1901, Banjo Reminiscences

 

 

Converse, Frank. "Banjo Reminiscences," The Cadenza, 1901-1902. 

---.  A History of the Banjo: Frank Converse's Banjo Reminiscences, Paul Heller, ed., Heller, 2011.

 

The original publications of "Banjo Reminiscences" appeared in a trade magazine, between June, 1901 and October 1902.  Converse died the following year, in 1903. One hundred and ten years later the 15 installments were collected and reprinted by Paul Heller.  From the very first in the series it was certain that Converse relied heavily upon accounts that had been previously published in The New York Clipper, the newspaper of record for all things sporting or theatrical.  Every subsequent historian of blackface has had reason to consult the original newspaper accounts, now digitized and searchable.  

 

Contexts:

Converse, Harriet Maxell.  Myths and Legends of the New York State Iroquois, Arthur Casewell Parker, ed., Education Department Bulletin, No. 437, Albany: University of New York, 1908.

 

Minstrel performers rarely left personal recollections of their careers.  There are few, if any, memoires, or diaries, nor even significant collections of letters that have survived.  Keeping a small collection of newspaper clippings or programs was what most of these veterans might manage to hold onto. But there were exceptions and Converse was the most exceptional.  No other participant had as close an association with the leading lights of historical understanding - the anthropologists and ethnologists of this period.  Converse was married to Harriet Maxwell, a very wealthy widow whose father and grandfather had both lived among the Iroquois. She had a remarkable relationship with the tribal people of New York and eventually became a singular advocate as well as a tribal historian.  She died in the City of New York, just months after her husband. The Iroquois legends that she preserved in this text were posthumously edited and published.The preface  of her work offers a commentary about historical methodology that was probably informed by her friendship with Henry Lewis Morgan and his collaborator, Ely S. Parker, early historians/ anthropologists of the North American Indians.  It is not much of a leap to think that Frank Converse set out to record a history of the banjo, and minstrelsy, that was in dialogue with his wife's project, and the knowledge that all history is contingent and temporary, a frail transmission of ideas and records from generation to generation. Both Frank Converse and Harriet Converse were well aware of their mortal limits while at work in the first years of the 20th century.  Their accomplishments are the preservation of stories, oral histories, copied down by a pair of the most able and knowledgeable historians of cultural confluences of the nineteenth century.