Old Corn Meal
Old Corn Meal, or Signor Cormeali, was an African-American street vendor in New Orleans, Louisiana who became famous in the late 1830s for singing and dancing while he sold his wares. He is one of the earliest known African Americans to have had a documented influence on the development of blackface minstrelsy specifically and American popular music in general.
Old Corn Meal was known for walking through New Orleans singing and dancing while he led his horse and cart and sold Indian corn meal. "Fresh Corn Meal", which he composed, was his signature song; he also did popular material from blackface acts like "Old Rosin the Beau" and "My Long Tail Blue". He was a natural baritone, but he could "easily [transform] into a ringing falsetto". His popularity led to an invitation to perform at the St. Charles Theatre in 1837. There he did a solo act alongside his horse and cart. Old Corn Meal performed there at least once more, in 1840.
White performers who did blackface acts probably borrowed material from Old Corn Meal. George Nichols, a blackface circus clown is one, as is Thomas D. Rice, whose "Corn Meal" skit most likely came from seeing Old Corn Meal's act during one of his visits to New Orleans in 1835, 1836 and 1838.
- Wittke, Carl (1968). Tambo and Bones. Quoted in Watkins 106.
- Toll, Robert C. (1974). Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Watkins, Mel (1994). On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying—The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor. New York: Simon & Schuster.