Saturday, May 6, 2017

Is This Version Of The 19th Century African American Rhyme "Old Aunt Dinah" An Early Example Of Beatboxing?

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post speculates about whether the vocal percussion that was described in the performances of the 19th century African American rhyme "Old Aunt Dinah" could be considered "beat boxing".

The content of this post is presented for historical. folkloric, and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown composers of this song and thanks to the collectors of this song. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

The authors of a Feb. 28, 2005 article entitled "The Pre-History Of Beatboxing" (TyTe and Defenicial, indicate that "It is usually documented that beatboxing, as we know it, has its roots in the beginning of modern hip-hop, on street corners in placed like Chicago, the Bronx, and LA, and this is quite right. However, vocal percussion - the art form from which beatboxing spawns - has been part of the music and urban scene for a lot longer than people think."

That article further notes that "In the late 1880s, black groups* (usually quartets) would sing a capella, that is, using only their harmonized voices to make music. They would hold long, low notes that resemble what we hear as bass sounds in modern beatboxing. Vocal percussion was used by these quartets to help their music keep time, such as clicks of the tongue and taking a sharp breath in.... Even though vocal percussion was only the background to this style of music, it no doubt set the stage for the oncoming craze of scatting and bass humming in the wave of jazz, blues, and swing music that was just a few years away."
-end of quote-
*"Black groups" here means "Black groups in the United States.

Given that information, I wonder if Dorothy Scarborough, a 1920s White collector of Black American folk songs from the South documented an early example of beatboxing when she described vocalizations that accompanied certain versions of the rhyme/song "Old Aunt Dinah".

I came across that description of vocalizations and text (words only) examples of the 19th century African American song/rhyme "Oh Aunt Dinah" while searching for early examples of the children's rhyme "Grandma Grandma Sick In Bed".

Here's the preface to the "Old Aunt Dinah" rhyme and those rhymes themselves as they are given on page 187-188 in Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 book On The Trail Of Negro Folk Rhymes (1925). I've added italics for the portion that I think is suggestive of beatboxing to highlight those words.

As background, Dorothy Scarborough was a White American collector of Black American non-religious folk songs that she had heard or that other White people sent her from their memories or direct experiences of hearing Black people sing them.

"The unknown author of the song contributed by Mrs Bartlett seems to have felt strongly on her subject. Mrs. Bartlett writes: "There is another that Mr. Bartlett used to delight the children with. I used to know a colored chambermaid at Hollins, named Penny, who said something lie it, only her speech had to do with a rabbit; but she used the same nonsensical interruptions and assumed the same expressions of inspired idiocy that Mr. Bartlett deems fitting for the proper interpretation of Ole Aunt Dinah:

"Old Aunt Dinah---sick in bed,
Eegisty ----ogisty!
Sent for the doctah ----doctah said,
Eegisty ----ogisty!
"Get up, Dinah,--
You ain't sick
Eegisty ----ogisty!
All you need
Is a hickory stick!
Eegisty ----ogisty--Ring-ding-ah-ding--ah! !

The dashes stand for peculiar "spitting and puffings with the lips that defy expression. However, they are an important part of the rhythm of the incantation."...
That excerpt continues with comments about and an example of the "Ole Aunt Dinah went to town/riding a billy goat" version of this song*. Dorothy Scarborough wrote that the sounds that she had previously described also "accompanied" that "riding on a billy goat" version of that song:

"Ole Aunt Dinah went to town,
Riding a billy-goat, leading a hound.
Hound dog barked, billy-goat jumped
Set Aunt Dinah straddle of a stump."

I wonder if those "peculiar spitting and puffings with the lips" could have been an early example of what we call "beat boxing". From "Beatboxing (also beat boxing or b-boxing) is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines using one's mouth, lips, tongue, and voice."...
Click and for two pancocojams posts about the rhymes/songs "Old Aunt Dinah" and "Grandma Grandma Sick In Bed" ("sent for [or] called the doctor and the doctor said"...)

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