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Black Sideshow Minstrels of Nashville: Jerri Jackson and the Hi Steppers of 1952 R&B Rock and Roll





The High Steppers of 52!  The unknown sideshow photographer kept good notes too.  Seldom does a photograph caption squeeze in so much information.  However, the real story isn't the Cetlin and Wilson Shows mentioned.  It is the remarkable all African-American cast and crew bringing hot music and dancing to the greater community at a time when the races hardly met.

Here, the High Steppers are performing in Heidelberg, Pennsylvania.  Over 60 years later the population of Heidelberg is still 98% white.  The kids watching the show had probably never seen anything like it.

The traveling troupe was organized by Jerrie Jackson, shown here in a photograph from the Country Music Hall of Fame collection.  Country?  Jerrie Jackson was based in Nashville.  Ground zero for white country music.  Still, there was an active R&B scene in Nashville, and the book A Shot in the Dark: Making Records in Nashville briefly mentions Mr. Jackson's work on the very first release from the legendary Excello Record label.  The disc is credited to Willie Lee Patton and "The Charlie Dowell Orchestra" but Martin Hawkins suggests he was really using the Jerrie Jackson Revue as his musicians.  Dowell was a tap dancer in the HI / High Steppers and Wilie Lee Patton was in the chorus.  

The best source for the High Steppers story is an obscure book The Sound of Applause by Audrey Taylor Henry.  Her book claims to be "A History of Medieval and Modern Outdoor Entertainment Forms Introducing Three African-American Showmen" but it is even more.  The author had numerous personal connections to the High Stepper members, and she shares stories about an extended black family who grew up on the circuit.

The book has an odd format.  Chapters are followed by "quiz questions" as in a textbook. She also has an extensive glossary of carnival terms.  A surprising number have African-American roots.  These include dance forms such as Krumping, Mess Around, Poppin',  Snake Hips and the Tack Annie.  Even those in the trade referred to the act as a "jig" show. 

Jerri Jackson was born in Georgia in 1907. He learned piano and performed with his church choir, but he likely didn't perform any gospel with the High Steppers Act. Exotic dancers seldom perform in church.  He paid his performers well.  Members received 50 dollars a week, and in the off seasons were also employed to perform in "ethnic" clubs and the Bijou Theatre in Nashville.  He was referred to as the local impresario in Nashville and was active booking and producing acts in the Theater Owners Booking Association which catered to black audiences.

Mr. Jackson's first colored revue was known as The Hip Cats Minstrel Review active in the 1940s. 

Billboard Magazine reported in 1951 that "Jerri Jackson's Hi Steppers and the Divena, underwater strip tease show were the leading money earners" in Macon, Ga.

The High Steppers touring stage had signs reading "Rock "N" Roll Special Midnight Ramble" and "Rock 'N Roll with Jerry Jackson's High Steppers" back when the phrase had hardly emerged.  In Levon Helm's biography, he credits a similar act known as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels as an influence.   

Black showmen operating in the Jim Crow era have not received the attention they deserve.  The massive Bear Family box set Nashville Jumps, Blues & Rhythm 1945 - 1955 is a good start. Black in Blackface: A sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows by Henry Sampson is too. 
 

Yes, there were black minstrel shows without white performers in black face.  Here is another.

Original Photograph Collection Jim Linderman

Vintage Figural Croquet Game Wicket Folk Art



Vintage Figural Croquet Wicket Folk Art.  22" tall.  Victory Products, Muskegon Michigan.  No Date (circa 1935 - 1940?)  Original paint.  Collection Jim Linderman

Ted Terry and the Sawtooth Range Riders Travel to New York on a Bull Named Hitler



Ted Terry started out as someone else.  He was born Dallas Edgman but GIVEN to a family in Canada!  I had no idea one could give away their children back then.  Dallas became Ted, and he eventually became a member of the Sawtooth Range Riders, a rodeo group who performed on the radio.

In 1937 he and a few band members accepted a $500 bet from a casino owner that he could ride a bull to New York.
 
The bull he rode over 3,000 miles had two names too.  Originally named "Ohadi" which is the reverse of Idaho, the beast seems to have acquired the name "Hitler" on the road.  Also on the trip was Skipper the dog, Silver Sally the aging pack horse and other members of the Sawtooth boys.  They covered an average of 12 miles a day.  The crew reached Times Square in 1940 and won the bet.

There are several entries on the adventure, but one comes from The Backyard Cow: An Introductory Guide to Keeping a Productive Family Cow by Sue Weaver.  I'd not ever have learned of the book if it weren't for Hitler Ohadi the Bull.

A ten minute youtube film featuring band member H.G. Wood follows. His amazing photographs document a long lost Western America as well as the amazing trip. The film was produced as part of the Phd work of Janine Curry.

Real Photo Postcard of Ted Terry and The Range Riders.  Circa 1938 Collection Jim Linderman  

Jumbo the Elephant has a Drink and Goes to the Opera







There was a real Jumbo (original name, Mumbo Jumbo) who passed away in 1885.  Later, Jumbo became Dumbo, a slur created by Disney.  Elephants aren't dumb.  This Jumbo represented thread from the Clark's O.N.T. Thread Company.  I don't believe Jumbo was paid for his endorsement.  Kerr's thread company borrowed the Pachyderm as well.

Love During Wartime Hand-painted Duffel Bag with Pinup



Pacific Theater Duffel Bag with painted by hand with Pinup.  Circa 1945.
Collection Jim Linderman
From the continuing series Love During Wartime on Dull Tool Dim Bulb

Below Average Folk Art Calligraphy on a Trade Card




It looks like the young Gregg boy is practicing his calligraphy on the job...and he swoons for Sarah.
19th Century Trade Card with calligraphy and animal drawings.
Collection Jim Linderman

Antique Shaking Hands Memory Help Sewing Card


Shaking Hands Memory Help Sewing Card, unfinished.  Printed "child's work" template. Cook Publishing 1909.  Elgin, Illinois.  Collection Jim Linderman. 

Underwater Ballet Vernacular Photograph


"Vicki" takes an air break.  Original snapshot, no date, circa 1960.  Thanks to BOX LOT on Facebook.

Folk Art Wood Loiterer circa 1920 Real Photo Postcard


Folk Art guard named "Sourdough" watches over the shop. 
Real Photo Postcard c. 1920 Seattle  Scenic Photo Publishing Co.
Collection Jim Linderman

The Hand Painted Signs of Joe Light, Memphis TN Southern Folk Artist Original Photographs by Jim Linderman







Joe Light was an African-American man from Tennessee, but he called himself an American Jew.  He spoke his views to the neighborhood by messages posted on his house and shop.  Later, he was encouraged to paint.  Small works are seen mounted on his antique shop, and a number of paintings owned by the Souls Grown Deep collection can be seen here
Original Photographs of Joe Light Environment c. 1993 by Jim Linderman

Cyanotype Machines of Blue






 
Did you know restaurant menus NEVER use blue ink? It is because blue has been shown to decrease the appetite. Think about it. From the Waffle House all the way to the Four Seasons, every shade of bright, vibrant and fresh appears, but blue is a no-no.

in 1842 Sir John Herschel invented the cyanotype, but it was a woman named Anna Atkins who turned it into an art. In one of the most arcane activities I can imagine, and for some curious reason, Dame Atkins decided to collect algae and save them by laying each on light-sensitized paper, creating some 400 images which were published in the first book of photographs. So the very first photograph book was not only published by a woman, it was composed entirely of blue photographs of seaweed. Only 17 copies exist today.

Cyanotypes must be the least expensive photography technique, as the once ubiquitous "blueprints" used by architects and home builders were cyanotypes.


The most extraordinary property of the cyanotype is it's regenerative behavior.
Like a starfish with an arm torn off, they come back! They lose their blue easily, but if a faded cyanotype photograph is stored in a dark environment, a good deal of the original color will return like magic. Maybe we should print money in blue?

Pages from an unidentified book of industrial cyanotypes, no cover or date.  Circa 1920 
Collection Jim Linderman

Liz Renay Bizarre Outsider Artist and Mob Gun Moll


Any artist admired by John Waters is at the very least interesting, he being an informed, if unconventional collector.  This HAS to be especially true if the painter happens to be a former gun moll, showgirl and self-admitted lover of 2,000 men. Her autobiography was titled My First 2,000 Men and while I haven't read it, I believe her. She had two week long marriage at age 15. It set the pattern, but she survived.
Ms. Renay lived a rich life.  She knew and consorted with Mobster Mickey Cohen, and she loved him, I guess.  At least, she loved him enough to help him launder some money which came up during the investigation of the murder of mobster Albert Anastasia.  That is not a small time gangster. That is a gangster when they were bigger than General Motors.  Anastasia was said to have been done in by Crazy Joe Gallo.
 
Liz passed away on January 22, 2007.
One of the best ways to remember Pearl Elizabeth Dobbins, her real name, would be to appreciate the fabulously goofy outsider art paintings she created. There aren't enough paintings by showgirls.

 
Unlike most self-taught naives, Liz eventually went from obscure to big time, finally achieving a major show at adventurous and prestigious art gallery Deitch Projects in New York.  Art snobs like to say an artist's background doesn't have anything to do with their artistic esthetics, painterly qualities and such, but I think Deitch knew a good story when he saw one.

The magnificent exhibition of paintings was put together by the Burlesque Hall of Fame and Deitch. Not only are they huge in scale and scope, they are bizarre and that's great.  That whole "Low-Brow" art movement owes her a debt. The installation was a few years ago, but let's help it keep making some news. It is said she painted 150 works.

View the show HERE, which was installed with numerous objects from her career.  Her work, which sold for a few grand in the 1960s is holding firm...see one for sale at 15 grand HERE

Deitch Projects is HERE. Burlesque Hall of Fame is HERE, and the images are theirs.  A nice slide show also appears HERE on artnet.
My First 2,000 Men is HERE.   

The Horrible Gag Cartoons of Anonymous








The Horrible Gag Cartoons of Anonymous.  Circa 1960.  Collection Jim Linderman

Lair of the Goatman



Free Thinking Christian Mission Headquarters of Chess McCartney the Goatman.  Your call...
Original Postcard dated on reverse 1957.  Jefferson County, Georgia.  
Collection Jim Linderman

GINGY and his Friends!




It's GINGY and his friends.   Thanks and a tip of a Gingy hat to Shannon Regan.

Folk Art Embroidery Pair Risque Man and Woman with Trapunto Butts



Trapunto is the technique of padding sections of a textile to create a puffy, stuffed decorative feature.  These "morning ritual" padded butts qualify!  Matching hand towels.  Man holds razor, woman a powder puff.  Circa 1950.  Collection Jim Linderman