UTC
The Boston Evening Transcript
Unsigned Article
10 October 1901

Plantation Melodies in "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

  Yesterday the writer had an occasion to call upon Manager Lawrence McCarty at the Boston Theatre, and incidentally was afforded an opportunity of seeing Luke Pulley of the Brady "Uncle Tom's Cabin" company engaged directing a rehearsal of the three hundred or more supernumeraries for the jubilee chorus in several of the important scenes of the play. Mr. Pulley, himself of African lineage, had the darkies assembled on the big stage, and a view of the rehearsal proved an interesting, amusing and instructive lesson.

  Mr. Edward G. Cooke, manager of the company, said that the present agitation among musicians throughout the country over the pernicious influence of the so-called "coon song" had as much as anything to do with William A. Brady's decision toward inclining the public ear again to the old-time Negro melodies in the present revival. The sort of melody which made the reputation of Stephen Foster and Daniel Emmet, Mr. Cooke explained, is heard at frequent intervals in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as it will be presented at the Boston Theatre, while the "rag time" is firmly eschewed. Artie Hall, alias Topsy, is musically inspired, and gives vent to her voice in a tune almost unheard of since the war:

"Shoo fly, don't bother me!
"Shoo fly, don't bother me!
Shoo fly, don't bother me!
Ca'se I belong to Company G!"

  This old ditty, in fact, was a product of the Rebellion. Union soldiers picked up the air somewhere in the South, and fitted to it the nonsense rhymes which were sufficient to carry it to instant popularity. For a long time "Shoo Fly" was a favorite with minstrel end men, and Billy Rice owed much of his popularity to his method of singing it. "O, Dem Golden Slippers" and "Climbin' Up De Golden Stairs" are two other musical curiosities which Topsy interpolates. Neither has been sung generally for many years. They are contained only in very old minstrel books or in the memories of grandfathers. The verses which the three hundred Negroes use in Mr. Brady's levee scene shouted to the melody of "Dixie" were written when patriotism did not prompt applause of the rollicking melody, and no one ever had thought of urging its fitness as a national air. The verses run:

"O, Mandy Jane, an' Lize beside her
Done scared white by a big black spider.
Look away, look away,
Look away, Mandy Jane."

  Of course, Stephen Foster's immortal "Suwanee Ribber" is introduced during the performance, and, it is promised, in a most effective manner. Little Eva dies "a l'Aiglon." The stage is full of Negroes, sobbing and rocking their bodies to and fro in that half-civilized expression of grief which once seen is never forgotten. Eva delivers the lines which, held up to ridicule for decades, never have ceased to affect audiences. Then, as her head drops back on her pillow, the big organ gives vent to the sobbing notes of the old song, and a clear soprano voice takes up the words. At the proper time the entire chorus joins in, and on this tableau the curtain falls.