US professor claims Jingle Bells has racist background because it was first performed in blackface.
‘The legacy of ‘Jingle Bells’ is one where its blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history,’ wrote Kyna Hamill, a Boston University theater historian, in a research paper that is making waves, writes Daily Mail.
The claim has shocked fans of one of the world’s most famous Christmas carols, long considered inoffensive.
Hamill began researching the origins of Jingle Bells to help settle a dispute between Medford, Massachusetts and Savannah, Georgia – both of which claim to be the place where James Lord Pierpont composed the song.
In the course of her research, Hamill discovered a playbill indicating that Jingle Bells was first performed under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in blackface, for a minstrel show at Ordway Hall on Boston’s Washington Street in 1857.
She wrote that traces of the song’s blackface minstrel origins can be found in the music and lyrics, as well as the ‘elements of “male display,” boasting, and the unbridled behavior of the male body onstage’.
‘Its origins emerged from the economic needs of a perpetually unsuccessful man, the racial politics of antebellum Boston, the city’s climate, and the intertheatrical repertoire of commercial blackface performers moving between Boston and New York,’ Hamill wrote in her paper.
No offence intended
Her claims attracted furious reaction from some who see them as an attack on Christmas traditions.
She has since responded that her research had been misinterpreted.
‘In 1857 when it was performed in blackface — that is white men blackening up with burnt cork on their faces — it would have been racist,’ she told the Boston Herald.
‘I never said it was racist now,’ said Hamill. ‘Nowhere did I say that.’
‘My point was that because it is now included in the Christmas catalogue of songs — attention is only given to it during the Christmas season — it has eluded rigorous study,’ she said.
Hamill insisted that she wasn’t telling people not to sing Jingle Bells, and that her research had been blown out of proportion.
‘I did not write the article to make people upset. At no point have I ever made a claim on what people should or should not sing at Christmas,’ she said.
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