Minstrel Shows

an original American theatrical form
popular from the early 19th to the early 20th century
peak popularity between 1850 and 1870
featured “comic” enactment of racial stereotypes
first performed by white men in blackface caricaturing the
singing and dancing of slaves
troupes composed of black performers formed after the
Civil War
this was the only theatrical medium in which gifted black
performers of the period could support themselves
a few larger companies had black and white performers
by the 20th century women performers were also employed
Considered the father of
blackface performance
An early African American impersonator
• The earliest blackface performers were
known as “Ethiopian delineators”
Performed short specialty numbers,
not full-length evenings
His stage persona was popularly known as “Jim Crow,” the
name of the song and dance he made famous in 1832
The Tyrol is a region of the
eastern Alps including parts of
western Austria, southern
Germany, and northeastern Italy.
Sparked by a wildly successful
tour by a group called the
Tyrolese Minstrels in 1839, a
craze for Alpine music seized
America. Dozens of German,
Swiss, and Austrian singing
groups crisscrossed the country
during the 1840s. Dressed in
native garb, these groups
entertained audiences with a
combination of singing,
yodeling, and “Alpine harmony.”
In the early 1840s, a group called the Tyrolese Minstrel Family toured
the United States with a program of traditional European folk songs.
 Dan
Emmett, an Ethiopian Delineator, and
three friends decided to stage a blackface
spoof of The Tyrolese Minstrel Family
concerts, calling themselves Dan Emmett's
Virginia Minstrels, in order to capitalize
on the familiar and popular title.
 Their blackface revue premiered at New
York's Bowery Amphitheatre in February
 Formed The Virginia
• A blackface quartet (therefore, the 1st blackface group)
• First performed in 1843…and disbanded within a year
• First to offer a full evening’s entertainment of blackface
• The Minstrelsy genre acquired its name from them
• Credited with writing/introducing “Blue Tail Fly,” aka,
“Jimmy Crack Corn”
 Later
performed with Bryant’s Minstrels (1858 – 1866)
• Introduced the song “Dixie” (1859)
• Authorship credited to Emmett (though disputed)
 Also
known as Christy’s Minstrels
 Most
important of the early minstrel companies
 Played
on Broadway for nearly 10 years
 Established
the format all other minstrel shows
would adopt
 Stephen
Foster wrote many of their songs
Part One
 Performers were arranged in a semicircle
 The interlocutor sat center in whiteface usually wearing formal attire
 The “end men” in blackface wore gaudy swallow-tailed coats and
striped trousers
• Mr. Tambo played the tambourine
• Mr. Bones rattled the bones (clappers originally made from bones)
The program opened with a chorus, often as a grand entrance, and at
the conclusion of the song the interlocutor gave the command,
“Gentlemen, be seated.”
A series of jokes ensued between the interlocutor and end men,
interspersed with ballads, comic songs, and instrumental numbers,
mainly played on banjo and violin (a kind of variety show)
Part Two, or the olio (mixture or medley)
 Consisted of a series of individual acts
 Concluded with a hoedown or walk-around in which every member did
a specialty number or bit while the others sang and clapped.
Part Three was a farce, burlesque, or comic opera.
Musical influences:
popular, sentimental songs sung by his sisters
black church services he attended with the family’s servant
popular minstrel show songs
songs sung by black laborers at the warehouse where he
worked for a time
1849 – commissioned to write songs for Christy’s Minstrels
Famous songs:
“Oh! Susannah” (1848)
“Camptown Races” (1850)
“Old Folks at Home” aka, “Swanee River” (1851)
“My Old Kentucky Home” (1853)
“Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” (1854)
“Beautiful Dreamer” (1864)
 Songs/Composers (already discussed)
 Dances
• Cakewalk
• Buck and Wing
• Tap and Soft Shoe
 Performers
• William Henry Lane, aka Master Juba
• Ma Rainey
• Bessie Smith