Old Black Joe (D, violin viola and piano)

For Mixed Trio


Uploaded on Apr 20, 2019

"Old Black Joe" was composed in 1860 by that great American songsmith, Stephen Collins Foster. Here I have arranged it for violin, viola and piano, but you can also play the viola harmony on a violin if you wish. If you silence the violin, you can use the rest as a backing track. The tempo I chose here, with lots of rubato, is roughly that Paul Robeson used in his marvelous recording (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6Tvq_0tkyw), but feel free to speed it up as most covers do.

Foster drew on Anglo-Celtic folksong and traditional African American spirituals to forge melodies of universal appeal. Early in his career he wrote "minstral" songs, for which there was a lucrative market. But by 1860 he found writing those songs, with their inevitable racial stereotypes, distasteful, and instead focused on less remunerative parlor songs.

“Old Black Joe” (1860) could be considered his last minstrel song, somewhat different in content and style from the others. The focus on nostalgia, love, and longing for eternal relief was a common theme in his songs, but now the protagonist is a slave with no dialect, indistinguishable in merit or dignity from the free listener.

This melancholic song humanized the image of the oppressed slave for Northern white audiences and was a component of the cultural impetus for the abolition of slavery. Earlier minstral songs of slave life, with their ludicrous stereotypes, were replaced by this more nuanced depiction of universal aspirations and a nostalgia everyone could feel. This song became the most effective of the anti-slavery folk song movement.

Stephen Foster died in poverty in New York in 1864.
Be sure to listen to Paul Robeson's beautiful version of this lovely song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6Tvq_0tkyw
or the less lugubrious Jerry Lee Lewis version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tJ0uaCpeao

Antebellum American Civil War Minstrel song Stephen Foster Slave song

Pages 4
Duration 02:47
Measures 24
Key signature 2 sharps
Parts 3
Part names Violin, Viola, Piano
Privacy Everyone can see this score
License None (All rights reserved)
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