This fleeting moment’s viral video involves an 11 year old kid from rural Illinois, Mason Ramsey, who apparently likes to go to Walmart and sing in what the internet is calling an old-fashioned country style. Here’s Mason, and an article on Mason in Slate.
The kid is singing an imitation of Hank Williams, who recorded “Lovesick Blues” in 1948.
Here’s Hank’s version
And here’s the really interesting part: Hank himself was doing an almost note for note imitation of a blackface minstrel from the 1920s, Emmett Miller, who recorded the song in 1928. Miller’s version has 50 seconds of minstrel bit before he starts singing.
It’s pretty much unmistakeable: America’s latest viral sensation is an 11 year old white kid in a bow tie channeling, probably without knowing it, a blackface minstrel performer from the 1920s. In other words, Mason is singing a 100 year old version of what white people pretended black people sounded like. He’s appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show: Walmart has come up with a college scholarship for him.
Good for him, I guess: I doubt he has any idea of the minstrel origins of this singing, but Hank surely did. It seems worth calling attention to the half life of American racism, how a singing style designed to mock black Americans became one of the bedrock songs of classic country music and then the voice of charming white rural authenticity. As I often say in class, “you can’t make this stuff up.”