The Creolization of American Culture:
“William Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy”
by Christopher J. Smith (2013 UI Press)
… examines the artworks, letters, sketchbooks, music collection, and biography of the painter William Sidney Mount (1807–1868) as a lens through which to see the multiethnic antebellum world that gave birth to blackface minstrelsy. As a young man living in the multiethnic working-class community of New York’s Lower East Side, Mount took part in the black-white musical interchange his paintings depict. An avid musician and tune collector as well as an artist, he was among the first to depict vernacular fiddlers, banjo players, and dancers precisely and sympathetically. His close observations and meticulous renderings provide rich evidence of performance techniques and class-inflected paths of musical apprenticeship that connected white and black practitioners.
“The book certainly argues that creolization—the process by which two languages, or rhythmic vocabularies, or music & dance idioms, collide and create a shared dialect—was much more widespread in a much wider array of locations, and much earlier, than previous scholarship has perhaps understood. The argument would be that contact between disparate groups—black/white, African/European, slave/free, working-class/middle-class—would have yielded this exchange, whether participants intended or even recognized that it was happening. People heard other people’s music and they learned to move and experience sound differently, and in this new, shared dialect. I think, in fact, that this phenomenon—maybe we could call it “a creolization of bodily experience”—happens everywhere disparate populations come into close proximity with one another. I think it’s at the core of where urban culture arises. ”
— Smith, from “Q&A with Creolization of American Culture author Christopher J. Smith”