The Black Roots of Vaudeville
By Lalenja Harrington and Sule Greg Wilson
Directed by Andrea J. Dymond
At the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago
Toe-tapping and hand-clapping musical treat depicts the Black roots of Vaudeville.
The Old Town School of Folk Music has finally commissioned and produced a terrific musical revue – Keep A Song In Your Soul. This is a slick journey through the roots of both vaudeville and the African-American musical experience. Structured as a narrative that explains Black history from 1830 to 1930 with emphasis on the Great Migration Era of 1910-1930, Keep A Song In Your Soul is a tuneful expose on American country, blue grass, work songs & chants, gospel, ragtime and jazz styles that shaped 20th Century vaudeville shows.
We hear historic traditional songs: “Chair Dance,” ” Turkey In the Straw,” “Raise A Ruckus, ” “Run Nigger Run” and “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” among others. Played by Folk String Band and sung by, among others, the golden voiced Rhiannon Giddens, as Country Girl, this revue is a composite musical history of Black music from slave days through the Harlem Renaissance (1910-1930). There is terrific piano work from Reginald Robinson, outstanding banjo work from Dominique Flemons. Katherine Davis wails her blues tunes with deft emotions while Sule Greg Wilson plays percussion, dances and tells stories. Reggio “The Hoofer” McLaughlin slides and glides into country hoedowns. waltzed, two-steps and rheumatic tap number in the best tradition of Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.
From the Chitlin Circuit to the Reconstruction, the advent of the Gilded Age, the Ragtime Era, the birth of Coon Songs, Tin Pan Alley to the Jazz Age, they are all depicted and gloriously sung and danced with manic energy, deep-felt emotions and spirited honesty. From tunes like “Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight, ” to the traditional song “It’s A Good Thing” to the heart wrenching “Listen Lord,” this revue becomes a wonderful, uplifting and insightful journey to a part of the American Experience few Blacks and most whites aren’t aware of. As entertainment, Keep A Song In Your Soul is a rare gem that needs to be seen to fully appreciate. The voices and the musicianship here is amazing. This shows sure needs a longer run than this weekend. Get to the Old Town School of Folks Music on or before Sunday, November 6, 2011 to see this fabulous show!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 3, 2011
At the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-728-6000, tickets $41- $43- $45, Friday Nov. 4 at 8 pm, Saturday, Nov. 5 at 3 & 8 pm, Sunday, Nov. 6 at 7 pm, running time is 1 hour, 55 minutes with intermission, through November 6, 2011