For this blog assignment, I decided to go the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Catalog and simply search the term ” banjo” to see what would show up. I was primarily interested in what is still documented in the public perceptions of African-American banjo players based on this quote in Rhiannon Giddens’ address at the IBMA Business Conference in 2017:
“To understand how the banjo, which was once the ultimate symbol of African American musical expression, has done a one-eighty in popular understanding and become the emblem of the mythical white mountaineer… In order to understand the history of the banjo and the history of bluegrass music, we need to move beyond the narratives we’ve inherited, beyond generalizations that bluegrass is mostly derived from a Scots-Irish tradition, with ‘influences’ from Africa.” 
Many of the results consisted of photographs of white banjo players or artists’ depictions of African-Americans, which were usually black men sitting on a chair playing the banjo either in minstrel clothing or in “plantation” clothing, which demonstrated what kind of rabbit hole I was entering. However, I was most struck by this lithograph from Currier & Ives dating to 1886 being the top result:
It was definitely off-putting to see a very caricatured depiction of African-Americans as the first result for just the word “banjo” with no other filter given to the search. I thought this was some sort of anomaly at first, but the I went back to the search bar to look up “Darktown comics banjo,” and the database returned with two results: one of the first image I found and the other being the “response” to the first comic:
There are a few things that are very striking to me in both images besides the highly stereotypical presentation of their anatomical features. First, all of the people in both lithographs are wearing very formal clothing with the men in suits and the women in Victorian dresses. After glancing at several other lithographs from this series, this theme is not uncommon, because the purpose of displaying African-Americans in clothing that belonged primarily to the upper class seemed to be making a satire of stereotyped depictions of African-Americans. It is as though this series is like an alternate universe where African-Americans run the world, but their stereotypes act as their guiding principles, making them have irrational judgement compared to white audiences. This also goes into the second point, where the musicians sitting in the group decide they cannot play in a rigid sitting position, so they can only perform by getting rowdy or “loose.” The artist uses these two comics to create a joke in the “setup-punchline” sense, which seems quite strange, but also not off-kilter for this time period.
While I was originally going to discuss the presentation of banjos and their relationship to African-Americans, I couldn’t help but not comment on these rather obscene comics and how they were somehow considered acceptable enough to be printed. After browsing Google further, I found that some of these prints in the Darktown comic series are being reproduced and sold on Amazon of all places [HistoricalFindings Photo: Darktown Comics,Darktown Fire Brigade,Chief,Firefighters,1885,African Americans], which would only make sense if it was used for an academic purpose, but otherwise, I do not know who would purchase these or why someone would need it.
If you are curious as to any of the other Darktown comics presented by Currier & Ives, here is a rather expansive blog post by a historical archivist: [https://danieldteolijrarchivalcollection.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/currier-ives-darktown-comic-series/]
 Giddens, Rhiannon “IBMA Business Conference 2017”
 The Darktown Banjo Class-off the Key
 The Darktown Banjo Class-all in Tune
Giddens, Rhiannon. “IBMA Business Conference 2017 – Keynote Address.” IBMA Business Conference 2017. September 23, 2019. https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.
Teoli, Daniel D. “Daniel D. Teoli, Jr. Archival Collection.” Daniel D. Teoli, Jr. Archival Collection (blog), May 13, 2018. https://danieldteolijrarchivalcollection.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/currier-ives-darktown-comic-series/.
The Darktown Banjo Class-off the Key: “If yous can’t play de Music, jes leff de banjo go!”. Photograph. Library of Congress; Prints and Photographs Catalog. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. Library of Congress. Accessed September 23, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91724113/.
The Darktown Banjo Class-all in Tune: “Thumb it, darkies, thumb it-o how loose i feel!” . Photograph. Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Catalog. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. Accessed September 23, 2019. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91724110/