Today In Charleston History: August 26

1773 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Thomas Powell, acting editor of the Gazette, published the proceedings of the Council without their permission and was arrested. His lawyer, Edward Rutledge was able to convince the justice of the peace, Rawlins Lowndes, to secure Powell’s release. Rutledge declared his pleasure “in being called forth as the Defender of the Liberty of the Subject.”

The case became hot political issue which brought together several powerful men and families in defense of Powell, forming a core group of radical thinkers – the Rutledges, Middletons, Pinckneys and Draytons.

 August 26, 1935. JENKINS BANDS

Time magazine published an article about the Jenkins Orphanage Band in Charleston. To learn the entire story (and all the errors in this article), read my bookDoin’ the Charleston.

The end of the War between the States (or the War of the Rebellion) brought freedom to tall, blue-black Daniel Joseph Jenkins, born a slave in 1861and soon orphaned. Turned off a plantation in Charleston, S.C. he said: “I took God for my guide. I got a job on a farm and two pounds of meat and a quart of molasses a week to live on.” One day he came upon half a dozen shoeless, shivering pickaninnies huddled by a railroad track. He gave them his last dollar.

Daniel Jenkins became a Baptist minister. Soon Preacher Jenkins preached a sermon on “The Harvest Is Great but the Laborers Are Few” persuading his congregation to help him found an orphanage for poor black moppets. That was 1891. Daniel Jenkins proceeded to rid Charleston of roaming, thieving “Wild Children:” In two buildings in the city and farms and schools outside it, he had cared for more than 536 orphans at a time, today less than 300 in his charge. Of the thousands of Negroes turned out by the Jenkins Orphanage at 14, he claims that less than ten have ended up in jail. Grizzled, black-garbed and ailing at 74, Daniel Jenkins is Charleston’s No. 1 Negro citizen, prosperous enough to have been touched for a loan by a white Charlestonian in the early days of the War. The fame & fortune of the Jenkins Orphanage, however, did not come from piety alone. Taking a leaf from Booker T. Washington who successfully raised money through his Tuskegee Singers, Daniel Jenkins early began to exploit small Negroes playing band music

Having on his hands a number of undernourished, rickety and tuberculosis youngsters, Jenkins optimistically decided “My children’s lungs would get strong by blowing wind instruments.” He obtained some battered horns, organized a band which he sent North in 1893 to play on street corners for whatever passersby would give. So successful was the band that is has never since missed a trip. In 1905 it played in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade. It appeared at the St. Louis Exposition, the Anglo-American Exposition in London. It has toured the U.S. from coast to coast, played in Paris, Berlin, Rome, London, Vienna. Divided into sections as the kids grew older and learned to play better, the Jenkins Band once had five units simultaneously on tour. Today, its 125 players, age 10 to 18, earn from $75,000 to 100,000 a year for the Orphanage. Once boys & girls used to play together in the band, but says Daniel Jenkins, “They got too fresh and I had to separate them.” Now the girls play in their own bands or sing to the boys’ accompaniment. Each band-section is chaperoned and guided by a ministerial graduate of the Orphanage. Boys wear dark blue uniforms and girls wore simple print dresses.

Jenkins Orphanage Band, Author's Collection

Jenkins Orphanage Band, Author’s Collection

In winter, Jenkins bands play in schools, churches, halls throughout the South and West.  In the summer they head North. This year 65 of 125 bandsters were chosen, divided into Bands No. 1 and No. 2. Last week Band No. 1, with twenty-one year old Freddy Bennett as leader, played in Providence, R. I., moved to Hartford, Conn. Under the guidance of William Blake, who has been with the Orphanage for 38 years, Band No. 2 had been in Saratoga, N.Y. where the horse-racing season opened early this month [TIME, Aug. 12]. Day & night at the race track, at baseball games on the spa’s Broadway the hard-working youngsters played spirituals, sweet ballads and hot arrangements of tunes like Dinah and Sweet Sue on their rusty cornets, trombones, French horns, drums. Bystanders were especially taken with Band No. 2’s impish 12-year-old leader who juggled his baton and shimmied vigorously.

Rich old Rev. Daniel Joseph Jenkins in his institution’s Northern headquarters in New York’s Harlem, scrutinized detailed weekly reports of his band’s doings. Collections in Saratoga, even with five youngsters passing hats and wheedling coins from bystanders, were good only when someone with a kind heart produced a windfall. Last week Daniel Jenkins sent Band No. 2 back to Charleston, where No. 1 would rejoin it, playing its way southward by way of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond and Durham. Daniel Jenkins is soon returning South. “I ain’t got long to stay here,” he cackles. “But I’ll carry on till Jesus calls me home.”

Today In Charleston: August 25

 1671
yeamans, sir john

Sir John Yeamans

The first election was held in Charles Town, choosing twenty men as a Parliament and Sir John Yeamans as speaker. Over half the councilmen were Barbadians. Five men were then selected to represent the people as the Grand Council – Mr. Thomas Gray, Mr. Maurice Mathews, Lt. Henry Hughes, Mr. Christopher Portman and Mr. Ralph Marshall.  Yeamans took every opportunity to question the legality of West’s appointment as governor.

John Coming, first mate of the Carolina, wrote that “the Barbadians endeavor to rule all.” Yeamans complained that “West is proud and peevish.” Others called Yeamans “disaffected and too selfish.” The colony was firmly divided into separate factions.

1766 – American Revolution – Foundations

John Rutledge, conveying the wishes of the South Carolina Assembly, instructed Charles Garth, their agent in London, to oppose the stamp tax, and any other tax by Parliament. Rutledge claimed it was “inconsistent with that inherent right of every British subject, not to be taxed but by his own consent, or that of his representatives.”

1781 – American Revolution

Col. John Laurens arrived in Boston with two shiploads of military supplies and half a million dollars in aid from the French.

CHINABERRY SIDEWALKS: A Review

I’ve been a Rodney Crowell fan since 1978. He is, to be blunt, one of the great American songwriters of the last 40 years and I have listened to his music for 1000s of hours. What little guitar playing I learned, I learned so I could play Crowell’s songs. During the 70s and 80s Nashville artists waited for new Rodney songs to record. He has also recorded seventeen LPs (or CDs) since 1978, charting eight Top Ten Country songs, including five consecutive #1 hits, in 1988-89. 

chinaberry1Crowell has written a memoir about his early life growing up in hardscrabble Houston, Texas in the 1950s. Crowell’s former wife, Rosanne Cash, published an amazing memoir last year, Composed, which was less a memoir of her public life, than an intense meditation on how her life influenced her artistically. I was hoping for something like that from Crowell, but not this time out. It is a study of his life as a child, and tells the story of his parent’s life more than his own.

Most reviews are giving the book a home run … I have to differ. First of all, it is written in too much of a folksy, aw shucks style, peppered with down home expressions that most of us heard while growing up, but left behind as we moved out into the world. Crowell and his editor obviously had never read the old adage, “a little bit goes a long way.” It also is a bit clunky at times jumping from chapter to chapter, back and forth in time. There is an endless chapter about attending pentecostal church meetings that wears out its welcome after the first 2000 words, but goes on and on and on.

Here’s hoping Crowell has another memoir in the works that will illuminate his professional career as a songwriter and musician. Until then, I recommend you pull out your copies of Diamonds & Dirt or Fate’s Right Hand and enjoy the music!

Today In Charleston History: August 24

1706 – Queen Anne’s War.

A Dutch privateer sloop belonging to Captain Stool from New York anchored in Charles Town. Stool reported that while in St. Augustine they learned that a French ship was planning to attack Carolina. While he was making his report, five columns of smoke appeared on Sullivan’s Island, the signal that a fleet was off the bar.

It was a French squadron from Martinique led by Captain De Feboure which included the frigate Soleil (22 guns), two 8-gun sloops, two smaller sloops and a galley. On board were more than 700 Spanish soldiers.

Some of the Spanish landed on James Island and burned a plantation.

1775
miles brewton house

Miles Brewton House, 27 King Street, Charleston, SC

Miles Brewton, Charleston merchant, set sail for Philadelphia with his wife and three children. They were never seen or heard from again, and were listed as “lost at sea.” His sister, Rebecca Brewton Motte, inherited Mount Joseph, her brother’s plantation on the Congaree River in St. Matthews Parish, the Miles Brewton House on King Street in Charleston and one of South Carolina’s largest fortunes.

After Charles Town surrendered to the British, following a 40-day bombardment, the Miles Brewton House became British HQ for General  Clinton and Lord Rawdon.  In 1865, the house became HQ for Union Generals Meade and Hatch. 

1785
Thomas_Heyward_Jr

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

The Agricultural Society of South Carolina was founded. Thomas Heyward, Jr invited a select group of planters to the Exchange Bldg. for “the purpose of forming a Society in this state to encourage Agriculture and other Rural Concerns.”

NOT in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (But Should Be) – Amazing Rhythm Aces

Amazing Rhythm Aces

The Amazing Rhythm Aces1The Aces came out of Memphis, TN.  in 1972. At the recommendation of Barry “Byrd” Burton, who was engineering and producing at the famous Sam Phillips Recording Studio they recorded and developed a sound mixing of pop, country and blue-eyed soul, led by the literate and often quirky lyrics, and distinctive vocals by lead singer/songwriter Russell Smith. They have released 18 LPs over 30s.

Their first LP, Stacked Deck, was a hit, powered by the Top 10 country & pop,(and  now-classic) song, “Third Rate Romance.” In 1976 they earned a Grammy for “Best Vocal Performance” for “The End Is Not In Sight.” With their music described as “roots rock”, “country rock” mixing reggae, blues, country, bluegrass, rock and folk, the Aces were too eclectic to ever have consistent mainstream success. But their musical legacy today can be heard in most modern country and Americana music. The Aces are a band musicians love to love.

PLAYLIST:

  1. Third Rate Romance
  2. Hit The Nail On The Head … 3.19
  3. The End Is Not In Sight (the Cowboy Song) … 5: 43
  4. Typical American Boy … 9.26
  5. Who Will the Next Fool Be? … 12.55
  6. Amazing Grace (Used To Be Her Favorite Song) … 16.32
  7. I Got The Feeling … 20.21
  8. Out Of The Storm … 26.04
  9. DUI/SOL … 29.43
  10. Thangamalang … 33.01
  11. I’m A Dog …37.14

Recommended listening: Stacked Deck; Too Stuffed to Jump; Nothin’ But The Blues; Full House, Aces High.

Charleston: America’s Most Popular Dance

Runnin-Wild-ProgramOn October 29th, 1923, a black musical named Runnin’ Wild opened on Broadway, with songs by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The first act of the show ended with the song “Charleston.” Elizabeth Welsh, as the character of Ruth Little in the show, performed the dance with chorus boys called the “Dancing Redcaps.” Elida Webb, the choreographer, claimed to have invented the dance, which, of course, was not true.

The dance called the Charleston has deep roots that trace back to the Ashanti tribe from the Gold Coast of Africa. As those Africans were enslaved and brought into America, many of their tribal customs were passed down through generations living on South Carolina low country plantations along the coast. By the turn of the 20th century hundreds of thousands of emancipated slaves, called “geechie” – slang for people from the low country, had moved to Chicago and New York for economic opportunity. Their syncopated minstrel-style music of the 1890s became ragtime, blues and ultimately, jazz. The Jenkins Orphanage Band of Charleston performed on the streets of Harlem during the first decade of the 20th century and the description of their dance steps sounds very much like the modern-day Charleston.

In fact, the composer of the song “Charleston,” James P. Johnson, talked about his inspiration for the song.

The people who came to The Jungle Casino [Harlem] were mostly from around Charleston, S.C. They picked their [dance] partners with care that would give them a chance to get off. It was while playing for these Southern dancers that I composed a number of Charlestons, eight of them, all with the same dance rhythm. One of these later became my famous ‘Charleston’ when it hit Broadway.”

 Another Harlem piano player, Willie “the Lion” Smith recalled that “the kids from the Jenkins Orphanage Band of Charleston used to do Geechie steps when they were in New York on their yearly tour.”  What cannot be denied is that by the end of 1923 everybody in America was doing the Charleston.

Nothing else epitomizes the spirit and joyous exuberance of the 1920s as the Charleston. Other dance crazes have had their fifteen minutes of fame: the Waltz, the Tango, the Hokey-pokey, the Twist, the Hustle, the Macarena, and even Break dancing. None of them, however, managed to influence and infect an entire generation so thoroughly the way the Charleston did. Almost 100 years later, the image of the Jazz Age is always a Flapper doing the Charleston. No other American decade can be so neatly summed up in one simple image.

 Tin Pan Alley songwriters in New York quickly turned out hundreds of “Charleston” songs. Charleston contests became a regular part of Dance halls and hotels everywhere, from big cities to small towns. One of the most famous scenes in American cinema is the Charleston dancing contest in It’s A Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed falling into the swimming pool as the dance floor opens up. Hospitals across America began to admit patients complaining of “Charleston knee.”

Many non-dancing jobs of the day required black employees to be competent to dance or teach the Charleston in order to be hired. There were hundreds of advertisements in the New York papers looking for a waiter, a maid, a cook, or a gardener with the stipulation: “Must be able to Charleston!”

 16b. Charleston - Churns You Up - 28 March 1926However, not everyone was infected with Charleston fever. In London, sixty teachers of ballroom dancing were taught the “Charleston” in July 1925 and pronounced it “vulgar.” That is, until the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, learned it and performed it very skillfully in public. The Vicar of St. Aidan’s however, thought that “any lover of the beautiful will die rather than be associated with the Charleston. It is neurotic! It is rotten! It stinks! Phew, open the windows!”

In 1925, tragedy struck. The press found a physician in Seneca, Kansas, who claimed that “pretty Evelyn Myers,” age 17, had died of peritonitis brought on by dancing the Charleston too violently. Variety Magazine reported that in Boston, the vibrations of Charleston dancers were so strong that it caused the Pickwick Club to collapse, killing fifty of its patrons. The headline screamed:

 WAS THIS BUILDING STAMPED DOWN BY ‘CHARLESTON’ DANCERS? 

pickwick club_filtered

 More than 200 people – police, fireman and volunteers – worked for twenty hours digging through the rubble of the building to free the trapped victims. Following the catastrophe, the Boston mayor’s office issued an edict banning the Charleston from public dance-halls. Other cities followed suit, banning the dancing of the Charleston for safety reasons, but nothing could stop the Charleston stampede. The more the authorities preached against it, the more popular the Charleston became.

 Mayor Frank Borden, Jr, of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, outlawed the dance from the city-owned ballroom. He cited “broken shins” as his reason. “I have no objection to a person dancing their feet and head off, but I think it best that they keep away from the Charleston.” Richard Zober of Passaic, New Jersey also banned the Charleston in his town. “I think it would be safer and better for all concerned,” he said. An article syndicated by the International Feature Service read: 

“From coast to coast the ‘Charleston’ has caught the country swaying to its curious rhythm. No dance, since jazz first came into vogue, has created such a furor. Enthusiasts ecstatically stamp to its syncopated measures, while others, equally in earnest, denounce it. But the controversy that is carried on everywhere concerning this latest mania has failed to stem its tide of popularity. America is “Charleston” mad!” 

Emil Coleman, a famous orchestra leader, declared that the “Charleston” is “the most characteristically American of any of the modern dances whose peculiar accent in time is the musical expression of the native (black) temperament.” One female evangelist in Oregon called the Charleston “the first and easiest step toward hell.”

Some dance ballrooms gave up trying to discourage the frenetic Charleston all together and just posted large signs on the dance floor that read: PCQ – PLEASE CHARLESTON QUIETLY! 

CharlestonQuietly

Today In Charleston History: August 23

1770 – American Revolution – Foundations.
laurens

Henry Laurens

News arrived that Boston, New York and Philadelphia had joined Georgia and Rhode Island in breaking their agreements with the non-importation Association. Henry Laurens wrote:

I am so disappointed in my Expectations of several Colonies North … to their late important Resolutions that I am in a humour to disbelieve the Sincerity of the majority of all Politicians …

1783

Henry Laurens left the American treaty negotiations in Paris to travel to Vigan, France in order visit his ailing brother, James.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston.

That night, the Swamp Angel resumed shelling Charleston, on the thirty-sixth round the gun barrel blew up, the psychological threat remained real.