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Elusive Harmony: Levon Helm, The Band, and the birth of Americana

Ian Penman, City Journal, Winter 2021

IN MAY 1900, an advert appeared out of Florida for "60 coloured performers… male, female and juvenile of every description, Novelty Acts, Headliners, etc. We will travel in our own train of hotel cars and will exhibit under canvas." It was placed by the African-American entrepreneur Pat Chappelle, whose hugely popular "authentic negro" Rabbit's Foot Company showcased everything from minstrelsy skits to "daring aerialists". Among the neophyte performers braving the vaudevillian spotlight were names such as Bessie Smith, Big Joe Williams, Louis Jordan, and Rufus Thomas. Chappelle's going concern was subsequently purchased in 1912 by white farmer and carnival owner Fred Swift Wolcott, becoming, in the process, F. S. Wolcott's Original Rabbit's Foot Minstrels. The company gave its final performance in 1959.

Total word count of piece: 4000


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