Edited by Azizi Powell
This is Part I of a two part series on the 19th century song "Sich A Gittin Upstairs" ("Such A Gettin Upstairs").
Part I focuses on the history of this song in the United States and in England.
Part II of this series provides several examples of lyrics for this song and three video examples of Morris dancing to this tune.
The content of this post is presented for folkloric, historical, and cultural purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
The once highly popular 19th century song "Such A Gittin Up Stairs" ("Such A Getting Upstairs") is now mostly known as the Headington (Cotswold) Morris dance "Getting Upstairs".
Here are some excerpts from various online articles & discussion forums about the history of that song & dance.
These excerpts are presented in no particular order of preference.
From http://www.americanmorrisnews.org/pastissues/dec2005v25n4/current_issue/rhettkrausev25n4morrisdancingandamerica.html “Morris Dancing And America Prior to 1913” Rhett Krause, M.D.
"Influence on the 19th-Century English Morris
Long before the "traditional" English Morris dances had been recorded, they had been influenced to some extent by popular American culture. At least three English Morris tunes have American origins. The Bampton tune "Bobbing Around" was written in 1856 by William Jermyn Florence (1831-1891), an American composer of popular song. The Catalogue of the British Library lists a copy of this, already printed in London by 1856, over 50 years before it was collected by Sharp. Next is the Headington tune "Getting Upstairs." The original version ("Such a Getting Upstairs") was written and composed sometime in the early 1830's by Joe Blackburn for blackface performers. The song travelled to England with American minstrel shows, and versions were soon published in London. Five decades later, Percy Manning would record a variant of the chorus as one of the songs of the Headington men:
Such a getting upstairs and playing on the fiddle,
Such a getting upstairs I never did see.
Years later the music and dance "Getting Upstairs" were collected by Sharp. Finally, there is "Buffalo Girls," another American minstrel show tune. Joe Trafford, the Headington squire, had heard it played by a military band and taught it to the team musician, with "Buffalo Gals" becoming one of the Headington men's tunes.
Minstrel shows were extremely popular in England from 1843 until the first years of this century, and their effects on British folk culture are not limited to the few Morris tunes listed above"...
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=37741Such a Getting Upstairs [hereafter known as Mudcat: Getting Upstairs]
posted by Steve Gardham; 20 Sep 10 - 07:08 PM
"It [Such A Getting Upstairs] predated Dan Emmett who rose to fame in the 1840s. Emmet was an essential part and instigator of the Minstrel TROUPES, but there were plenty of SOLO blackface performers both in the UK and US before this even going back to the 18thc. I have 'Sich a Gittin' Upstairs' as from Daddy Rice in the early thirties at Baltimore. It gets a mention in Nathan's 'Dan Emmett and The Rise of Early Minstrelsy' but not in connection with Emmett himself.
I have a copy of the song sheet music as performed by Sam Cowell later in England but no doubt he picked it up while in America in his youth as a performer with his family, possibly from T D Rice himself"...
posted by Jim Dixon, 22 Sep 10 - 09:35 AM
"The oldest reference to the song I can find with Google Books is in The New-York Mirror, Volume 16 (Feb. 2, 1839), page 256:
"By late London papers before us, we perceive that Race has found out a new way to please John Bull. The popularity of "Jim Crow" seems to be eclipsed by the "new fancy song" of "Sich a gittin up stairs." "
"Race" here is a reference to blackfaced minstrels. "John Bull" is a reference for people from England" and "Jim Crow" is the song "Jump Jim Crow".
posted by Billy Weeks, 25 Sep 10 - 10:46 AM
"I have sheet music of 'Sich a Getting Up Stairs' published by Purday in London, probably before 1840. This 'only authentic edition' gives no author credit but it is 'as sung by' T D Rice, with the music 'arranged by' W West. The front has a striking uncoloured lithograph of Rice dancing and playing an invisible fiddle.
The sheet can be confidently dated to 1836 (when Rice first appeared in London) or perhapsthe a year or so later. I find it interesting that Rice did not claim authorship of the song on its first publication here.
Whatever might have been claimed and by whom, it is always difficult to establish authorship of earliest minstrel songs. There was an ungoverned trade in musical material at this level of popular entertainment and there were no enforceable copyright procedures. A few singers,including Rice, said that they had taken or adapted some of their songs from slave originals. I can't see much advantage in making such claims if they were untrue."
Italics added by me to highligh those sentences.
posted by Jim Dixon, Date: 25 Sep 10 - 01:06 PM
"The Levy sheet music collection has 10 copies of different editions of "The Crow Quadrilles." Most say, "Arranged with Figures [i.e. dance instructions] for the Piano Forte by John H. Hewitt"; some editions credit others. Most are dated 1837; the rest have no date. These are tunes only, no lyrics"...
That list of tunes includes "Sich A Gittin Up Stairs". The word “crow” in that title means “Black” (actually, “the n word”) as evident from the song titles “Coal Black Rose”, “Jim Crow”, Sambo’s Dress To He Bred’ren”, and “Zip Coon”.
Although this next comment refers to another American minstrel tune, it is relevent in that it points out the tremendous popularity of blackfaced minstrels in mid 19th century England.
From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13658 "Help: Buffalo Gals"
posted by Steve Gardham, 18 Nov 09 - 06:14 PM
"The Ethiopian Serenaders came over to Britain after about a year of their successful touring in the States and here they were also a great sensation. They were the Beatles of their day. That would have been about 1844 but I could easily confirm the date. I believe it is from this early impact many of the minstrel tunes were adopted for various uses in this country, perhaps even the Lancashire song posted above. Two minstrel tunes at some point in the mid 19th century became the staple tunes for the Flamborough Sword Dance in Yorkshire, near to where I live. One is 'Buffalo Gals' and the other is 'De Blue-tail Fly' which is one of the widest used tunes in England for all sorts of songs and ditties. They also in Flamborough have set words to these tunes and some of the comic words to 'Old Johnny Walker' (set to Buffalo Gals) are from much older songs adapted to the 'new' tune"...
The 1844 date was corrected in that discussion by this citation from Q: "The UK dates for the Ethiopian Serenaders, has, I think been posted in another thread, but your c. 1844 is close enough.
Copies are in the Bodleian Collection, one printed in Birmingham c. 1845"..."
WHAT DOES "SUCH A GETTING UPSTAIRS" MEAN?
In the "Mudcat: Getting Upstairs" discussion whose link is provided above, the consensus was that "such a getting upstairs" referred to sexual activities that occurred on the floor above the tavern.
It seems to me that the phrase "such a getting upstairs" was expanded -or cleaned up-to mean "a commotion", a "disturbance", a "ruckus", or some occurance that was out of the ordinary but also exciting and perhaps even fun.
Click http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754658597 for a review of the 2008 book Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain by Michael Pickering, Loughborough University, UK.
Here's a brief excerpt from that review:
"The historical study and cultural analysis of minstrelsy is important because of the significant role it played in Britain as a form of song, music and theatrical entertainment. Minstrelsy had a marked impact on popular music, dance and other aspects of popular culture, both in Britain and the United States. Its impact in the United States fed into significant song and music genres that were assimilated in Britain, from ragtime and jazz onwards, but prior to these influences, minstrelsy in Britain developed many distinct features and was adapted to operate within various conventions, themes and traditions in British popular culture. Pickering provides a convincing counter-argument to the assumption among writers in the United States that blackface was exclusively American and its British counterpart purely imitative.
Minstrelsy was not confined to its value as song, music and dance. Jokes at the expense of black people along with demeaning racial stereotypes were integral to minstrel shows. As a form of popular entertainment, British minstrelsy created a cultural low that offered confirmation of white racial ascendancy and imperial dominion around the world. The book attends closely to how this influence on colonialism and imperialism operated and proved ideologically so effective. At the same time British minstrelsy cannot be reduced to its racist and imperialist connections. Enormously important as those connections are, Pickering demonstrates the complexity of the subject by insisting that the minstrel show and minstrel performers are understood also in terms of their own theatrical dynamics, talent and appeal."
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
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