The Bones

Bones, or rhythm bones, is an instrument typically made of rib or shin bones of animals, such as cattle. It is also common for bones to be made with wood. During the 19th century, white people entertained themselves by depicting themselves as black people, with blackface, and mocking black culture. Bones are an instrument that was often used during these minstrel shows. Today, genres such as the blues, bluegrass, and traditional Irish and Scottish music are the result of the contribution of bones.

Bones are played my placing them between your fingers and moving your wrist back and forth. By moving your arm in a “windshield wiper” motion while keeping the elbow steady allows for a triple-click sound to be made from the instrument. Although most bones players use a pair in both of their hands, the instrument can be played with a single pair by placing one bone in each hand.

Bones player, Dom Flemons, gives demonstration on how to play.

Notable Player:

Freeman Davis, commonly known as Brother Bones, was an African American whistler and bones player. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1902. In his early life, Davis worked as a shoe shiner in local barbershops. While he worked, he would whistle and soon was known around town as “Whistling Sam”. Unlike most bones players who use a single pair of bones in each hand, Davis played with 2 pairs in each of his hands. Davis went on to be discovered by Tempo Records while playing in a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. Soon after his song “Sweet Georgia Brown” was playing all around the country and in 1952 was adopted as the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” recorded in 1949 by Brother Bones and His Shadows.

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