Minstrel Shows

minstrel show

minstrel show, stage entertainment by white performers made up as blacks. Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who gave (c.1828) the first solo performance in blackface and introduced the song-and-dance act Jim Crow, is called the "father of American minstrelsy." The first public performance of a minstrel show was given in 1843 by the Virginia Minstrels, headed by Daniel Decatur Emmett. Christy's Minstrels (for whom Stephen Foster wrote some of his most popular songs) appeared in 1846, headed by Edwin P. Christy. In the first part of the minstrel show the company, in blackface and gaudy costumes, paraded to chairs placed in a semicircle on the stage. The interlocutor then cracked jokes with the end men, and, for a finale, the company passed in review in the "walk around." This part of the minstrel show caricatured the black man, representing him by grotesque stereotypes that were retained in the minds of white American audiences for many decades. In the second part of the show vaudeville or olio (medley) acts were presented. The third or afterpart was a burlesque on a play or an opera. The minstrel show was at its peak from 1850 to 1870 but passed with the coming of vaudeville, motion pictures, and radio.

See C. Wittke, Tambo and Bones: A History of the American Minstrel Stage (1930, repr. 1968).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts
Brenda Dixon Gottschild.
Praeger Publishers, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Past Imperfect: Performance, Power, and Politics on the Minstrel Stage"
Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket
Isaac Goldberg.
John Day, 1930
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Pearls of Minstrelsy"
Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture
Robert C. Allen.
University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "Burlesque and Minstrelsy" begins on p. 163
American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years, from 1790-1909
Russell Sanjek.
Oxford University Press, vol.2, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "The Arrival of the Minstrel Show" begins on p. 170
Festive Revolutions: The Politics of Popular Theater and the San Francisco Mime Troupe
Claudia Orenstein.
University Press of Mississippi, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Minstrel Shows and the Play of Stereotypes"
Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America
Glenn Loney.
Greenwood Press, 1984
Librarian’s tip: "Early Minstrel Show Music" begins on p. 71
The Minstrel Show Goes to the Great War: Zora Neale Hurston's Mass Cultural Other
Trombold, John.
MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring 1999
Ira Aldridge: Shakespeare and Minstrelsy
Evans, Nicholas M.
ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2002
The Ira Aldridge Troupe: Early Black Minstrelsy in Philadelphia
Shalom, Jack.
African American Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1994
The Minstrel in the Parlor: Nineteenth-Century Sheet Music and the Domestication of Blackface Minstrelsy
Dunson, Stephanie.
ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2002
Du Bois and the Minstrels
Herring, Scott.
MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 2, Summer 1997
African-American Performance and Theater History: A Critical Reader
Harry J. Elam Jr.; David Krasner.
Oxford University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Black Minstrelsy and Double Inversion, Circa 1890"
Images of Blacks in American Culture: A Reference Guide to Information Sources
Jessie Carney Smith.
Greenwood Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Blacks on the Musical Stage"
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