Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Smolko, Joanna R. “Southern Fried Foster: Representing Race and Place through Music in Looney Tunes Cartoons.” American Music 30 (Fall 2012): 344-72.

The music of Stephen Foster was frequently used in scores for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons produced from the 1930s through the 1960s—especially those by Carl Stalling—to represent the American South and African Americans, revealing pervasive attitudes about race and place in American culture. The convention of using Stephen Foster songs to represent “Negro,” “Southern,” and generic “American” categories was developed in the silent film era and codified by Erno Rapée’s 1924 guidebook, Motion Picture Moods for Pianists and Organists. Carl Stalling, who arranged and supervised Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies scores for Warner Bros. starting in 1936, adopted this convention for its pervasiveness in silent films and because Foster’s music was in the public domain. Three Looney Tunes cartoons in particular, Confederate Honey, Mississippi Hare, and Southern Fried Rabbit, use various Foster songs in conjunction with representations of both the American South and of minstrel tropes. For example, Confederate Honey (a 1940 parody of Gone with the Wind) opens with Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home and Old Black Joe played over scenes of a plantation with slaves depicted with exaggerated features in the manner of minstrel shows and Sambo illustrations. Beautiful Dreamer later serves as a leitmotive for Crimson O’Hairoil, the daughter of the plantation owner and heroine of the cartoon. Despite their ubiquity, the use of Foster songs in Looney Tunes significantly decreased in the 1960s with the retirement of Carl Stalling and changing attitudes toward race representation. The legacy of these representations of race in Looney Tunes and other classic cartoons, especially those that depict racist imagery and caricature, has been debated for decades. Like Foster’s songs themselves, the cultural signifiers and meanings attached to Looney Tunes are unfixed and malleable.

Works: Carl Stalling: score to Confederate Honey (357-60), score to Mississippi Hare (360-61), score to Southern Fried Rabbit (362-364)

Sources: Stephen Foster: My Old Kentucky Home (358), Old Black Joe (358, 362), Beautiful Dreamer (358, 360), Oh! Susanna (358), Old Folks at Home (360, 362), Camptown Races (360-61), Ring, Ring de Banjo! (361); Dan Emmett: Dixie (358, 360-61, 362); Franz von Suppé: Light Cavalry Overture (358); Traditional: Yankee Doodle (364)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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