“Mary Blane” sheet music, Firth & Hall Publishers, New York, 1847
Front cover lithograph, 10 1/2” x 14”, Collection of Old Hat Records
The Ethiopian Serenaders were a popular blackface minstrel troupe of the 1840s who performed for at least two U.S. presidents, Tyler and Polk. They regarded their brand of minstrelsy more “refined” than others, largely because they parodied great works of the European masters, which required of their audience some acquaintance with the originals; and they dressed in subdued formal apparel. The Serenaders carried their act to England in 1846, where they met with great success, but their popularity waned upon their return, edged out by the more ribald humor of such troupes as the Christy Minstrels.
This sheet music lithograph depicts the Ethiopian Serenaders, along with facsimile signatures. They are, from left to right: Gilbert W. Pell, George A. Harrington, William White, Moody Stanwood, and Francis Germon. This same front cover was apparently used for numerous compositions associated with the troupe, in this case “Mary Blane,” a song written by Billy Whitlock of the pioneering Virginia Minstrels.
A glowing review from the Serenaders’ British tour reads in part:
“The executants are five in number; one plays the tambourine, Mr. Germon, who is the leader; another, the bone castanet; the third, the accordion; and the two others, the banjo, or African guitar. The castanet player does not sing; but his four colleagues have good voices, and in glees harmonize charmingly... The tambourine performer affects a ludicrous air of pompous sentiment, whilst the castanet sable hero indulges in all kinds of buffoonery and antics. They seem to be endowed with perpetual motion... The entertainment is quite a novelty, and will, no doubt, be attractive. They have been provided with letters of recommendation from President Polk, and some leading personages in America, who must be better able to appreciate the accuracy of their African delineations than Europeans.”