. The quality of the artwork varies with its depictions, from crude racism to fairly refined perceptions of Black life over the period from the overthrow of slavery to the Great Depression. From the generally positive images of the Civil War period, these views of African Americans descend into heavily caricatured White versions of ragtime, followed by the generally racist minstrel and vaudeville presentations that featured Moran and Mack, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Amos & Andy. Even music primarily written or performed by Blacks (e.g., Bert Williams) is generally subject to negative caricature. At the same time, the rise of Jim Crow in the South was accompanied by a type of music based on a presumed Black nostalgia for the "good old days" of slavery and field work. The few positive images from the period include a portryal of African American troops from the Spanish American war. Two baseball cover themes include Ring Lardner's first piece of sheet music. The collection concludes with material from the 1930's that reflects a blending of jazz themes with stylized art deco motifs.

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Curator

Curator for American and British History
Head, Humanities and Social Sciences Resource Group
(650) 485-9851

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