In 1896, Joel
Chandler Harris confessed: “So far as I know, ‘Bango’ is a meaningless term,
introduced on account of its sources ruggedness.” .(1)
However, “A story by an African descendant, ‘Dick the Negro’ quoted by John
Davis (1803-1881) describes another aspect of life before the American War of
Independence (1775-1783): I made my court to a wholesome girl who had
never bored [pierced] her ears, and went constantly to meeting … by
moonlight I used to play my ‘banger’ under her window, and sing a Guinea
love-song my mother had taught me.” (2)
This is “quoted in Epstein 1973:81)”. (3)
The author is referring to Sinful Tunes & Spirituals by Dena Epstein,
still an essential read to the blues historian.
On first glance,
as I presumed so with Harris, it would be a common enough understanding in the
English-speaking world to render ‘bango’ with a hard ‘g’. Including as it does
the word ‘bang’ associated with a loud noise or explosion. But the above
African tale definitely indicates a musical instrument, the ‘banger’ or banjo.
The latter was spelt dozens of different ways, and as well as Dick the Negro’s
‘banger’, also included ‘banza’, ‘banja’, ‘banza’, ‘bangoe’, etc. and ‘banjo’
itself appeared at least as early as 1774. (4)
Therefore the phrase in the song collected by Joel Chandler Harris which runs:
‘Up ‘n down de Bango’ refers to a player’s fingers running up and down the neck
of a banjo-fretless or otherwise; while serenading the current lady of his
A sketch from,
c. 1896 by A.B. Frost. Featured in Uncle Remus, Joel Chandler Harris -
Transcriptions by Max Haymes.
Website conversion of original transcript by Alan White.
Website © Copyright 2000-2012 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
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Max Haymes. All rights reserved.
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