“That takes the cake!”

Two fun musical facts I learned in my classes this week:

The Cakewalk

1. Back in the 19th century, slaves used to compete and perform a dance called the “Cakewalk” for their masters, and the slaves who won the contest were given a cake.  (Hence the expression, “that takes the cake!”)  What their masters didn’t know is that this exaggerated, high-kneed walk was really the slaves’ imitation of their silly and “dignified” masters.  Nevertheless, whites were still oblivious, and incorporated the Cakewalk into their popular “Minstrel Shows” where they’d “blacken up” their faces like black people and make fun of them.  (This was ironic because by performing this dance, whites were unknowingly making fun of themselves.)  The Cakewalk became very popular though with whites and blacks, and eventually was incorporated into the marching style of many Historically Black College and University (HBCU) marching bands.  They still perform it this way today.

Here’s an example in the Bethune Cookman Marching Band:


2. Ever heard of a “Keynote Speech” or a “Keynote Speaker”?  It’s the speech that is given at the beginning of an event like a rally or convention.  It is meant to introduce the event and set the tone for the rest of the speeches or events that follow.  Fun fact: this term actually comes from the first note played on a pitch pipe at the beginning of a barbershop quartet performance.  This “keynote” literally sets the tune for the group and tone for the rest of the song.

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