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|James Bland, Afro-American composer of folk songs and minstrel show tunes, was born on 12. October 1854 at Flushing, N.Y. His father Allen received a law degree from Howard University and was the first Afro-American to be appointed examiner in the U.S. patent office. The family moved to Washington, D.C. where James attended public school. During his childhood he developed an ear for music and singing and after his father had bought him a banjo he taught himself to play and write music for himself. When the family lived in the U.S. capital he became a page at the U.S. House of Representatives and played at clubs, hotels, restaurants and private parties. |
While studying liberal arts at Howard University he met two people who were destined to shape his future. One was a girl named Mannie Friend, the other a professor who recognized Bland´s talent and taught him how to write music. Mannie Friend wrote the words down when James composed and sang the tune “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny”, probably his best known song. Bland got his first job with Billy Kersand`s all Negro minstrel group in 1875. In the following years he toured the U.S. with this and with other companies.
In 1881 his yearly salary was U.S. Dollars 10,000, the highest ever earnt by a minstrel man during that time. In the same year the group went to England and gave a performance before Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. When the group returned to the U.S.A. Bland stayed in London. During the next twenty years he toured Europe and earned an average of U.S. Dollars 12,000 a year. In 1901 he returned to America penniless; he had lived extravagantly and dressed well, so he and money soon parted. A friend gave him a job and he composed songs for a musical production. But the old spirit had gone. Bland gave up and died on 6. May 1911 in Philadelphia.
In 1940 the State Legislature of Virginia made “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny” the official state song. Besides this song Bland composed the also well known “In the Evening By the Moonlight”, “De Golden Wedding” and “Oh Dem Golden Slippers”. Altogether James Bland contributed several hundred tunes to the American song book; he is the greatest Afro-American writer of American Folk Songs.
|Carry Me Back To Old Virginny||3
Ukulele, Banjo, Lead Sheet
|Oh, Them Golden Slippers||4