Friday, March 06, 2020

The TOAST tradition

The African American Toast Tradition
By Mona Lisa Saloy

As evidenced in print and music, African Americans boast a lively verbal art tradition that includes tales, toasts, and adventures of bad guys who confront and vanquish any adversary instantly and guiltlessly. From Reconstruction to the jazz age through today, this boasting tradition has been a uniquely urban phenomenon.

"Toasts" are performed narratives of often urban but always heroic events. For many Blacks, both performers and audience, hearing about or performing the winning ways of the central character becomes as creative a release as Black music. Toasting is today's continuance of an oral tradition, but many contemporary toasters read their complicated and elaborate versions from a text. As with any oral tradition, many versions of the same toast exist. The toast is a dynamic performance within the Black community of recognizable and popular central characters. They are performed in bars, libraries, community centers, and even college campuses. However, less explicit toasts are performed by anyone at any time for entertainment.
A toast well known in any large American city with a significant Black population is "Shine and the Titanic." This toast relates the heroic efforts of an old Black stoker to warn of the ship's impending disaster, but when ignored, he strives to save himself. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, during the Jim Crow days when Blacks were not allowed as passengers.
Toasts are typical of other Black traditions, such as quilting and gospel, in that improvisation is highly valued. Therefore, one will find many different versions of any toast; many use profane street speech. This version of "Shine and the Titanic" heard by the author in Oakland, California, has been edited for publication.
In toasts, historical accuracy is not considered important. For instance, although in reality the Titanic sank in April, in the ballad it sinks in May. Audiences expect, accept, and appreciate the toaster's improvisations.
As is common in toasts, a narrator describes Shines's successful exploits, while Shine directly addresses the captain, his daughter, and the whale. Shine, the black stoker and hero of the toast, repeatedly warns the white captain of the impending disaster and humbly gives updates on the sinking ship. Even though Shine is ignored, hustled, and chased by a whale, he remains confident of his ability and determination. It is Shine alone who can save the day.

Shine and the Titanic
It was a hell of a day in the merry month of May
When the great Titanic was sailing away.
The captain and his daughter was there, too,
And old black Shine, he didn't need no crew.
Shine was downstairs eating his peas
When the . . .water come up to his knees.
He said, "Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my peas When the water come up to my knees."
He said, "Shine, Shine, set your black a$$ down.
I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."
Shine went downstairs looking through space.
That's when the water came up to his waist.
He said, "Captain, Captain, I was downstairs looking through space,
That's when the water came up to my waist."
He said, "Shine, Shine, set your black a$$ down.
I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."
Shine went downstairs, he ate a piece of bread.
That's when the water came above his head.
He said, "Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my bread
And the . . .water came above my head."
He said, "Shine, Shine, set your black a$$ down.
I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."
Shine took off his shirt, took a dive. He took one stroke
And the water pushed him like it pushed a motorboat.
I'll give you more money than any black man see."
Shine said, "Money is good on land or sea.
Take off your shirt and swim like me."
And Shine swam on.
Shine met up with the whale.
The whale said, "Shine, Shine, you swim mighty fine,
But if you miss one stroke, your black a$$ is mine."
Shine said, "You may be the king of the ocean, king of the sea,
But you got to be a swimming mutha****  to out-swim me."
And Shine swam on.
Now when the news got to the port, the great Titanic has sunk,
You won't believe this, but old Shine was on the corner damn near drunk.

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