In Flint, Michigan, a hypnotist makes a volunteer from the audience play the “imaginary banjo in accompaniment to his own and the audience’s enjoyment.” Here we see the origin of two common tropes in air guitar coverage today: air guitar as bodily trance and air guitar as lack of control of one’s rational capabilities. (via the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer 2/7/1889)
Here’s another example. A man played air piano in prison: “Subley spends his time in jail playing on an imaginary piano, hopping thus to give the impression that he is insane and so escape a more severe punishment.” They guy was serving time for writing the family members of his fellow inmates, asking them to send money for their ill incarcerated relatives. This comes via the Seattle Star (2/22/1909).
And, finally, here’s an example of a (presumably white) hypnotist making a black man play the imaginary banjo by using a broom as a prop. There’s an overt racist tone in this review–note how the music instrument becomes an instrument of racial domination (even though the instrument itself is imaginary). The article goes on to describe various levels of humiliation that the man had to endure as the hypnotist made him perform various antics under the spell. The final lines are especially shocking. It’s hard to believe this isn’t fiction, but its clearly a narrativized review for an entertainment series at a place called “The People’s” (1886).