WOM-17, Minstrel Shows

Minstrel Shows
What are they?
Working white class men dressing up
as plantation slaves
 Called blackface performers
 Faces were painted black with burnt
cork or grease
 Imitated/parodied black musical and
dance forms
 All male until 1890
Origins of Minstrel Shows
 Emerged
from European
traditions of masking and
 Began in the U.S. in the 1830
 Considered the first truly
American form of music
 Is
this racist?
Of course! But times were much
In the time of the Greeks, there were no
women’s rights, it was just a norm of society
In the 19th century this was the norm –
remember we are not that far removed from
the Civil War (1860’s)
The first rock star
Thomas Dartmouth
Had his first “hit” in
1829 with a character
named Jim Crow
Not only a song – but
an onstage persona
as well.
Who was Jim Crow?
Character that reappeared in several minstrel
shows, started by Rice
Was a stereotypical carefree slave of the era
Spoke in a mixed dialect
White “backwoodsy”
Black / creole (Caribbean)
Who was Jim Crow?
 Was
supposed to be a clown
 Looked down upon by the
“upper class” as everything
that was wrong with the “lower
 “lower class” here means not
only blacks, but whites too
Jump Jim Crow – c 1832
Come, listen, all you gals and boys,
I'm just from Tuckyhoe;
I'm gwine to sing a little song, My
name's Jim Crow.
Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis
Eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim
I went down to de river, I didn't mean
to stay,
But there I see so many gals, I
couldn't get away.
I'm rorer on de fiddle, an' down in ole
Dey say I play de skientific, like
massa Paganini.
I cut so many munky shines, I dance
de galloppade;
An' w'en I done, I res' my head, on
shubble, hoe or spade.
I met Miss Dina Scrub one day, I gib
her sich a buss;
An' den she turn an' slap my face, an'
make a mighty fuss.
De udder gals dey 'gin to fight, I tel'd
dem wait a bit;
I'd hab dem all, jis one by one, as I
tourt fit.
I wip de lion ob de west, I eat de
I put more water in my mouf, den boil
ten load ob 'tator.
De way dey bake de hoe cake,
Virginny nebber tire;
Dey put de doe upon de foot, an' stick
'em in de fire.
Some of the performers in this genre were
sensitive to the racial tensions of the time.
They called themselves Ethiopian delineators
instead of blackface performers
Others….not so much. We got this instead:
Zip Coon - 1834
The “coon” character was a variation of Jim
Slow-talking fool who avoided all work and
The dialect is stereotypical, and upon
reading/hearing is hard to understand.
You might know it as ….
“Turkey in the Straw”
“Do Your Ears Hang Low”
The “dance” that went along with this style of
music was known as the cakewalk.
Was an “Africanized” version of a European
square dance
Check out the next video and describe what
you see.
The five performers in this video are
ACTUALLY black, not white.
However, they are wearing “blackface” to
make themselves look MORE black while on
This started occurring AFTER the Civil War!
Blacks playing Whites playing Blacks
Twisted? Yes, but this gave black performers a
chance to perform for white audiences, and
opened the doors for the future of the
performance industry
Ironic Twists
The “cakewalk” was a dance that originated in
the slave culture of the south, making fun of
their owners.
…became a standard of ballroom dancing in
America later on in the century
At the height of minstrel shows, you had black
performers, wearing blackface, making fun of
to an audience of MIXED company
A form of entertainment consisting of music,
comedy, skits, and variety acts, all parodying
black culture in 19th century America.
Minstrel shows were at the center of the rise
of the American music industry – including
the music, performers, and the audience.
Al Jolson
One of the most
famous names in the
minstrel shows
Not a racist – in fact,
was credited with
fighting for equal civil
rights in the music
He openly befriended
black performers at a
time when it was
unpopular to do so
Jolson is quoted as
saying that “blackface
gave him emotional
Starred in the 1927 movie “The Jazz
The FIRST movie that had sound
synchronized to it
Important Characters
Mr. Tambo & Mr. Bones
The Interlocutor
The “end men” in a minstrel show
The “master of ceremonies”
Each show would also have a fair amount of
other “supporting cast members”
Mr. Bones & Mr. Tambo
The comedy routine in between acts
This can’t get any worse, right?
From Minstrels to Vaudeville
African Americans now given a chance to
have their own stage roles
HOWEVER – still forces to used stereotypes
that originate in the minstrel tradition
(stop at 7:40)
And just when did this stop….
Review Questions – in pairs
How was the African American culture
portrayed through minstrel songs?
Why do you think minstrel shows were
such a popular form of entertainment in
the North?
Is there a form of entertainment today that
mirrors these minstrel shows?