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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.

Do you love the good old Christmas carols?

Share your comments below.

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  • Why drag up what supposedly happened back in 1857? To draw attention to herself? Lets look to the future, not back to the ancient past.

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  • I do think you can think too hard about little things.

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  • I love some Christmas carols/songs – both traditional and modern carols/songs and others are not such favourites.

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  • I agree with Saffron’s comment.

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  • yeah but this is just for 15 mins of fame really, come off it! people are so sensitive these days and that is the real crime! lol

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  • “…it has eluded rigorous study,’ Spoken like a true academic with too much time on her hands and wanting to draw attention to herself with a trivial little fact that makes no difference in the big scheme of things. Someone who blackened up their face over 100 years ago first sang the song. Earth shattering stuff.

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  • Good grief – the world has gone mad – every day we read or hear of something else that is considered racist or deemed improper. I for one will be singing Jingle Bells loud and proud at Christmas!

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  • wow – nothing is safe is it – everyone can find something to feel upset by in every single thing in this lifetime – such a shame that people always have to take offence to something and then try to enforce that on others or make changes so others can’t enjoy it – what ever happened to if you don’t like something – don’t look at it, don’t listen to it, don’t watch it, change the channel, move away etc – my goodness everyone needs to use some common sense and stop claiming to be offended by everything!

    I for one will be singing Jingle Bells loud and proud in the happy festive spirit that it is sung in!

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  • Good to be aware and in the case it is hurting or upsetting a race we can be sensible and act on that.

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  • I think the important thing about knowing the history of the origin of this song is learning there was enough good sense to change it to something very innocent. Unless people are performing it in blackface now I think we should get over it.

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  • Piff …i will still be singing my carols and jingle bells is up there with the best.

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  • What a load of twaddle! Are we really going to eliminate everything from our lives that has had the slightest link to anything bad in the past?

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  • I love Christmas carols. And Jingle Bells is surely one of my favourites. :-)

    Reply

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