Tag Archives: Music

Slave to Fiddler: Utica’s Joseph Pell


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pelldeathI wrote an article about early black musicians in New York State back in December, but I decided to omit Joe Pell from that piece for two reasons. He seemed never to have been a full-time musician (as were the other performers in the article), and, in December, nearly all the information I had on Pell came from his obituary, and obituaries are not always the best place to locate objective, unbiased information about a person.

I have since been able to confirm much of what was written upon his passing, and I present here an annotated obituary of this talented and beloved black performer. My annotations appear within square brackets. Continue reading

Lottery And Education:
A New Intiative And Music Video Contest


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State Education Building by Matt Wade Photography (Wikimedia User UpstateNYer)The New York Lottery announced a new campaign Monday reminding the public that Lottery provides aid for education across New York State. As part of this program, a new television commercial was created featuring students singing “Thank You For Being A Friend,” written by Andrew Gold and made popular as the theme to the television show “The Golden Girls,” to unsuspecting people who buy Lottery tickets in a convenience store.

The Lottery has also launched a statewide contest to provide students with an opportunity to win $10,000, $5,000 or $2,500 to benefit their school’s music education program. Named “New York Sings” the contest offers students the opportunity to film themselves singing their own interpretation of “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Continue reading

NYS Traditional Music Webcast Concert Wednesday


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dave_ruch_bajo_hpPerformer and Teaching Artist Dave Ruch will be doing a special live webcast concert of New York State traditional music at 8pm EST on Wednesday, January 22.  Wherever you are in the world, you can tune in.

Ruch specializes in uncovering and performing the music of everyday people from earlier days in New York State – singing woodsmen, African-American fiddlers, War of 1812 soldiers and sailors, square dance musicians, back-porch ballad singers, farmers, canallers, domestics, Iroquois peoples, and more. Continue reading

The Plantation in Brooklyn:
Nate Salsbury’s Black America Show


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Black America from Illustrated American 1895Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.

Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading

Harlem Soundscape: The Bells of St. Martins


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bigbellBells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”

In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading

Early Black Musicians in New York State


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Early African American FiddlerThe film 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was lured away from Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841, and sold into slavery. Though he played the fiddle (and the men who tricked him into leaving Saratoga told him they wanted him to fiddle for a circus), the film overstates Northup’s status as a musician. Primarily, he earned his money from other work.

In his 1853 autobiography however, Northup wrote that prior to moving to Saratoga he had performed: “Wherever the young people assembled to dance, I was almost invariably there.” He attained some renown in Washington County, since: “Throughout the surrounding villages my fiddle was notorious.” Continue reading

Early Audio Recording Pioneer George Cheney


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01 NipperLogo 1921 WikiWhat you see here is one of the most recognizable trademarks ever, a logo that has been used by many companies around the world. The dog in the image is not fictional. His name was Nipper, and a few years after his death, Nipper’s owner sold a modified painting of his dog to a recording company. The rest is history, and part of that history includes a heretofore unknown North Country native.

From humble beginnings, he became famous for his wide-ranging knowledge of recording and his ability to invent. Perhaps most important of all, he traveled the world and was the first person to record the music of a number of countries, saving it for posterity. Continue reading

Civil War Weekend at the NYS Museum


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Civil War Weekend at NYS MuseumNationally acclaimed folk musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason along with Kim and Reggie Harris will present a free concert at the Clark Auditorium of the New York State Museum in Albany at 7:00 p.m. this Saturday, September 21st.  The concert features Civil War music and highlights a weekend celebration of the Museum’s award-winning exhibition “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War.” Continue reading

Event to Celebrate Traditional Adirondack Music


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LGM-ADK-LegendsThey’ll be spinning Adirondack legends in songs and stories, but they’re practically legends themselves. Chris Shaw, Dan Berggren, Bill Smith, and newcomer Alex Smith, will be in Bolton Landing for a free concert in Rogers Park on September 15. Adirondack Legends: a festival of new and traditional Adirondack music and stories, will be presented by the Lake George Mirror.

Adirondack Legends was organized by Chris Shaw, the Lake George native who has made a career of singing Adirondack folk songs and telling Adirondack tales. His repertoire includes some of the region’s earliest songs, and the revived interest in the Adirondack Songbook of Marjorie Lansing Porter is one inspiration for the show, he said. Continue reading