Monday, July 20, 2009

James A. Bland
African-American Songwriter
The song "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" was written in 1879 by James A. Bland. It was originally a minstrel mockery of a spiritual song sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, however Bland's version surpassed the Fisk song in popularity. Although the song sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers was performed long before its publication in 1880, "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" receives credit for being the first published and is thought to be the original by some.

This popular American song was written after the Civil War, during the period of Reconstruction (Levene). Songs created during this period reflect the attitudes of the authors as well as the audience. James A. Bland was an African-American composer who lived through slavery and saw it outlawed following the Civil War (Congress). In his song, "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers," Bland does not reflect the emotions of a disgruntled person, rather, the lyrical content conveys joy and a time of celebration. Instead of harboring grudges from the past, Bland celebrates the end of slavery and hope for a better future.

One important factor contributing to the song's existence also accounts for its early popularity. It was originally performed in the minstrel theatre as well as by traveling troupes of minstrel performers (Chase). These African-American troupes were often known as "Georgia Minstrels" and performed a variety of music in addition to the early minstrel tradition. "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" was also introduced on the variety stage and became a vaudeville favorite. Theatrical plays became customary to the American lifestyle, giving rise to the popularity of many minstrel songs (Gill).

"Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" consists of three stanzas and a refrain. The instrumental composition is typically performed by piano (Foster). The melody leaps from low to high pitches and vice versa while the tempo of this melody is fast. The fabric of the music is homophonic with harmonic support. The lyrics are also simple, telling the story of a man who is absorbed in his prized possessions, including his long tailed coat, long white robe, banjo, and most importantly his golden slippers. The narrator talks about going to some place in his chariot, which is a conventional metaphor for escaping slavery. His destination is a question, but it could possibly be heaven or up north or simply off the plantation of slavery.

"Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" became notable in the late 1800's along with many other minstrel songs. Its contribution to American music has impacted the old tradition of minstrel musicals vaudeville favorites.

Oh, Them Golden Slippers
Oh, my golden slippers am laid away
'Cause I don't spect to wear 'em til my wedding day
And my long tailed coat, that I love so well
I will wear up in the chariot in the morn
And my long white robe that I bought last June
I'm goin' to get changed 'cause it fits too soon
And the old grey hoss that I used to drive
I will hitch him to the chariot in the morn

Oh, dem golden slippers
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
Because they look so neat
Oh, dem golden slippers
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se goin' to wear
To walk the golden street

Oh, my old banjo hangs on the wall
'Cause it ain't been tuned since way last fall
But the darks all say we'll have a good time
When we ride up in the chariot in the morn
There's ol' brother Ben and his sister, Luce
They will telegraph the news to uncle Bacco Juice
What a great camp meetin' there will be that day
When we ride up in the chariot in the morn
So, it's good-bye, children I will have to go
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow
And yer ulster coats, why, you will not need
When you ride up in the chariot in the morn
But yer golden slippers must be nice and clean
And yer age must be just sweet sixteen
And yer white kid gloves you will have to wear
When you ride up in the chariot in the morn

1854 - James Alan Bland was born on the 22nd of October in Flushing, New York.
1866 - When he was 12, and living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he saw an old black man playing a banjo and singing spirituals.
1868 - He was so talented and had become so proficient with the banjo that he was entertaining professionally at private parties and in hotels and restaurants from the time he was 14.
- At Howard University, he met a young lady named Mannie Friend.
1873 - Bland graduated from Howard University.
- Write songs "In the Evening by the Moonlight," O Dem Golden Slippers.
1878 - Published "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" was the offical State Song of Virginia.
1911 - James A. Bland died of tuberculosis on 5th March in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1970 - James Bland was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.