Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World

From the August-September 1884 issue of S. S. Stewart’s Guitar and Banjo Journal (PDF):

S. S. Stewart endorsement by Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World

Source is via University of Rochester.

Biography of Horace Weston at the Library of Congress:

Horace Weston (1825-90), was one of the biggest stars of the minstrel stage during its heyday in the late 19th century, along with James Bland, Billy Kersands, and Sam Lucas. A freeborn black from Connecticut and a virtuoso banjo player, he started with Buckley’s Serenaders in 1863, but spent most of his career with the Georgia Minstrels. In 1873 he became the first black performer featured in a special role when he toured overseas in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Late in his career, he performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey (Circus) Greatest Show on Earth.

One of Weston’s principal champions was Samuel Swain Stewart, a proponent of the banjo, who published pieces by Weston and other banjo players. Among Weston’s compositions are: “Horace Weston’s Home Sweet Home,” “Horace Weston’s New Schottische,” “Horace Weston’s Old-Time Jig,” “The Egyptian Fandango,” and “Weston’s Great Minor Jig.”

And over on the Library of Congress site for sheet music, here’s an 1883 composition by Weston that is an incredibly early publication for a black American composer, way way before its time:

Weston's great minor jig

6 replies on “Horace Weston, Champion Banjoist of the World”

I’m really fascinated by this guy. I’ve been learning that piece above and it’s really sophisticated in some ways. For example, in bar 13 there’s a C# minor with a major 7, in the key of C! Also the rhythmic phrasing in the A section is subtle and unusual for the time, 10 years before the bare beginnings of ragtime.

I looked up another piece of his, “Egyptian Fandango,” and it turns out to be ultra simple, very southern gothic and morbid, elegantly balanced in the arrangement, and again with an unusually ragtime sense of rhythm.

And this was not long after slavery, whites treat blacks like animals, but Weston’s picture is completely respectful and dignified.

So, then I got interested in the personal story of S. S. Stewart and cyberstalked him a bit. He comes across as a super decent guy.

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