What is a minstrel show?
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This was a type of show that included white people dressing up as black people and making fun of black people.
Minstrel shows were quite popular in the time after the Civil War and lasting up into the early 1900s. The white people would make their faces black with white circles around their eyes and lips -- caricatures of black people. Then they would sing stereotyped songs about black people being lazy and about black people liking how things had been during slave times. They would also engage in dialog that had many of the same themes.
America’s first original musical theater genre, the minstrel show, was born nearly 200 years ago. Although its existence is embarrassing to us today, for more than 40 years, it was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in America and around the world. Indeed, for the first time in history, the minstrel show spawned European imitation of Americans, instead of the other way around. In the post-bellum minstrel show, thousands of African-Americans had a lucrative vehicle for their singing, dancing, songwriting, and comedy. The minstrel show is also the ultimate source of all truly American music, from ragtime to rock ’n’ roll, and the precursor of modern American musical theater.
The immediate ancestor of the minstrel show, the Jim Crow Act, began nearly 200 years ago. Its original location has been variously ascribed to Charleston, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; and Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas Dartmouth Rice ("Daddy" Rice, 1808−1860) was America’s first renowned "Ethiopian delineator." He danced, played several musical instruments, sang, and told amusing stories, and wherever he performed, Rice filled the theater to capacity. A chance encounter in 1828 with an African-American stable hand led Rice to discover the song "Jump Jim Crow." Rice couldn’t forget the song and created numerous verses to go with the chorus he’d heard. In his dressing room at the theater, he burned the cork from his wine bottle and blackened his face with it. Later, when Rice performed his act at New York’s Bowery Theatre, he played to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 3,500 people. Soon, Rice was the most in-demand entertainer in America. Of course, imitators sprang up, and in time, Rice had to put a banner outside his theaters that read, "The Original Jim Crow."
The new American dances of the 19th century had largely come from the slaves on Southern plantations. One of the plantation dances, the cakewalk, later became a permanent part of the minstrel show and, by the 1880s, dethroned the waltz as the favorite dance of youthful Americans.
Minstrel shows were an American born genre that included music, comedy, song, and dance in an effort to entertain the American people. Many of the acts were performed by white people whose faces were painted to make them look black. They used this method to make fun of black people by representing them as lazy and dumb.
Shows were usually performed in three stages. The first stage included some dancing and wise cracks to warm up the audience. The second sage provided variety entertainment, and the third stage was the slapstick comedy routines. Arch types of black people included the field hand, mammy, the mulatto wench/seductress, and master. In the 1830's and 1840's it was considered to have been the rise of the American music industry. By the 1870's jubilees, black spiritual music,was added to the shows allowing black music into the public realm for the first time.
The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface.
Minstrel shows lampooned black people in mostly disparaging ways: as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr'actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. By the turn of the century, the minstrel show enjoyed but a shadow of its former popularity, having been replaced for the most part by vaudeville. It survived as professional entertainment until about 1910; amateur performances continued until the 1960s in high schools, fraternities, and local theaters. As blacks began to score legal and social victories against racism and to successfully assert political power, minstrelsy lost popularity.
The typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure. The troupe first danced onto stage then exchanged wisecracks and sang songs. The second part featured a variety of entertainments, including the pun-filled stump speech. The final act consisted of a slapstick musical plantation skit or a send-up of a popular play. Minstrel songs and sketches featured several stock characters, most popularly the slave and the dandy. These were further divided into sub-archetypes such as the mammy, her counterpart the old darky, the provocative mulatto wench, and the black soldier. Minstrels claimed that their songs and dances were authentically black, although the extent of the black influence remains debated. Spirituals (known as jubilees) entered the repertoire in the 1870s, marking the first undeniably black music to be used in minstrelsy.
Blackface minstrelsy was the first distinctly American theatrical form. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was at the core of the rise of an American music industry, and for several decades it provided the lens through which white America saw black America. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of significant aspects of black-American culture
A minstrel show is a skit or play that used white performers playing black people using black faces. These were popular in old Rome entertainment also although they didn't use black faces.
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