Edwin P. Christy, Esq., the Originator of Ethiopian Minstrelsy.
Is sweetest, far, on the ear that falls."
Thus sings the sweet lyric poet, Samuel Lover, and the sentiment finds a ready responsive echo in every heart and in every nation which is alive to truth, patriotism and feeling. Whether the native strains are awakened by the voice, the viol, the guitar, harp, bagpipe, or the banjo, they each alike exercise the same perpetual and eternal charm upon the soul; whilst their authors, or those who have the honor of developing and diffusing their inspiring power, are justly hailed as the benefactors of mankind!
After our countrymen had, by the force of native genius in arts, arms, science, philosophy and poetry, &c., confuted the stale cant of our European detractors, that nothing original could emanate from Americans — the next cry was, that we had no native music; which exclamation was tauntingly reiterated, until our countrymen found a triumphant, vindicating Apollo in the genius of E. P. Christy, who, possessing a soul responsive to
EDWIN P. CHRISTY was born in the fair city of Philadelphia, in the year 1815, his parents ranking amongst the most respectable residents of the famed city of "Brotherly Love." At the age of ten years, the state of his health rendered a change of air necessary; and his parents, at the suggestion of some friends who were in business at New Orleans, consented to his removal to that city, where, recovering his health, and possessing a remarkable proficiency in education for a youth of his years, he was placed as a clerk in a mercantile house: but a youth of his romantic temperament was, very naturally, more fond of the book of nature
vithan the day-book of the counting-house; and being permitted to pay frequent visits to the Menagerie of Messrs. Purdy & Welch, he became infatuated with a desire to see a little more of "the animal," and after wringing a slow leave, he was suffered to engage with those gentlemen, under whose protection he made a tour through all the Southern States, adding no little to his stature, as well as to his knowledge of music, men and things.
Immediately on his return to New Orleans, he was again received into the house of his former employers. Our hero now assumed the new position of superintendent of a ropewalk, one of the duties of which was to overlook the operations of a number of slaves engaged in it; and it was to this capacity that he acquired his superior knowledge of the negro characteristics, traits, humor and melody which his observant genius has since turned to such golden account.
At this time it was the custom of the "darkies" to hold their holiday meetings at a spot known as "CONGO GREEN," where, amid their mirth, music, dance and festivity, he, with the soul of an artist, and the tact of a student of nature's eccentricities, amassed those rich stores of entertainment which have long stamped him as the most truthful and pleasing delineator of Ethiopian humor and melody.
In 1832, Mr. Christy's love of varying the phases of life placed him in the extensive Circus Caravan of MESSRS. PURDY, WELCH & DELAVAN, with whom he travelled and performed for a number of years, and proved a great card, being celebrated as a negro melodist, punster and singer; and subsequently his genius soared from the glimpses of the sawdust to the legitimate boards of Thespis, and he became a member of the Eagle Street Theatre, Buffalo, under the management of Messrs. DEAN & MCKINNEY, in which he acquired immense popularity as a BUFFO VOCALIST, and made rapid advances as an ACTOR.
But his passionate love for music, and his thorough appreciation of the beauties of Ethiopian melody, turned his talents again to that subject; and in 1841 he conceived his glorious plan of organising the FIRST BAND of ETHIOPIAN MINSTRELS, the members of which, independent of their proficiency on their several instruments, should possess sufficient science and practical skill in music to enable them to harmonise and SCORE systematically the original NEGRO SOLOS, quartettes, chorus and concerted pieces, and play and sing them with true precision and effect.
Every person at all versed in musical matters will acknowledge this to be such an undertaking as would try the powers of any Director of a Grand Opera — a task as original as difficult, demanding a correct taste, true musical science, inexhaustible patience, and no inconsiderable expenditure; yet by our friend Christy, this great plan was accomplished, and with what results, thousands, ay, millions of admiring auditors have TOLD throughout the land.
Subsequently Mr. Christy, the pioneer in Negro Minstrelsy, with his unrivalled Band, visited almost every city in the United States and the Canadas, eliciting everywhere the spontaneous praise of the public and the press, while his deportment and talent as a business man, vocalist or gentleman, have invariably made him welcome in the best circles.
In 1846, Mr. Christy established himself in the great city of
viiNew York, and opened at Palmo's Opera House, now Burton's Theatre, with a series of his matchless Ethiopian performances; and since that period he has rendered various other edifices noted "TO A CHARM," and realized a fame and fortune unequalled in the annals of the WORLD'S MINSTRELSY. Who has not heard of CHRISTY'S OPERA HOUSE? Whilst the numerous and stupendous Italian Opera enterprises have successively burst like bubbles on the tide of the times, and various Ethiopian organizations, with their innumerable appellations, have expired like so many ephemera, CHRISTY'S OPERA has maintained its onward and upward course, prospering and to prosper.
Although our hero forsook the counting-house for the more congenial pursuit of Minstrelsy, he did not forget his clerkship; and whilst he noted up, he also carefully noted down, on the proper ledger lines, a scale of his receipts and expenses. If further proof is needed of his progressive prosperity, here are the FACTS in FIGURES, showing the moderate receipts of the first year, and comparing them with the enormous increase in the last: —
|Year.||No. of Concerts.||Receipts.|
His first year's profits, in 1842, were less than $300, while, in others, they have been over $25,000.
One saw so much of E. P. Christy, "in public, on the stage," and so little of him socially and in private life, that we know but little of his private character. His purse, now well lined, is known to be ever open to the calls of the distressed.
Besides all this, he has set half of the world singing and merry. From Canada to California the air is vocal with his varied melodies. In the drawing-room, counting-house, cottage and camp — in the plantation and palace — in the street, saloon, and sabbath-school — his airs are the preludes or finales to all operations; and so long as a heart beats time, responsive to "OLD FOLKS AT HOME," the name of E. P. Christy will endure as THE SOLE FOUNDER OF AMERICAN MINSTRELSY.