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Minstrelsy

Minstrelsy

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The twelfth-century term minstrelsy designated a form of local entertainment originally performed by professionals paid by European lords. Later, these professionals became traveling entertainers, and the male roving minstrel connoted either a local or an itinerant performer. Minstrels often were hounded by church officials and town authorities during minstrelsys heyday in Europe during the eleventh to fifteenth centuries. Walking from town to town with a harp or viol on their backs, the minstrels brightly colored clothes, dance slippers, nonbearded faces, and close-shorn hair are said to be vestiges of the Teutonic bard and the mime of the Roman theater. An integral part of many gatherings, including those occurring in noblemens halls, marketplaces, and along pilgrim pathways, minstrels sang stories about the Christian saints, the scriptures, and heroes. They accompanied themselves instrumentally and also danced and performed acrobatic stunts to further the entertainment value.

Some scholars believe medieval minstrels transmuted Roman theatrical practice into liturgical drama. This transfer of form and aesthetic occurred primarily in France. High-born minstrels (trouvères and troubadours ) were said to practice a gay science, and their poetry was considered the product of nobility. With this heightened social status, minstrels in Paris incorporated themselves, building their own church and hospital. However, as soon as the minstrels were economically successful and accepted by society, they came to be imitated by a lower class of performers. The low-culture minstrels in the medieval period imitated the high-culture minstrels through exaggeration. In the lower-culture version of European minstrelsy, the traditional bright costumes became garish, clever lyrics became bawdy, and the music was less lyrical.

Minstrelsy experienced a renaissance in the United States when, in a northern city around 1828, the white actor Thomas Dartmouth Rice (18081860) imitated an African American slave whom he had seen dancing to a song known as Jumpin Jim Crow. Rice either bought or stole the black mans clothes. He performed the song and dance as an entracte, and legend has it that Rice became an overnight sensation. Rice performed the Jim Crow character for the rest of his career. His costumea tattered coat and too-short pants, oversized shoes, and a felt hat, along with blackface makeupbecame the look of the early American minstrel until 1840. At that time, the Virginia Minstrels formed in New York City. Made up of Dan Emmett, Billy Whitlock, Dick Pelham, and Frank Brower, the Virginia Minstrels costumes and songs, accompanied by fiddle, tambourine, bones, and banjo, were more refined than those of Rice. The Virginia Minstrels began composing songs still familiar to this day, including Old Dan Tucker and Jimmy Crack Corn. Blackface minstrelsy was extremely popular in the Bowery and the Five Points districts of New York City, particularly among young, recently urbanized men, and minstrel troupes began performing primarily in northern cities, eventually traveling to the West to mining camps and then into Australia and New Zealand. American blackface minstrels also traveled east to England, Scotland, Ireland, and even to parts of Africa.

Blackface minstrelsy in America became embroiled in local and national politics during the 1850s after performers found fault with the womens suffrage and antislavery movements. It was at this time that the well-known stereotypes of African Americans were cultivated and refined: the loud-mouthed plantation mammy, the overdressed male dandy, the sexually promiscuous light-skinned woman, and the compliant Uncle Tom. In the years after the Civil War (18611865), African Americans flooded the minstrel stage, creating a rivalry between white men who claimed authenticity as minstrel performers and black men who stated they were the more legitimately black and therefore better performers than the imitative blacks. Women, both black and white, also began performing in the 1870s, and they too had rivals from the ranks of female impersonators who had performed as part of the minstrel shows since the 1840s. By 1890 American minstrelsy became a primarily amateur activity on the popular stage, though vestiges of minstrelsy can be easily identified in vaudeville, musical revues, and American musical theater.

Minstrelsy did continue professionally in the United States on radio and in early television. The radio show Amos n Andy, performed by two white men, Freeman Gosden (18991982) and Charles Correll (18901972), premiered in 1928. Gosden and Correll created two African American characters that based much of their situational humor on sketches born in the minstrel shows. In 1951 CBS introduced a television version of Amos n Andy featuring African American actorsthe first of its kind on American television. Though popular with white and black audiences, Amos n Andy s dependency on minstrelsy stereotypes and the NAACPs campaign against their perpetuation on television led to the canceling of the show in 1953, though it ran in reruns until 1966.

SEE ALSO Blackface; Entertainment Industry; Jim Crow; Race; Racism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bates, Alfred, ed. 1906. The Drama: Its History, Literature, and Influence on Civilization. Vol. 7. London: Historical Publishing Company.

Bean, Annemarie, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara, eds. 1996. Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press and University Press of New England.

Annemarie Bean

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Minstrel Shows

Minstrel Shows

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Performances. Minstrel shows, performed by white actors in blackface, were a uniquely American form of entertainment that drew on adaptations and parodies of European American and African American culture displayed through caricatures of Northern and Southern black men. The first recorded example of a white performer borrowing black material dates to 1822, when the Englishman Charles Mathews visited the United States to study African American dialect. Mathews claimed to have seen an audience demand that a black actor, portraying Hamlet, stop in the middle of a soliloquy to sing Possum up a Gum Tree. Mathews used the incident in

his blackface act. Similarly, in 1828 Thomas D. Rice, who would become one of the nations premier blackface actors, happened to hear an old man singing to himself and dancing awkwardly. The song Rice heard, Jump Jim Crow, became a popular standard of minstrelsy and was incorporated into countless minstrel acts in a variety of formats, even working its way into Hamlets famous To be, or not to be soliloquy. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s minstrel acts performed in theaters across the country, usually as part of an evenings theater program. Mathews, Rice, and other performers, including George Washington Dixon, J. W. Sweeney, George Nichols, and Bob Farrell, made names for themselves as individual acts during these decades.

Troupes. In 1843 a group of white men in blackface calling themselves the Virginia Minstrels performed a complete show (rather than appearing as an introductory act) in New York City. Minstrel groups were soon featured in major New York theaters such as the Chatham, the Bowery, and the Park as well as in P. T. Barnums Museum, converted churches and synagogues, touring showboats, and their own theaters, known as Ethiopian Opera Houses. In 1846 E. P. Christy and his Christy Minstrels opened in New York, where they became one of the best-known minstrel troupes in the country. By the 1850s ten major minstrel houses thrived in New York, and three famous troupes played in the same block on Broadway.

Issue of Slavery. Minstrelsy was a way for audiences to work out their feelings about the increasingly sensitive and volatile issues of race and slavery. Blackface sketches and songs portrayed a variety of stereotypical African American characters: trickster slaves cheating their white masters; conceited free Northern blacks; slaves weeping for dead masters; dead slaves mourned by masters; childlike slaves; defiant or abused slaves; and enslaved families destroyed by sale. Significantly, as slavery became a more divisive political issue in the late 1840s and 1850s, minstrel shows ceased to portray any negative aspects of slavery. They focused instead on images of contented slaves and ridiculous freedmen, suggesting that white Northern audiences were more comfortable with racial imagery that played down the evils of slavery.

African American Culture. Although many minstrel performers claimed to have done research in the South for their acts, it is not clear to what extent, if any, their acts represented authentic African American cultures. The line between what these actors assimilated and what they invented remains difficult for historians to draw. In any case the central irony of the minstrel show as the first uniquely American cultural product was that its depiction of the African American man was done in a way that limited or erased his presence. When white actors portrayed black characters, the act of blacking their faces also subtly asserted their whiteness. White actors noted that they often had to prove to their audiences that they were, indeed, white; the rare African American minstrel performers were sometimes criticized for not being black enough (and would occasionally black their faces as well). Christys troupe was praised for its authenticity, but in the context of the performance the minstrels authentic blackness was always meant to be temporary.

Sources

Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993);

Robert Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974).

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Minstrel Shows

MINSTREL SHOWS

MINSTREL SHOWS evolved from early nineteenth century theatrical performances of Negro "delineators," most famously Thomas D. Rice, the original "Jim Crow." Rice was not the first white actor to appear on stage in blackface, but his imitation of African American song, dance, and dialect introduced a style of entertainment that broadly influenced American popular culture. Unlike


Rice's song and dance acts, the minstrel show offered full evenings of blackface entertainment and became known for its standard characters from the opening scene. The interlocutor appeared in blackface but did not speak in dialect. He directed the row of seated musicians and elicited jokes in dialect from the two end men, Mr. Tambo, who played the tambourine, and Mr. Bones, who played the bone castanets. Among the most popular minstrel troupes by the mid-nineteenth century were Daniel Emmett's traveling Virginia Minstrels and the Christy Minstrels of New York City, who introduced the works of Stephen Foster. The widely performed stage production of Uncle Tom's Cabin also incorporated elements of the minstrel show, albeit with a greater air of solemnity.

In the late nineteenth century minstrel shows declined in popularity in cities, and theatrical companies, including African American groups, took their shows on the road to rural areas. By the 1930s, as minstrel shows faded from view, the minstrel banjo style had become a central element in the new "country" music disseminated to audiences by radio broadcasts.

Although much of the genre of minstrelsy was highly sentimental and sympathetic toward the plight of slaves, minstrel shows also sustained nostalgia for the Old South among northern white audiences and presented to them grotesque stereotypes of African American culture. However, the theatricality of racial doubling served no single purpose. As part of a complex tradition of masquerade, minstrelsy shaped popular culture across the American barrier of race.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hans, Nathan. Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Rehin, George. "Harlequin Jim Crow." Journal of Popular Culture 9 (Winter 1975): 682–701.

Louis S.Gerteis

See alsoMusic: Country and Western ; Theater .

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minstrelsy

minstrelsy. The term minstrel signified those employed, by the crown, nobility, or urban corporations, as players of musical instruments. As the Middle Ages progressed there was an increasing demand for professional performers to play at special events such as weddings and banquets: entertainment of this sort was an integral part of aristocratic life-style. At the dubbing of Edward of Caernarfon in 1306, the crown paid 27 minstrels, playing various stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. Many of these were permanent members of the royal household, others were specially employed for the occasion. Documents suggest that the term often covered acrobats, jugglers, and other kinds of entertainers, such as, in 1306, Matilda Makejoy, ‘saltatrix’ (a female acrobat). Minstrels might also be employed as messengers and in sounding the curfew. They accompanied the late medieval English kings on military campaigns at home and abroad, being required to compose and perform works which celebrated great deeds and victories. This is thought to be the context within which the poem The Siege of Cælaverock was written. The nobility had their own personal troops of minstrels who performed similar duties. Rates of pay seem to have been generous in both royal and aristocratic circles, and minstrels also received clothing from their masters in the form of liveries.

Anne Curry

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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).

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Minstrelsy

Minstrelsy

body of minstrels, collectively, 1350; of musicians; musical instruments collectively, a body or collection of minstrel poetry.

Examples: minstrelsy of heaven (angels), 1667; of the Scottish Border, 1802.

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minstrelsy

minstrelsy •radiancy •immediacy, intermediacy •expediency • idiocy • saliency •resiliency • leniency •incipiency, recipiency •recreancy • pruriency • deviancy •subserviency • transiency • pliancy •buoyancy, flamboyancy •fluency, truancy •constituency • abbacy • embassy •celibacy • absorbency •incumbency, recumbency •ascendancy, intendancy, interdependency, pendency, resplendency, superintendency, tendency, transcendency •candidacy •presidency, residency •despondency • redundancy • infancy •sycophancy • argosy • legacy •profligacy • surrogacy •extravagancy • plangency • agency •regency •astringency, contingency, stringency •intransigency • exigency • cogency •pungency •convergency, emergency, insurgency, urgency •vacancy • piquancy • fricassee •mendicancy • efficacy • prolificacy •insignificancy • delicacy • intricacy •advocacy • fallacy • galaxy •jealousy, prelacy •repellency • valency • Wallasey •articulacy • corpulency • inviolacy •excellency • equivalency • pharmacy •supremacy • clemency • Christmassy •illegitimacy, legitimacy •intimacy • ultimacy • primacy •dormancy • diplomacy • contumacy •stagnancy •lieutenancy, subtenancy, tenancy •pregnancy •benignancy, malignancy •effeminacy • prominency •obstinacy • pertinency • lunacy •immanency •impermanency, permanency •rampancy • papacy • flippancy •occupancy •archiepiscopacy, episcopacy •transparency • leprosy • inerrancy •flagrancy, fragrancy, vagrancy •conspiracy • idiosyncrasy •minstrelsy • magistracy • piracy •vibrancy •adhocracy, aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, gerontocracy, gynaecocracy (US gynecocracy), hierocracy, hypocrisy, meritocracy, mobocracy, monocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, theocracy •accuracy • obduracy • currency •curacy, pleurisy •confederacy • numeracy •degeneracy • itinerancy • inveteracy •illiteracy, literacy •innocency • trenchancy • deficiency •fantasy, phantasy •intestacy • ecstasy • expectancy •latency • chieftaincy • intermittency •consistency, insistency, persistency •instancy • militancy • impenitency •precipitancy • competency •hesitancy • apostasy • constancy •accountancy • adjutancy •consultancy, exultancy •impotency • discourtesy •inadvertency • privacy •irrelevancy, relevancy •solvency • frequency • delinquency •adequacy • poignancy

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