Portfolio > Oil Paintings/Charcoal Drawings_Old Time Songs & Stories

* To enlarge, click over the image's upper right corner *
* For commentary about this painting, scroll down *

Golden Slippers
Golden Slippers
Oil on Canvas
70" x 72"

I titled my painting after the Old Time standard called "Golden Slippers." I encountered this song in a 1970s TV commercial for "Golden Grahams" cereal. When I heard it for the first time as an Old Time tune in 2016, I exclaimed: "That's the 'Golden Grahams' song!"

Its provenance gets more interesting. The original is a black spiritual from the late 18th/early 19th century called "Golden Slippers," made popular by The Fisk Jubilee Singers in the late 1800s. In the 1870s, the black banjoist and songwriter, James Bland, wrote a song based on the spiritual that he called "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers!" Although he was black, he was a minstrel performer and wrote the lyrics in pejorative "black dialect" so it would be acceptable to white audiences. To add insult to injury, when he performed the song, he had to "black-up" although he was black. It is a cleaned-up version that we know today as "Golden Slippers."

I think Bland's message belies his cheerful melody and his use of black dialect: it is my opinion his song sends one message to whites and a contrary one to blacks that only they would have understood. Although they were no longer enslaved by the 1870s, I think the song suggests that blacks could only hope in heaven to be truly free.

I include imagery of this song's various incarnations: there is a portrait of Bland (top edge, middle), presiding over the scene; the farmer/banjoist plays a minstrel era banjo, alluding to the song's minstrel past and its expropriation by whites; and the woman wears golden slippers and snacks from a box of Golden Grahams. She also wears a terry cloth robe and turban after taking a shower, a modernized way to refer to the "white robes" upon entering heaven as described in the lyrics.

This painting is an homage to James Bland. Its imagery alludes to the song's complicated and disturbing racial history AND to the lack of credit Bland has received for creating this marvelous, moving song.