23 March 2007

Playing the Guitar, 1910-15

Wandering about this morning and this image stopped me in my tracks.

This is from a little online exhibition called “Real Photo Postcards: African Americans”.

One would guess from the period that he is a blues man, but I suppose this is just an assumption. He appears to be playing in an open tuning, which was common in the blues.

One thing is certain though, with his highly dignified air and sartorial authority, he is no penny-a-time street singer. No Robert Johnson, in other words, with his natty threads and cigarette dangling insolently from his pursed lip.

The guitar, for one thing, is in good condition. It would have been an inexpensive model, the sort of thing that could be ordered through the mail. Without it, he could have passed for a Minister or mid-level businessman.

A curious detail is the date, given as 1910-15. This was a good five years before jazz and blues began to be commercially recorded, though plenty of men and women who looked like this (and a good deal worse) could be found all over the southern United States plying their trade by this time. It’s interesting, but portraits of musicians look almost identical to this right up until about 1940.

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