Category Archives: Entertainment

Music hall, cabaret, dance hall

Bobeche et Galimafré

bobeche bladmuziek
‘Bobeche et Galimafré’ by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.

This cover shows two Parisian buffoons: Bobèche and Galimafré. It was illustrated by Barbizet in 1859. Even forty years after their successful performances, the pair remained popular in Paris. Bobèche (Antoine Mandelot) and Galimafré (Auguste Guérin) were paradistes or clowns who performed at the Boulevard du Temple in the first quarter of the 19th century.

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‘Bobèche et Galimafré au Boulevard du Temple’, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

At that time the Boulevard du Temple resembled a pleasure garden.  It was lined with theatres. Scattered over the vast expanse of the boulevard were a host of small shows: jugglers, paradistes, monkey showmen, dwarves, giants, skeleton men, strongmen, tightrope walkers and fortune tellers. They attracted a crowd day and night. In the middle, street vendors tried to sell their ware. A typical street vendor at the Boulevard du Temple was the marchand de coco. You can see one standing on the right of the print above. Coco was a lemonade containing liquorice extract. A coco vendor always wore a white apron and carried a large elongated container topped with a figurine to attract attention. He had several drinking cups strapped onto belts. We also see a coco vendor standing in the public at the buffoons’ show, depicted in this cartoon.

coco
“Daddy, Daddy! says Fanfan, let’s go see Bobèche and Galimafré who are slapping each other. Afterwards you can buy a coco to the health of Angel Pitou, the martyr of freedom.”

A contemporary oil painting also shows the acclaimed theatre performance by Bobèche and Galimafré. Can you pick out the obligatory coco vendor?

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Street theatre performance of Bobeche and Galimafre, c.1820 (oil on canvas) by Jean Roller, Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet

The Parisians nicknamed the Boulevard du Temple ‘Boulevard du Crime’, not because it was dangerous but to allude to the bloody melodramas playing in its theatres.

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An artistic impression of the Boulevard du Temple (1862).

A panoramic painting of the Boulevard du Temple illustrates the extent of the street. Have you spotted our coco man in this crowd? In the year this was painted (1862), almost all of it would be demolished by Baron Haussmann in order to enlarge the Place de la République during the rebuilding of Paris.

The Boulevard du Temple has been rebuilt in the studio for the legendary film Les Enfants du Paradis. In the fragment we see Baptiste Debureau (Jean-Louis Barrault) trying to get to Garance (Arletty) during carnival.

But let’s get back to Bobèche and Galimafré. As told before they were paradistes. A parade is a type of French street entertainment dating back to the renaissance with characters often drawn from the commedia dell’arte. In the first quarter of the 19th century it was a short improvisational buffoonery performed by two or three characters on a balcony outside the smaller theatres, or on outdoor platforms. The sketch was larded with crude humour, vulgarities, double entendres, sexual innuendos and obscene gestures. Slaps and punches enlivened the spectacle. Bobêche and Galimafré were the best-loved parade characters of this period. They always presented their jokes in the form of dialogues.

jocrisse
Jocrisse, by Juliano, published by O. Legouix, Paris in 1859 and illustrated by Antoine Barbizet.
Bobèche played the standard comedic character of a Jocrisse, the incarnation of stupidity and clumsiness. Bobèche was a city boy who wore colourful clothes, striped stockings and a cornered hat topped with a butterfly.

Galimafré would attract the crowd with a giant rattle. He was a tall lanky man, dressed in the costume of a Norman peasant. His wig’s hair was cut straight across the forehead. On top of that he wore a kind of bowler hat.

During twenty-some years Bobèche and Galimafré performed on the Boulevard du Temple but also in private salons. The fall of Napoleon also meant the end of the popular duo. Galimafré refused to perform for the ‘enemy’ and worked as a stage technician for the rest of his life. Bobèche became director of a small theatre in Rouen. But soon his theatre went bankrupt and nothing was heard of him since.

Arabella Fields – The Black Nightingale

Sheet Music, photo of Arabella Fields (Partions musicales, www.imagesmusicales.be)
Nach Zigeuner Art! music by Th. Wottitz, published by Josef Blaha in Vienna, 1910 – Photo of Arabella Fields.

Arabella (or Belle) Fields was an early Afro-American performer in Europe. From the 1890s to the 1920s she toured as The Black Nightingale. She was born in Philadelphia but added to her mystique by presenting herself alternately as an African, Red Indian, Indian, American, South American, German-African or an Australian. On this Austrian sheet music cover she presents herself as The Australian Nightingale. The song ‘Nach Zigeuner Art’ (In Gypsy Style) was her greatest success.

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Arabella Fields, an exotic sight to her German audience, was also known to perform as the South-American Caruso. She had a beautiful contralto singing voice and was recorded prior to the First World War in Berlin. Max Chop, a contemporary music critic, described her voice like this: ‘On top of this month’s record list is a vocal phenomenon which remains a mystery to me. I would have classified her straight away as a regular tenor with baritonal colouring, had not the label informed me that it is actually the contralto of Miss Belle Fields, a coloured lady from Philadelphia. I listened to the songs again and again. Indeed at certain times, during the piano of the falsetto towards the upper notes, I thought I heard something like a female resemblance. But then again there were the deep tones of the small octave, and then my natural response was again and again: “But it ought to be a male, after all’!’
You can decide for yourself on Arabella’s voice quality by listening to this 1907 recording of Because I love you

Arabella Fields lived in Germany. She always opened her concerts with a few English songs, soon switching to her German repertoire. This amazed and revelled her audience. Contemporary reviews make it clear that she was much admired. Perhaps this success was due to the fact that Belle Fields adapted Tyrolean folklore. She even yodelled and she dressed accordingly in a dirndl, a historical dress of Alpine peasants.

Arabella Fields
Arabella Fields in Tirolean attire.

She was not the only Afro-American artist to adapt the Tyrolean style: the Four Black Diamonds dressed up in Lederhosen or leather shorts.

The Four Black Diamonds, 1906
The Four Black Diamonds, 1906

Next to singing, Arabella Fields acted in a few silent movies and at least in one sound film, Baroud (1933). This was the first and last talkie by the renowned director Rex Ingram. Arabella Fields plays the role of Mabrouka, the heroine’s servant. As was the custom then, she was stereotyped as an overweight, sharp-tongued, black mammy (a racist stereotype featured in a previous post).

The Mammy Stereotype

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The sheet music for Coal-Black Mammy (Francis, Day and Hunter, London, 1921).
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The cast of the Co-Optmists revue at the Palace Theatre of London. Author Laddie Cliff stands third from the right.

Coal-Black Mammy was written by comedian Laddie Cliff and composed by actress and singer Ivy St. Hellier in 1921. Although the author was born in Bristol (UK), he adapted the American South’s archetypical Mammy for the successful ‘Co-Optimists’ London revue.

A photograph of author Laddie Cliff when young, and the obituary in the Glasgow Herald
A photograph of author Laddie Cliff when young, and his obituary in the Glasgow Herald of 1937.

The Co-Optimists revue combined in its name two political keywords of the time, optimism and co-operation.  It was a sequence of short sketches, performed by musical comedy and variety artists dressed in pierrot costumes. The show ran for six years at the London Palace Theatre and went on tour along British seaside resorts.

View of the Palace Theatre across Cambridge Circus, London, 1910
View of the Palace Theatre across Cambridge Circus, London, 1910

In 1929 it was made into a film, co-directed by Laddie Cliff. A filmed extract from the stage musical brings the photo on the sheet music cover literally to life.

Salabert published Coal-Black Mammy in France and Roger de Valerio illustrated its cover. Mammy characters were a staple of minstrel shows, so they were certainly known in Europe at that time.

Partition illustrée par R. de Valerio
‘Coal-Black Mammy’, illustrated by Roger de Valerio (Francis Salabert, Paris, 1921)

But, in picturing the mother with her own baby de Valerio proves that he did not correctly grasp the Southern archetypical meaning of the Black Mammy. Unlike the happy mother on the cover, she did not have time to care for her own children. The Mammy in these shows and comedies is a racist stereotype: usually an overweight, large-breasted, maternal woman. Moreover she is a neat and clean, domestic, non threatening to white people, and always busy attending to the needs of the master’s children. She is the one person on whom all (white people) depend when in need.

American illustrator Dorothy Dullin on the other hand, understood perfectly well how to draw a Mammy for the cover of the 1922 song Carolina Mammy: the Mammy is nurturing a white boy.

‘Carolina Mammy’, cover illustrated by Dorothy Dullin (Publications Francis-Day, Paris, 1922).

The two songs mentioned above were also performed by black face par excellence, Al Jolson. In 1927 Walter Donaldson composed the ultimate Mammy song for the film The Jazz Singer: My Mammy. The song became a classic in Al Jolson’s version. For the French edition of the song the illustrator Deléage made a strong caricature of Al Jolson’s black face character.

‘My Mammy’, sheet music cover illustrated by L. R. Deléage (Publications Raoul Breton, Paris, 1929).

The persistent Mammy stereotype extended well into the twentieth century in literature, films and TV series. In the cartoon Scrub me Mamma with a Boogie Beat from 1941, we see another archetypical image of the Black Mammy, kerchief on her head. Of course the entire cartoon is the epitome of stereotyping: black men living in Lazytown, doing nothing else than, well… being lazy. It is only when a sexy light-skinned woman appears, that they jump into action  to dance and play their instruments.

Or to say it with a good old sheet music cover…

Lazin', Sheet music (Lazin', partition illustrée)
‘Lazin’, composed by Charles Tovey (illustrator unknown, Lawrence Wright, London, 1934).