The above footage was taken by the Fox Movietone News, in Powahatan, VA on November 8, 1928. According to USC’s Center for Southern African American Music:
Uncle John Scruggs was born a slave, [and] is a good example of white-influenced black music as it probably sounded at the end of the 19th century. He is performing the folk ballad “Little Log Cabin Round the Lane” in a minstrel style.
Whereas, according to the “for old times sake” blog, “[Scruggs’] music is an example of an Afro-American banjo playing tradition than predates that of white settlers in the Appalachians.”
Elijah Wald’s Escaping the Delta has some interesting things to say about Uncle John Scruggs, particularly the tradition of black banjo playing and the significance of the “Uncle” in front of this performers name at the time. He also has some interesting things to say about minstrelsy and its enduring popularity amongst black and white audiences through the 1950s.
This video clip not only captures some amazing music, but the setting itself (with the children dancing and chickens feeding) seems like an almost archetypal vision for how our culture has come to think about the post-bellum conditions for black share croppers in the South, and all of this right here in our own Virgineyeyeah.