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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Irwin Russell (1853–1879)

The Origin of the Banjo

From “Christmas Night in the Quarters”

GO ’way, fiddle! folks is tired o’ hearin’ you a-squawkin’;

Keep silence fur yo’ betters!—don’t you heah de banjo talkin’?

About de ’possum’s tail she’s gwine to lecter—ladies, listen—

About de ha’r whut isn’t dar, an’ why de ha’r is missin’.

“Dar’s gwine to be a oberflow,” said Noah, lookin’ solemn—

Fur Noah tuk de Herald, an’ he read de ribber column—

An’ so he sot his hands to wuk a-cl’arin’ timber patches,

An’ ’lowed he’s gwine to build a boat to beat the steamah Natchez.

Ol’ Noah kep’ a-nailin’ an’ a-chippin’ an’ a-sawin’;

An’ all de wicked neighbors kep’ a-laughin’ an’ a-pshawin’,

But Noah didn’t min’ ’em, knowin’ whut wuz gwine to happen,

An’ forty days an’ forty nights de rain it kep’ a-drappin’.

Now, Noah had done cotched a lot ob ebry sort o’ beas’es;

Ob all de shows a-trabbelin’, it beat ’em all to pieces!

He had a Morgan colt an’ seb’ral head o’ Jarsey cattle,

An’ druv ’em ’board de Ark as soon’s he heered de thunder rattle.

Den sech anoder fall ob rain!—it come so awful hebby

De ribber riz immejitly, an’ busted troo de lebbee;

De people all wuz drowned out—’cep’ Noah an’ de critters,

An’ men he’d hired to wuk de boat, an’ one to mix de bitters.

De Ark she kep’ a-sailin’ an’ a-sailin’ an’ a-sailin’;

De lion got his dander up, an’ like to bruk de palin’;

De sarpints hissed; de painters yelled; tell whut wid all de fussin’

You c’u’dn’t hardly heah de mate a-bossin’ ’roun’ an’ cussin’.

Now Ham, de only nigger whut wuz runnin’ on de packet,

Got lonesome in de barber-shop an’ c’u’dn’t stan’ de racket;

An’ so, fur to amuse hisse’f, he steamed some wood an’ bent it,

An’ soon he had a banjo made—de fust dat was invented.

He wet de ledder, stretched it on; made bridge, an’ screws, an’ aprin,

An’ fitted in a proper neck—’twuz berry long an’ tap’rin’.

He tuk some tin, an’ twisted him a thimble fur to ring it;

An’ den de mighty question riz, how wuz he gwine to string it?

De ’possum had as fine a tail as dis dat I’s a-singin’;

De ha’rs so long an’ thick an’ strong—des fit fur banjo-stringin’;

Dat nigger shabed ’em off as short as washday-dinner graces;

An’ sorted ob ’em by de size, f’om little E’s to bases.

He strung her, tuned her, struck a jig—’twuz “Nebber min’ de wedder”;

She soun’ like forty-leben bands a-playin’ all togedder.

Some went to pattin’, some to dancin’; Noah called de figgers,

An’ Ham he sot an’ knocked de tune, de happiest ob niggers!

Now, sence dat time it’s mighty strange dere’s not de slightes’ showin’

Ob any ha’r at all upon de ’possum’s tail a-growin’;

An’ curi’s, too, dat nigger’s ways: his people nebber los’ ’em—

Fur whar you finds de nigger, dar’s de banjo an’ de ’possum.