Skiffle is a type of popular music with jazz, blues, folk, roots and country influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a term in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, it became popular again in the UK in the 1950s, where it was mainly associated with musician Lonnie Donegan and played a major part in beginning the careers of later eminent jazz, pop, blues, folk and rock musicians.
The origins of skiffle are obscure, but are generally thought to lie in African-American musical culture in the early twentieth century. Skiffle is often said to have developed from New Orleans jazz, but this has been disputed. Improvised jug bands playing blues and jazz were common across the American South in the early decades of the twentieth century, even if the term skiffle was not used to describe them.
They used instruments such as the washboard, jugs, tea chest bass, cigar-box fiddle, musical saw, and comb-and-paper kazoos, as well as more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitar and banjo. The term skiffle was one of many slang phrases for a rent party, a social event with a small charge designed to pay rent on a house. It was first recorded in Chicago in the 1920s, and may have been brought there as part of the African American migration to northern industrial cities.
The first use of the term on record was in 1925 in the name of Jimmy O'Bryant and his Chicago Skifflers. Most often it was used to describe country blues music records, which included the compilation "Hometown Skiffle" (1929), and "Skiffle Blues" (1946) by Dan Burley & His Skiffle Boys. It was used by Ma Rainey (1886–1939) to describe her repertoire to rural audiences. The term skiffle disappeared from American music in the 1940s.
British skiffle craze
A relatively obscure genre, skiffle might have been largely forgotten if not for its revival in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and the success of its main proponent, Lonnie Donegan. British skiffle grew out of the developing post-war British jazz scene, which saw a move away from swing music and towards authentic trad Jazz. Among these bands were Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, whose banjo player Donegan also performed skiffle music during intervals. He would sing and play guitar with accompaniment of two other members, usually on washboard and tea-chest bass. They played a variety of American folk and blues songs, particularly those derived from the recordings of Leadbelly, in a lively style that emulated American jug bands. These were listed on posters as "skiffle" breaks, a name suggested by Ken Colyer's brother Bill after recalling the Dan Burley Skiffle Group. Soon the breaks were as popular as the traditional jazz. After disagreements in 1954 Colyer left to form a new outfit, and the band became Chris Barber's Jazz Band.
Full article ▸