Thursday, August 25, 2011

German-American Comedy Songs on the National Jukebox

The National Jukebox, a project of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, is now online providing access to more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Included in this treasure trove of historical and cultural materials are ethnic or dialect recordings that sought to entertain the American public through the use of characters or elements reflecting "attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs associated with ethnic and regional groups at the time the selections were written and performed." Among these we find quite a few recordings of a German-American nature, with performers employing "an exaggerated broken-English dialect infused with German pronunciation, syntax, words, and phrases." The National Jukebox Web site alerts us that dialect recordings (particularly those associated with African Americans) contain "characterizations [that] may utilize outmoded and offensive stereotypes of nationalities, religions, or races." Although the German-American recordings might be a challenge to follow due to the thick "accents," the representations are fairly light-hearted, featuring folks who are "stout, good-natured, musical, hard-working, slow-witted, and frumpy. . . , fond of beer, pretzels, sauerkraut, sausages, and small elongated dogs."

According to Prof. James Leary of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, dialect recordings associated with German Americans (or the "Dutch" as the English of the 18th and 19th centuries referred to anyone from a wide range of Germanic regions) entertained and appealed to both German-American audiences and mainstream Americans.

Take some time to listen to comic songs, skits, and recitations such as "The Germans' Arrival," "Hans Krausmeyer and His Dog Schneider," "Krausmeyer's Wedding Party," "Louisa Schmidt," "Fritz and Louisa," "The Happy German Twins," and "It Takes the Irish to Beat the Dutch." Some of these recordings may also be found and listened to by searching for "German dialect" or "Dutch dialect" on the Cylinder Project site at University of California-Santa Barbara .

You may also wish to read Prof. Leary's paper, "Dialect Songs among the Dutch" [PDF] and listen to audio samples associated with the work:

And to examine German-American ethnic stereotypes through cartoon images found on popular postcards in the 20th century, see:

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