Cake Walking’ Blues’
Do you know the origins of the Cakewalk?
The Cakewalk has its origins on slave plantations before the Civil War, with slaves participating in an elaborate dance with the winner receiving a cake at the end similar to the ring shout, a religious dance ritual from West Africa. During a cakewalk:
“couples would stand in a square formation with men on the inside perimeter and then dance around the ballroom “as if in mimicry of the white man’s attitudes and manners,” according to Richard Kislan. The steps included “high-leg prance with a backward tilt of the head, shoulders and upper torso.”
The Cakewalk started as a pre-Civil War dance performed by slaves on plantation grounds. The dances were complex, and the dancers worked hard to make the steps look easy.
Minstrel Poster Collection (Library of Congress)
The Cakewalk satirized the world of the plantation owners & overseers who threw elaborate displays of their perceived elegance and power. The Cakewalk allowed participants their few moments of shared levity as a time to have fun, showcasing their individualized dance moves.
After emancipation, the Cakewalk became a staple in the minstrel circuit that appropriated and stereotyped Black Americans to enjoy predominately white audiences and later became paired with ragtime.
Cake & The Blues
Blues’ early matriarchs both feature references to the Cake Walk in their repertoire, often marrying the Blues song with vaudeville-style performances.
Ma Rainey’s song Georgia Cake Walk references the Cakewalk, recorded in 1928; Paramount published the piece with her song Black Bottom referencing another famous dance style of the 20s. Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, wrote a song called “Cake Walking’ Babies accompanied by Henderson’s Hot Six. Other early artists like W. C. Handy and Scott Joplin referenced the Cakewalk. Individuals created everything from vanilla, coffee, and even soda Pound Cake.
Why Pound Cake?
The traditional Pound Cake came to the United States in the 1700s, a traditional cake recipe. The name comes from the fact that the original pound cakes contained one pound of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. No leaveners were used other than the air whipped into the batter. This simple convention made it simple for everyone to remember this recipe time after time.
A cake made of one pound of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour would have been huge and efficiently serve large groups of people. As the years went by, people adjusted the portions of the ingredients used to make a smaller, lighter cake. However, the name of the cake stuck.
Over time the original simple recipe became more complex as individuals added their own flavors.
Let’s make some Lemon Poundcake!
3 sticks unsalted butter room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature one brick
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 package lemon instant pudding (just use the mix/don’t cook this!) 3.4 ounce
6 large eggs room temperature
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Add room temperature cream cheese, butter and salt to large mixing bowl and begin creaming on high speed until smooth.
- Slowly add sugar and instant pudding to bowl and cream until light and fluffy which takes about 5-7 minutes.
- Lower speed of mixer to medium and add one egg at a time and mix until incorporated.
- Slow mixer to slowest speed and add flour one cup at a time into bowl until just incorporated.
- Do not overbeat at this point.
- Add lemon zest to bowl and mix.
- Once everything is incorporated, pour cake batter into greased and floured or baking sprayed 12 cup bundt or tube pan.
- Bake for 1 hour and 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes then remove cake and place on cooling rack for an hour or until it is completely cooled.
Georgia Cake Walk – Ma Rainey
Cakewalk into Town – Taj Mahal
Swipesy Cakewalk – Scott Joplin
Deep Moaning Blues – Ma Rainey
St Louis Blues W. C. Handy
Maple Leaf Rag W. C. Handy
Yellow Dog Rag W.C. Handy