Now jingle bells is racist! Upstate NY primary school is blasted for banning festive tune over claims it was first performed by minstrel act in 1857

  • Council Rock Primary School, in Rochester’s Brighton Central School District, has banned ‘Jingle Bells’ from its music curriculum
  • The school notes that the song may have been performed for the first time by white actors in blackface in a 1857 minstrel show
  • The decision sparked backlash from the community and beyond arguing that the decision is a product of ‘cancel culture’  

An upstate New York school has banned students from singing Jingle Bells over fears it was first performed by a minstrel act who wore blackface.

Council Rock Primary School, in Rochester’s Brighton Central School District, has banned the festive favorite from its music curriculum because of its first public performance may have been at an 1857 minstrel show in which white actors performed the tune in blackface.

Instead, the school replaced the festive classic with other songs that don’t have ‘the potential to be controversial or offensive,’ Council Rock principal Matt Tappon told The Rochester Beacon, which first reported the story on December 23.

Tappon and other staff confirmed to the news outlet that they came to the decision after reading a 2017 scholarly article on the song’s origins, written by Boston University Core Curriculum Director Kyna Hamil.

Hamill explains the history of the song and the life of its composer, James L. Pierpont. She included documents showing that the song’s first public performance may have been in 1857 by white actors in blackface at a Boston minstrel show.

But many in the community took issue with the song being banned and argued that it’s a harmless and traditional part of celebrating the winter holidays, prompting Brighton Central School District Superintendent Kevin McGowan to publish a letter on the district’s website explaining the decision.

‘… it may seem silly to some, but the fact that ‘Jingle Bells’ was first performed in minstrel shows where white actors performed in blackface does actually matter when it comes to questions of what we use as material in school,’ he wrote.

‘I’m glad that our staff paused when learning of this, reflected, and decided to use different material to accomplish the same objective in class,’ the letter continues, adding that the song is ‘so closely related’ to Christmas, which not everyone in the community celebrates, so the district would have likely nixed it either way.

The superintendent also hit back at claims that the school was swayed by ‘woke’ ideology, writing, ‘choosing songs other than ‘Jingle Bells’ wasn’t a major policy initiative, a ‘banning’ of the song or some significant change to a concert repertoire done in response to a complaint.’

‘This wasn’t ‘liberalism gone amok’ or ‘cancel culture at its finest’ as some have suggested. Nobody has said you shouldn’t sing ‘Jingle Bells’ or ever in any way suggested that to your children. I can assure you that this situation is not an attempt to push an agenda. We were not and are not even discussing the song and its origins, whatever they may be,’ McGowan continued.

Nevertheless, the decision to ban the song came as a shock to many, including the writer of the article the school used to defend their decision. When Hamill learned that Council Rock removed the song, in part because of her research, she wrote in an email to the Rochester Beacon: ‘I am actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire. … I, in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children.’

‘My article tried to tell the story of the first performance of the song, I do not connect this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now.’

‘The very fact of (‘Jingle Bells’) popularity has to do (with) the very catchy melody of the song, and not to be only understood in terms of its origins in the minstrel tradition. … I would say it should very much be sung and enjoyed, and perhaps discussed,’ she wrote, adding that this was the first time she ever heard of a district banning the song.


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