Brain Pickings

Rare Early Photographs of Musicians Around the World

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Playing the hurdy-gurdy, or why African-American jazz bands were banned in Australia until 1954.

Music is one of humanity’s oldest and strongest forms of social glue, yet our collective memory has retained precious little of music’s communal history outside the Western tradition and before the days of rock concerts. Collected here are some fascinating archival images of music-making from around the world and across time, culled from several excellent Flickr sets compiled by musician Sam Bennett.

Quartet of Musicians in Meiji-era Japan

Okinawa Soba posted several CC licensed stereoimages by T. Enami and others documenting life in late 19th and early 20th century Japan (the Meiji period). The original image, circa 1901 and by an unknown photographer, is presented for parallel viewing and depicts a quartet of Japanese musicians. It is but one of many fascinating stereo compositions. This animated gif version exploits motion parallax to give a stereo illusion without eyestrain, to see what the photographer envisioned.

Dancing Dervishes, Cairo

Half of a stereoview (NPG, Berlin ca. 1910)

Village orchestra of Ruthenian and Jewish musicians

Verecke, Bereg County, 1895

Chinese band postcard

Hari Dasu, India. c. 1900?

Hand captioned 'Indian Juggler,' but subsequently identified as Hari Dasu

Egypt

NYPL photographs and prints of Egypt and Syria

Hungary

Photograph by Buchsbaum Gyula - Debrecen

Mexican picnic

Photo by Hugo Brehme, Mexico, D.F.

Street musicians

Photograph shows two men, sitting on bales of hay and playing instruments outside a barn or stable. One man plays guitar and the other plays a bowed instrument similar to a cello; both men simultaneously play kazoos.

Real photo postcard

Verso reads: 'This is myself and my youngest brother Bert. We had our heads clipped and then shaved and look like old men. The side view is my self.'

Fi. Musician? (LOC), ca. 1910-1915

Street musician playing a hurdy-gurdy

St. Marks Place

Photograph by James Jowers, 1968

The Colored Idea Band of Sonny Clay arrives in Sydney, 1928 / Sam Hood

The band entered Sydney Harbour playing their newly composed 'Australian Stomp' on deck, with their dancers performing. After good reviews, the Truth newspaper organised for the band to be raided. They were found with Australian women and deported. African American bands were banned from visiting until 1954. The Library has photographs of the Louis Armstrong tour, the first Afro-American entertainer to visit after the ban was lifted, and of the Harlem Blackbirds in 1955, the first Afro-American group to visit.

For more archival fascination, be sure to see these collections of vintage photographs of ballet dancers from the 1930s-1950s, lantern slides of Egypt in the early 1900s, and hand-colored images of life in early-20th-century Japan.

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