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Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?

GUEST,Bob Coltman 13 Jul 08 - 08:16 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 13 Jul 08 - 08:35 AM
GUEST,donmeixner 13 Jul 08 - 08:52 AM
Mr Happy 13 Jul 08 - 09:47 AM
Charley Noble 13 Jul 08 - 10:14 AM
MaineDog 13 Jul 08 - 10:14 AM
Ruth Archer 13 Jul 08 - 11:55 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Jul 08 - 01:38 PM
kendall 13 Jul 08 - 04:34 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 13 Jul 08 - 05:43 PM
jimmyt 13 Jul 08 - 06:19 PM
Sandra in Sydney 13 Jul 08 - 08:32 PM
Rapparee 13 Jul 08 - 09:53 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 14 Jul 08 - 05:42 PM
DonMeixner 22 Jul 08 - 09:46 PM
GUEST,Panther Pride 22 Dec 09 - 11:10 PM
scouse 23 Dec 09 - 03:29 AM
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Subject: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 08:16 AM

I'm looking for reminiscences of actual minstrel shows if you have ever seen one.

I've reviewed the DT threads about minstrel shows, and I think I'm right in starting this as a new thread rather than adding to those discussions. While we all deplore the blackface putdown of African American people, I'd like to restrict this thread to these questions:

Have you ever seen a minstrel show?

If so, would you describe what you saw?

I'm aware there won't be many of us left who have actually been through that experience for better or worse.

In the next message I'll describe the only one I ever saw. I think it would be interesting to hear from others who have done so too.

Thanks! Bob


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 08:35 AM

I only saw one minstrel show, and am perfectly happy not to see another. But that one show furnished quite a memory, full of tension and uncertainty.

In about the mid-1940s, as a kid of maybe eight or nine, I was taken together with several other neighborhood kids to a small theater in (I think) Sellersville, PA, some ten miles from my home, to see a minstrel show.

It was gotten up by the local Lions Club or similar fraternal organization, and featured several local men, one of whom lived up the road from us. As far as I can recall, it was of the standard sort: two "end men," jokes, sketches, and songs. I presume they learned their material out of one or more of the numerous instruction booklets then available which included tried-and-true songs, patter, and sketches for use in putting on amateur minstrel shows.

The only song I distinctly remember hearing was "The Levee Song," on which I started a thread today. I think they also sang "Golden Slippers." Anything else is lost in the mists of time.

What made the show memorable was my reaction to it. While I was bemused by the jangly fun of the music, I was terrified by the black faces and did not know what they were meant to convey. I did not connect them to the various people of color I had seen; to me they seemed wholly alien, like dark clowns. The abrupt loud stagey bass and treble voices typical of minstrel performance also jarred me.

The whole thing left me thoroughly confused. It was all the more strange since the one performer I knew, a Mr. Yoder, seemed transformed in some sinister way. I had never seen him act like that and found it all fearful.

I don't know how the other kids reacted. I can't remember anyone saying much of anything on the ride home.

We were pretty simple in those days, and lived on a dirt road far out in the country. At the time I had never seen a movie, had only heard a radio, and the minstrel show, which I think was a fundraiser, came as a real shock. But this was mixed with pleasure in the music, which I sort of liked, though the style was too absurdly bravura for me to warm up to.

Well, only a memory fragment, and as you can see I don't remember much, having been so young. I'd be very interested to see anyone else's minstrel show memories. At this point few remain who can testify to this lost bit of history.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: GUEST,donmeixner
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 08:52 AM

Hi Bob,

When I was kid in the 50's the PTA in my school in central New York did minstrel shows annually to raise money for the student book fund.

This was the classic show. About a dozen men in black face as a chorus. The "Mister Interlocutor"in white face and several off stage musicians and sound effects people. One of the chorus would ask the Interlocutor a silly question like, " I say there Mr. Interlocutor Suh? Duz you know what a yet is?" and The Int. would say, "Why no Caleb I surely don't, why duz you ask?" and Caleb's reply was, "Well I was readin' in the paper,(Someone else says to another in the chorus, "I didn't know Caleb could read") the papers says that The Gangster's girl friend was shot in the hold up and the bullet is in her yet." Where by everyone on the chorus guffaws and laughs and points at the interlocutor.

Then The Int. calls up some one from the chorus to sing a sentimental song or recite a poem, usually about home and being away from such. Al Jolson songs played a big part in this. And interestingly this was the first and only place I heard Hard Times Come Again No More until about 1980 when I heard it sung at Old Songs. Caleb would ask another seemingly harmless question that ended up with the Interlocutor being the brunt of another joke or wildly fantastic pun. As I recall the men in blackface always ended up being just a bit ahead of the Interlocutor and never the brunt of a joke unless it was from one of the chorus.

   Some of the talented kids from the school would come on stage a sing or play a tune, dance, tell a joke, what ever. Never in blackface tho' as I recall.

   I probably would never have known how good a singer our neighbor was if he hadn't the protection of make up to sing behind. This is probably true with many of them.

   I won't debate whether these shows were demeaning or racist. If they were I wasn't aware of it at 9 years old. I was only aware that my Dad and my friends Dad's were dressed in costumes and making the Agriculture teacher look like a fool (He is still alive and one of the best teachers I ever had). I will say truly that they are fond memories of my childhood. A simpler time for me as a kid. As a family we were on a prosperous course, the first in a long while, which would change for the worse in 1960.   

   Believe me when I say Before They Close The Minstrel Show has a meaning for me that is lost on many.

Don


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 09:47 AM

Only these on BBC in 1960's http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=3zj6o_DZfSw


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 10:14 AM

Even in Maine in the early 1950's the local folks in our island town would produce an annual minstrel show. I had no clue of its history. I thought that the local townspeople looked very funny blackface, while the slapstick comedy routines were pretty dumb. I probably laughed along with everyone else.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: MaineDog
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 10:14 AM

"When I was kid in the 50's the PTA in my school in central New York did minstrel shows annually to raise money for the student book fund."

Me too, I hardly need to change much of Don's post. As I recall, I did appear in black face once or twice, but there was no malice in it. I resonate especially with the last line.

MD


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 11:55 AM

My granddad used to perform in them, and I have some great photographs from the 40s/50s, with him and a couple of others in black face, alongside the interlocutor.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 01:38 PM

I recall seeing blackface minstrel shows in the 1930s in, of all places, Santa Fe, NM (at the time predominantly Hispanic). One of the local clubs, I think Elks, put one on as a fund-raiser. Another was put on by the high school. There were others. I don't remember details, which probably means that they didn't mean anything much to me. The town (according to rumor circulating among us) had one Negro family, that we never saw. Al Jolson and his blackface rendition of "Mammy" was very popular, he was imitated by all the kids. Everything stopped and went quiet when Amos n' Andy came on, I don't recall any other show, radio or TV, that ever equaled its popularity. It parodied the neighbors we all knew.
I went into university, and was drafted into the army, so how long the shows persisted, I don't know.

The comment about being scared of the blackfaces reminded me that I was very afraid of clowns- at the circus, I hid my face and huddled against my parents while they performed. I still don't like them.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: kendall
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 04:34 PM

My class put on a minstrel show when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. I wasn't in it because I had acted up and was invited to leave.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 05:43 PM

The closest I've come to seeing a live minstrel show (blacked up) was as part of Ben Vereen's show at the Universal Amphitheater some 30 years ago. It was very poignant.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: jimmyt
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 06:19 PM

Interesting to me, because it was my first ever attempt at commercial music. In 1963 I was asked by a man to perform in the pit band at a minstrel show. We has a trombone, trumpet, clarinet, drummer, piano and banjo in the Pit band. This one had a run-thru rehearsal right before the show. It was in New Lexington, Ohio. We did a lot of showboat type songs, as well as lots of things like Down by The RIverside, and Bill Bailey and When the Saints. All music was played by ear and I had no idea what in the heck was coming next. I think there were 19 songs in the show and I had only heard of 6 or 7 of them. I played by ear so it was no big deal with me. I played several Minstrels that year all with no rehearsals. One of them was in Junction City Prison in Junction City Ohio, where Brubaker was filmed. Every show I did was done in Blackface with the End Men and a Mr. Interlocuter as well as a chorus. I never thought anything of them other than they were a good time for the audience as well as the performers. I played trumpet back then and I cut my teeth on this stuff so it will always be special to me.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 08:32 PM

Australia had Minstrel shows in the 19th century - visiting American performers, white & black, brought the shows to the capital cities & mining areas. I don't know how long they lasted into the 20th century. Bob Bolton could give more info.

19th century Jig dolls

----- extract from Warren Fahey's folklore site ("the "N" word which was used at the time he's referring to has been removed & replaced with the letter N.) -----

As the network of goldrush towns grew it attracted commercial entertainers to the many hotels that serviced the thirsty miners. Although some miners arrived with their wife and family the majority travelled alone fearing the life as too hard for women. In reality it was too hard for many men. The gold towns were male-dominated and hungry for entertainment and especially from the fairer sex. Famous singers like Lola Montez toured the larger towns while some hotels offered everything from freak shows to piano players. So called 'N. Minstrel Shows' were extremely popular. These were mainly American and usually, but not exclusively, white singers dressed with 'black face'. Racially unacceptable today but a fact of life at that time. The minstrel shows sang popular songs of the 'Dem Bones Gunna Rise Agin' variety and many of these songs, including Stephen Foster hits like 'Gentle Annie' and 'Gumtree Canoe' crossed over from popular to traditional being collected in the oral tradition. I suspect that the Minstrel show troupes were also important in popularising the bones, spoons and the banjo in Australia.

19th century images of Tasmanian minstrel shows

1903 Minstrel show

sandra


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: Rapparee
Date: 13 Jul 08 - 09:53 PM

My father acted in them, on the stage of the parish school's auditorium. There are slides around somewhere (I hope) of my brother Tony and me dressed in crepe paper bowties and makeup, "just like Daddy."

I remember "Mr. Interlocitur" and "Mr. Bones", and no one ever called anyone by their first name. It was "Mister". There was also singing and dancing, instrument playing, and generally a good time. This being a primarily German and Irish town at some point a drunken German (or Irishman) would wander onto the stage and engage Mr. I. in conversation (if you want to call it that) and was finally hauled off by an Irish (or German) cop in Keystone outfit.

Naturally, there were folks in blackface, which my father explained to his four-year-old son was actually burnt cork. And naturally his sons (four and three) had to try to burn a cork and used the one from his thermos bottle and...well, you can imagine the rest.

The College Drama Dept. put on a minstrel show with the roles reversed in the late 60s...the African-American students did various roles in whiteface. Admission was VERY limited and it was a very in-departmental thing -- I couldn't have gone had my brother not been a drama major and I was both a student and friend of the head of the Department.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 14 Jul 08 - 05:42 PM

I never saw a live minstrel show. I grew up in California's San Joaquin Valley in the 1940's and '50's. I'm certain they existed, but my only memory is of Jolson and other early movie or TV shows.

However, Since my father's family was from Beaumont, Texas, on the gulf coast, I saw blatant racism of the unreconstructed variety early on. I remember the separate drinking fountains and the signs reminding blacks to head home for "Pear Orchard" (their part of town, across the tracks) by sundown. Many older white people professed a visceral fear of miscegenation and dreaded the day when black people actually gained control of their lives. I recall service stations with three rest room doors - men, women and colored. That was MY minstrel show. It was all based on white fear, not on anger or simple ridicule born of ignorance, as many still believe.

By the way, does anyone remember a 1964 film starring James Whitmore called "Black Like Me?" Another interesting movie, starring the late Godfrey Cambridge, was "Watermelon Man," a Melvin Van Peebles-directed story about a white bigot who finds out he is really black.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: DonMeixner
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 09:46 PM

Refresh


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: GUEST,Panther Pride
Date: 22 Dec 09 - 11:10 PM

WOW I havent even thought about these shows for a while. I remember going to them in New Lexington, Ohio (43764) many times as a child with my family. At the time there were on black people living in the area that I knew of. I had no idea at the time that anyone was making fun of black people when I saw the show. I just thought they were being funny.

I LOVED the music. Nothing at all that I recall was to make fun of anyone. Maybe everyone if anything. What talent I remember. It was amazing. Particularly the banjo playing. A guy named Matt Mooney who now plays banjo in a small street jazz band somewhere in Arizona I believe. He was ONE of the banjo players. And at the time he was a kid!!

Someone show bring back a similar show without the black faces of course.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows - ever seen one?
From: scouse
Date: 23 Dec 09 - 03:29 AM

As Sung by Hamish an Iain....

Lay me down Carolina, Lay me down,
Don't wannna to wake up in the mornin' no more,
Play me one slow sad song, for one last old time,
Before they close..... The Minstrel Show.

As Aye,

Phil.


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