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Minstrel Shows, Part Two

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wysiwyg 11 Jun 02 - 08:54 PM
Butch 11 Jun 02 - 09:36 PM
wysiwyg 11 Jun 02 - 10:12 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 11 Jun 02 - 10:40 PM
sian, west wales 12 Jun 02 - 05:31 AM
sian, west wales 12 Jun 02 - 06:56 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 07:38 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:03 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 08:33 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:36 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 08:38 AM
GUEST,SeanN 12 Jun 02 - 08:49 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 09:01 AM
Greg B 12 Jun 02 - 09:29 AM
GUEST,greg stephens 12 Jun 02 - 09:50 AM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 09:55 AM
M.Ted 12 Jun 02 - 11:03 AM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:26 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:27 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 02:32 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:44 PM
M.Ted 12 Jun 02 - 02:47 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 02:52 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 03:01 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:06 PM
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GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:36 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 03:45 PM
GUEST,Les B. 12 Jun 02 - 03:49 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 03:57 PM
GUEST,Bill Kennedy 12 Jun 02 - 04:08 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 04:31 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 12 Jun 02 - 04:42 PM
Greg B 12 Jun 02 - 05:01 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 05:27 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 05:34 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 05:44 PM
wysiwyg 12 Jun 02 - 05:57 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 12 Jun 02 - 06:25 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 06:57 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 12 Jun 02 - 07:34 PM
GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 09:53 PM
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M.Ted 12 Jun 02 - 10:16 PM
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GUEST 12 Jun 02 - 11:42 PM
Butch 12 Jun 02 - 11:55 PM
Butch 13 Jun 02 - 12:01 AM
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Greg B 13 Jun 02 - 09:34 AM
Lonesome EJ 13 Jun 02 - 12:49 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 13 Jun 02 - 08:48 PM
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Dicho (Frank Staplin) 15 Jun 02 - 12:51 AM
Butch 15 Jun 02 - 06:47 AM
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GUEST,SeanN 15 Jun 02 - 06:36 PM
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Butch 18 Jun 02 - 07:22 AM
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Subject: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 08:54 PM

After some digressions that were extremely interesting, we got to this point in PART ONE:

Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
Date: 11-Jun-02 - 08:51 PM

Butch, that seems quite clear.

Perhaps now we can get back to the things we had been talking about... maybe I can simplify.

1. WHAT are the connections between this music and other "folk music" we know now?

2. HOW do you discuss it and present it, effectively?

(And what happens when you do?)


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 09:36 PM

I did not mean to get testy. Sorry about that.

1) What are the connections between this music and flok music.

There are the obvious examples like O Susanna, Old Dan Tucker and the like. Then ther are the "Old Time Favorites like "Ageline the Baker" which is based on the old minstrel tune "Angelina Baker" or "Tuckey in the Straw" which is the old tune to "OLd Zip Coon".

In other ways the connection might be slightly less clear. So many tunes can be traced to the minstel stage that it is hard to know all of the connections. What is clear is that before 1843 and the advent of the minstrel stage there was no defined "American" musical style. This tradition of minstrelsy gave birth to hundreds of tunes many of which later entered folk status. Also, folk itself is an outgrowth of this first American tradition. My "Darling Nelly Gray" became an American standard and was recorded well into the 1930's but without the reference to Nelly's having been sold back into slavery. The same can be said of songs like " Blue Tail Fly" AKA Jim Crack Corn. These tunes were brought back as recently as the 1960's. I still hear blues references to charaters from the old minstrel stage as well. I think that these tunes and images may be more ingrained in American culture than we think.

2) What do do to discuss it.

Do not insult the audience. If you choose to discuss it, be up front with people. Tell tham that like all of American history, our musical past is also frought with difficulty. Tell them the history of the tune and then tell them to make up their own mind about the unes value.

When Bob Kilham played the Brooklyn museum of Art before a very mixed race audience (1999), he was aked to play " Old Zip Coon". He said it very plainly: " This music is our conbined past. It was written in a time that thankfully has passed, but it was enjoyed in its day by our ancestors;black and white. These words offend us today, but I will not change the words. I do so because because to change them would be to lie to you about the true origin of the song. Be offended if you will, but understand that in the musical history of our country, this was an important stepping stone. Offensive or not, the reason that these songs remain with us is that musically they are great melodies and infectious rythms. These tunes are also the basis for most all of our modern music. All I ask is that you hear me with an open mind"

They did. He spoke to many afterwards and most agreed that they were glad to hear this music. Nearly all agreed that the words were hard to hear, but that the tunes were true "Americana". One older woman said that this was America's soundtrack: good or bad.

Is this the direction you were looking for Susan? And again please forgive my rant earlier.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 10:12 PM

It was just a little ranty, Butch, and under difficult circumstances. No harm, no foul.

For my own part, I guess I need to stop and think how I said what I sadi at our service, that worked... what did I dom, and not do, that made it possible for truth and justice to be presentin the event? Mulling...


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 10:40 PM

When I attempted to add some information to "Background of Brother Ephus," thread 48470 Ephus and thread 9197 "Uncle Ef's" Uncle Ef's
I found that I was quoting from references to minstrel shows, upstart crow humor, Negro songs and Negro spirituals, and antecedents of blues. They can't be separated.

It is difficult to discuss just this one song without much study. I hope others will add to my brief comments. This one rather puny song shows the interrelationships pointed to by WYSIWYG's question, "What are the connections....?"

Minstrel and Negro music, exclusive of true spirituals, of the period 1830-1900 (arbitrary dates) are so intermixed that no clear divisions can be made at this remove. For the period ca. 1900-1940, ragtime and blues are added to the pot au feu.

Butch can do a better job of explaining these intimate relationships, but it is obvious, at least to me, that OUR music (both whites and blacks have contributed) cannot be explained without knowing the historical background.
Some object to dialect. Why? Both whites and blacks, in the rural areas from which many these songs sprung, were not educated to NY-Boston upper class standards and dialect was common to both.
The words nigger and coon appear in hundreds of completely Negro songs. Should these songs be eliminated as well as the minstrel routines?
Jokes at the expense of the poorly educated and the downtrodden were common to all groups in the 19th century (and persist in the redneck, hick, etc. jokes). Some famous politicians made their reputation by exploiting these jokes. Should we be ignorant of this?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: sian, west wales
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:31 AM

Dicho, again apologies for not getting back sooner! Between work and the World Cup, life is full!

Yes, you can see that the whippoorwill is referred to in the song, although only in passing. It came to Wales via a Welshman (from Bethesda) who worked in the quarries of Vermont and Quebec. Researchers tell us that he picked it up from the minstrel shows touring the areas, translated it, and sent it back to Wales where it became popular.

Being a Canadian, I've lived with both sorts of robins (here in Wales, I've got a couple of the UK version nesting in my garden)but I don't know if robins would have been mentioned in the original; the translator may have added that for the 'home' market. And, yes, he was probably thinking about frogs, not toads, but in translating it back to English I thought I'd better stick to what *he* actually used ... and he used 'toads'. 'Frog' in Welsh is generally broga, and 'Toad' is llyfant. Having said that, I think that some areas use 'llyfant melyn' for frog, so I suppose that's what he had in mind, but 'llyfant' on its own would still mean toad.

I've written myself a note on the back of my hand to try to find the booklet that's been written about it. I should have a copy at home. It might be more specific about the original...


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: sian, west wales
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:56 AM

Sorry, should have spelled that "llyffant". Llyfant would be something else... inappropriate!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 07:38 AM

I don't see anyone in this thread suggesting we should sweep this music history under the rug.

But I do see the argument that minstrel music should be performed by whites "because its a good tune" as being the rough equivalent of telling a racist joke, and then saying "I was only kidding, I didn't mean any harm by it".

If people choose to perform these songs, they should be prepared for some serious criticism by people who are offended by them, IMO. As it should be.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:03 AM

Sean, if they perform them that way, without knowing what they are doing, yes, they should be. I think we are talking about something different.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:33 AM


You misinterpreted what I said. I'm talking about the types of performances both you and Butch seem to be doing of minstrel songs.

It is your choice to perform these songs, no matter how you have sanitized them. You know how divisive and offensive they are, so you shouldn't be indignant when people have strong negative reactions to your performance of them, and say so.

I would also add, a lot of people will say nothing directly to you directly after a performance of these songs, but they may well say plenty about you and your performance to others after the fact.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:36 AM

Well, Sean, I guess if you have never seen either of us do what we do, you really can't imagine a way the songs could be done, that could be appropriate. And you seem to have closed your mind about something you can't speak about accurately, as a result.

I measure things by how people vote with theiur feet. Especially with African Americans-- if they come back, it says something pretty big.

I think the most useful comments about "How can these be done" would come from people who have had some experience in that regard?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:38 AM

Sorry-- forgot to ask-- Sean, was that you in any of the previous unattributed guest posts? If so, could you tell us which?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 08:49 AM

Susan, I post as SeanN because that is who I am. I'll ignore your other remarks, because you seem to me overly defensive about this subject, and you seem unable to accept responsibility for performing them.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:01 AM

No, Sean, I just think that I'm responsible to the people for whom I do them (and I am a songleader not a performer), not to you or to anyone else who has not participated. I think you are not hearing that. I can understand how that could be, since you have no way of knowing for yourself what experiences I may have had in my life, with diversity work in particular, that have led me to do what I do, however imperfectly.

If someone who has experience in the matter disagrees with you, it isn't necessarily defensiveness, and I don't appreciate your characterizing it that way when you don't know me.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Greg B
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:29 AM

Some times it's just not worth it.

In another life, I fly with the Commemorative Air Force.

Our mission is 'Keep em flying!' in reference to historical war planes (warbirds). It's a laudable (and expensive, in terms of money, time, and indeed lives) mission.

You may know us as the Confederate Air Force, a name which we voted to change on January 1 2002, because it was becoming too much of a millstone around our collective necks.

We are not, and never were ashamed of the 'Confederate' name. It had its roots in the founding of the organization by a bunch of old boys who came up with it as a tounge-in-cheek thing. Just as each of us members holds and is called by the same rank... Colonel.

However, in the current political climate you have to make a decision. Since stupid and ignorant people couldn't seem to get off the quasi-political subject of 'what do you mean by 'Confederate?' ' it became difficult to talk about the roles of the B17, or F8F, or even L6 under whose wing you were standing in our history, or how the heroes who flew them made it *possible* for the politically correct to avoid being shot for being same.

It's sure hard to remember your cultural history accurately when you spend so much time and energy being personally ashamed of it!

Of course, those who would have us forget history seem to prove the old truism by immediately repeating it. Cold comfort, however.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,greg stephens
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:50 AM

Susan, keep up the good work, and dont be deflected by provokers. Well, I havent seen you doing the stuff youre talking about, so for all I know its offensive and crap,but somehow I doubt it! I mean, keep up exploring how to keep this wonderful music going and accessible, and I'm sure by being aware and thinking about what youre doing you wll succeed in solving the obviously huge problems involved.Good luck.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:55 AM

Greg B, I think that there is a whole range of reaction and response, in this area, and I think it has as much to do with how it's heard as it does with how it's said.

There is no escaping the racist heritage we all share, and everyone, whether they are working on it as a personal issue intentionally or not, is in a different place about it. Racism, at the time its mindsets are "installed," is so pernicious because it hits each person in a personal way, deeply, and then it often masquerades as something else. But the result is that no matter what one's motives or feelings may be as a presenter, there are going to be people for whom there is just zero tolerance for anything even remotely connected to the matter. And that can be the result for either "side" of the "issue."

For the black community, one such area was what are now called all over the world, "Negro Spirituals," because that IS what they were called at the time they were "discovered" and, at the time, the term Negro was considered pretty damn polite. The songs were a reminder not only of slavery but of a time when there was little or no economic standing for people of color in the US. It became a class issue, just as much as bluegrass gospel is often not welcome among people who prefer to think that culture begins and ends with classical music.

It's po' folks music, and for a time, black folk did not care to be seen as po' folks in any way, shape, or form-- that was where danger lay. Of course later, there was a big resurgence of black folks reclaiming that heritage, and there is some awareness that it's everyone's music, not just the music of people of color-- a lot of it was created in close communication with white folks of the time.

This is one reason why the Feet Vote is so important to me. If you can reach through all that stuff, all those generations of passed-along, unaware or aware racism, and touch a heart, then real communication is going on. You can tell that's occurring when people come back.

Of course you can also get a good Feet Vote by attracting people to what restimulates the distresses... but in that case, doing what we do, if we were doing it that way, I would have expected it to be white racists coming along to our service. In fact, that isn't what is happening at all.

Butch has a line on something positive too, if the NAACP is with him, not against him. He's way ahead of me in that regard, and I think we can learn much.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:03 AM

As shocking as some of them may seem now, the images from minstrelry, the "coon" songs, and particularly, the blackface makeup, were accepted in their time without question--the awareness of the deeper implications was very slow in coming--today, a lot of the themes, characters, and stereotypes continue in entertainment--particularly in"Gangsta" Rap and in TV situation comedies--and, as in the Minstrel days, they are accepted without question--

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:26 PM

Susan, outside of the first guest poster to this thread, I am the only one who has contributed, for all that is worth.

Since people here are planning on compiling this into a study thread eventually, I'm adding a few things I think provides important insight and perspective from OUTSIDE Mudcat.


From the Parlor Songs website:

"Because of the lyrics in Coon songs, none of these songs are seen or performed today as they were originally written. It is even with some trepidation that we have dared to perform a few of them here at ParlorSongs. But, we do believe it is a chapter in our musical history that should not and cannot be swept under the rug. It seems a shame to have an entire genre of song lost to today because of the words, yet we could not tolerate a resurgence."

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:27 PM

From the PBS 'The American Experience' website:

Margaret Washington : The Portrayal of African Americans in Song There was a vernacular of music called "coon songs" that was very popular around 1900. And they depicted African Americans as buffoons, oftentimes eating watermelon. They depicted African American women withvery large gluteus maximus and very fat in front and African American men with huge red lips and large eyes. They depicted African Americans lyrically, in dialect, in the most gross form of informal English, much of which African Americans never used in any period in their history. And they essentially made African Americans ridiculous. It was a tradition that was part of American history, going all the way back to the 1820 and 30s and it had matured with the nation. It went out of vogue at the time of the Civil War and during Reconstruction and then re-emerged along with some of the other less noble aspects of American society and culture such as the rise of scientific racism which reached its height in 1900 and made these "coon songs" okay, because African Americans were "proven"scientifically to be inferior. So naturally they would engage in this kind of buffoonery. And these were very popular. They were simply part of white American culture.

The culture was so racist and thought of African Americans as inferior, as a matter of course that whites didn't look upon these songs as being anything other than part of culture. What they did from 1890 to 1905 was they simply revived the songs that had been used, especially in the North, especially in New York City in the 1830s. They just simply revised them and gave them a more modern face.

I think it was part of the oppression. I think it was also part of America's sense of being really on top of the world. I mean on top of the world in terms of the whole world, and almost in a way of saying that we are on top and other people are on bottom and at the same time it was not even the kind of racism that was synonymous with the terrorism of the South which is meant to literally beat black people down, but this kind of racism was kind of a paternalism. Yes, these people are inferior, but we can help them. They will never be as great as we are, because of another concept of the time along with scientific racism was social Darwinism. So, not only are they scientifically inferior, but we are the fittest among humanity and they simply couldn't aspire to be where we are, even if they wanted to, so you can afford to be generous. And within this broad construct were these "coon songs" which is simply brought into fruition what they already felt to be true.

If you look at the works of someone like Dunbar, who presents African American literary tradition partly in dialect, then you can see that there is somewhat of a contradiction and you can see how Dunbar's dialect poetry might have fit into white concepts about African Americans. But then you have to ask the question, should African Americans not be themselves as they genuinely see themselves because they are afraid of what whites are going to think about them, because white people are going to think what they want about black people no matter what black people do. And Dunbar's poetry and all of his earthiness was original. The "coon songs" were not. And in the same way that in the period of slavery, on plantations, African Americans created artistry that was appropriated by whites in the North and turned into minstrelsy, that does not denigrate the artistry that the African American culture created.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:32 PM

Thanks for clarifying. I'm going to call you "Guest, Returning", then, and if I attribute something to you that in fact you did not say, straighten us out, OK? Or maybe you will use that handle.

I really do appreciate your contributions and views, both facts and opinions.

Is all of that last post a quote, or is the latter part of it your own writing?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:44 PM

From the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, is an extremely interesting website. This is from the website's "New Racist Forms" page:here is a link to many articles on this subject:

"Micetrap Distribution is another website which sells anti-Black products. In addition to White power flags, books, and videos of Skinhead musical concerts, this organization also sells remakes of old racist songs. A Johnny Rebel CD, for example, includes these songs, "Some Niggers Never Die," "Coon Town," "Cowboys & Niggers," "We Don't Want Niggers In Our Schools," and "Move Them Niggers North."21 This site added a counter on May 15, 1996. On December 16, 2000, the counter indicated 2,588,980 visits to the site. Heritage Front, which bills itself as "Canada's Largest Racialist Group," sells magazines, musical videos, books, and business cards.22 Most White supremacist organizations sell merchandise, and much of this merchandise dehumanizes or belittles minorities, especially Blacks and Jews."

There are a number of interesting articles at the same website here:

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:47 PM

Do you think we don't know about this stuff, GUEST?--You are not the person who realized this stuff, and, raging like you are, it seems that you aren't aware that you are trying to fight battle that was over a long time ago--Sadly enough, you are to dense to realize what the battles of today are, or perhaps just more comfortable living in the past--

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 02:52 PM

Also, for those who aren't aware of this film, there is "Ethnic Notions":

Ethnic Notions (Marlon Riggs, 56 minutes, 1987) Ethnic Notions is Marlon Riggs' Emmy-winning documentary that takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing for the first time the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-black prejudice. Through these images we can begin to understand the evolution of racial consciousness in America.

Loyal Toms, carefree Sambos, faithful Mammies, grinning Coons, savage Brutes, and wide-eyed Pickaninnies roll across the screen in cartoons, feature films, popular songs, minstrel shows, advertisements, folklore, household artifacts, even children's rhymes. These dehumanizing caricatures permeated popular culture from the 1820s to the Civil Rights period and implanted themselves deep in the American psyche.

Narration by Esther Rolle and commentary by respected scholars shed light on the origins and devastating consequences of this 150 yearlong parade of bigotry. Ethnic Notions situates each stereotype historically in white society's shifting needs to justify racist oppression from slavery to the present day. The insidious images exacted a devastating toll on black Americans and continue to undermine race relations.

Ethnic Notions has quickly become a mainstay of university, high school, and public library collections. It is a basic audio visual text for American History, Sociology, Black Studies, Anthropology, Social Psychology, Popular Culture, and any training program concerned with stereotyping and cross-cultural understanding."

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:01 PM

M Ted, I didn't know the stuff GUEST posted. To me, it's helpful information about what some parts of my world are like. It all helps me understand some things, I think.

This whole thread has been remarkably civil, despite the difficult subject. I'm still marveling about it. I hope I can for a long time. I really appreciate the effort people are making to not let their pushed buttons take over. Please, just keep talking, and breathing a little slower when you need to, huh?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:06 PM

I'm not raging M Ted, I'm simply presenting a different point of view from Susan and Butch. Is that not to be tolerated here?

Also, if this thread is to be included in the study threads, isn't the information I'm providing relevant to that? The Parlor Songs website is an excellent site. People with a serious interest in learning more about this aspect of music history can use these things I'm citing. The American Experience program on PBS, as well as the film "Ethnic Notions" are excellent studies of the subject.

We've also been discussing Spike Lee's latest film, "Bamboozled"--or I should say, at least some of us have tried to bring it into the conversation. Unfortuately, those who are currently performing these songs refuse to be engaged in that part of the discussion.

Again, nowhere have I advocated censorship of this music, or of the information surrounding it. It is important not to sweep it under the rug, absolutely. I just seriously question the value of continuing to perform the music. Butch and Susan are acting as if others have no right to challenge their performance of extremely provocative material with deep and long associations with a racist past. It is material they KNOW offends many, yet the seem to be suggesting their performance of the material either doesn't offend anyone (which I grant may be true), or that it SHOULDN'T offend anyone.

I can accept that they are performing the music sensitively enough that it hasn't yet offended anyone in their audiences that they are aware of. What I refuse to accept is their contention that their performance of these songs SHOULDN'T offend anyone. I disagree strongly with that contention, but I'm not raging at anyone about it.

Expressing a point of view that is at odds with two posters isn't raging at all, so I think your post is way off the mark.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:23 PM

Susan, the excerpt is from the 'American Experience: American 1900' program website. It is an interview with Margaret Washington, an Associate Professor of History at Cornell University, who was a consultant on African American experience at in 1900, for the program.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:36 PM

Copy of "All Coons Look Alike to Me" sheet music from the 1980s here:

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:45 PM

Here is an interview with Spike Lee on his film "Bamboozled" from

Spike, a lot of black journalists have been offended by Bamboozled.

LEE: Well, it is a satire. It is a joke. We should not think that we are a monolithic group, and that all black people will like it. That is why I say we need to get those positions that are gatekeepers. Those that decide what is on the front page, and what gets buried in the back pages.

What motivated you to do this film?

LEE: Just the history of our images in cinema and television.

What do you want this film to do?

LEE: I want to have people talking about this. I want it to spark discussion and debate.

Will you be attacked for being a racist?

LEE: Why not. People attacked me for being a racist with Summer Of Sam, and there were no black people in that movie.

What do you think about the charges against you? They also said you were anti-Semitic?

LEE: Well, I mean it is apparent what they are trying to do with those charges.

Do you get in trouble for the topics you make movies about? On race?

LEE: I am an artist. I am a filmmaker and these are the stories I want to tell. Not everything I do involves race, but when I do tell a story regarding race, when we do deal with it, we have to go at it strong.

How do you expect this film to motivate young people?

LEE: If that happens, so be it. I just hope that the young people get some positive things out of it. I think a lot of the stuff they didn't know anything about. Such as the origin of blackface. The minstrel show, all of that stuff. They don't understand it at all. That's how come I think it will be good for them to see this film.

Were some of the older blacks offended by the film and the images it shows?

LEE: There are some people, black and white, that feel that these images need to be buried forever. They are like, "Let it die and move on." I don't agree, but I respect that opinion.

Your film is a satire, but how real do you think it is?

LEE: It is very real. People get hung up about, "This can't happen, because no one will put blackface on their face," but you don't need blackface in the 21st century to make a minstrel show.

In the film, Savion Glover just wants to dance. He will do it in spite of it being offensive to people. Can you knock the brother for it?

LEE: Everyone has to make a decision where you might have to compromise themselves. That is what the film is saying, without saying the decision that you should make.

Give me some examples of modern day minstrels.

LEE: Gangsta rap videos. I think that there are shows on television.

Do you think your film attacks hip hop?

LEE: I am not condemning a whole genre of videos, but I think that gangsta rap is a subdivision of hip hop.

You say gangsta rap is a modern-day minstrel show. What do you want to see change in the genre?

LEE: The lyrical content. This whole pursuit of mass consumerism. The Bentleys.

You sound like Stanley Crouch.

LEE: No, he condemns all gangsta rap. I don't. If you go back to Do the Right Thing, you see "Fight the Power" [a Public Enemy song from the film soundtrack] and the Crooklyn Dodgers [rappers who performed a track for the film Crooklyn]. I've had hip hop in my films. But I have a problem with all the Bentleys and the Rolexes. The Cristal. The Platinum. The platinum teeth. The ice.

So gangsta rap is coonism?

LEE: Look at those videos. Look at the portrayal of the women in those videos.

This is your fifteenth film. Do you sit back and think about how your career has evolved?

LEE: I try and reflect on it every so often. I think it has been substantial in what we have been able to do. Fifteen films in fifteen years. I have built up a substantial body of work. I am very proud of it, and I look forward to continuing to do it.

Do you think that people know what your production company's name – 40 Acres and a Mule —means?

LEE: Some people do, others don't.

How is the situation in Hollywood? Is it still a minstrel show?

LEE: Minstrel show. I would say that we will not have fundamental change until we get into positions of what I call the gatekeepers. These are the people who can say what film gets made, and what television show gets made. That is where we have to be.

What do you think about a black studio? What about having as many black film studios as they have record companies?

LEE: Yeah, I like that, but none of those record companies have national distribution. Where is the first one? Where is the first black studio?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:49 PM

I found SeanN's statement way up above interesting :

"But I do see the argument that minstrel music should be performed by whites "because its a good tune" as being the rough equivalent of telling a racist joke, and then saying "I was only kidding, I didn't mean any harm by it"

In mulling it over, I know and will play some tunes as an instrumental - "Year of Jubilo" for instance (and yes, I relize it's not strictly a minstrel tune) - but wouldn't feel comfortable singing the words to a mixed race audience.

I generally think a tune and its associated words are two separate issues - melody being an emotional dimension, and words adding meaning. However, when you come to an extremely well known tune, like "Dixie," then you may be kicking another sleeping dog.

To some, apparently, just the melody of "Dixie" is so well known it instantly raises hackles on the backs of those who associate it with racism. I know a fiddler, raised in the south, but living here in the north for many years, who refuses to play it because of those feelings.

Anyone else have thoughts about this ?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:57 PM

Butch and Susan are acting as if others have no right to challenge their performance of extremely provocative material with deep and long associations with a racist past.

Nope, not me. I'm just saying, you don't know what exactly I am doing, so I can't engage with you on that particular point. I'm saying that I do have local feedback and a leg and a half of past experience to stand on.

I prefer mutual learning experiences to challenging or being challenged, but that doesn't mean I don't expect people to challenge me; actually I think people who know me well would agree that I welcome opportunities to rethink things, and to get smarter, and to understand more about my world and the people in it.

What I DO expect is something I expect of myself-- to be willing and able to say how and why I do what I do, most of the time, and to do it with deliberate, pre-formed intention more often than not... to be willing to look inside and see what's goiong on and discuss it, while hoping others do the same.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,Bill Kennedy
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:08 PM

this is somewhat of a digression, but related in a way - just as it is difficult to compare any other 'ethnic cleansing' to the Nazi Holocaust, it is very difficult to compare any other American anti-immigrant prejudice to the suffering of slavery. Part of that is that slavery is a horrible condition that most immigrants didn't suffer. There was indentured servitude, and there were abuses in that system, people sufferred, but they were essentially free to enter into this contract. ALL immigrant groups were stereotyped at one time or another, and many of the stereotypes that were created and perpetuated in the early-mid 19th c. also spawned music, that, as well as 'Coon Songs', were picked up by late 19th - early 20th c. music hall and vaudeville performers, who also often dressed and made up as the sterotypical 'Mick', 'Paddy', 'Hans', etc. These songs still offend some Irish, German, etc. descendants, but in most cases, these descendants have not had to suffer, up to this very day, the blind hatred of racial prejudice that many, if not all, blacks are subject to. As I have said earlier, I am in favor of historical accuracy, and against sweeping the past under the rug for the sake of temporary and artificial 'peace'. The bottom line though is, 'no justice, no peace'. Some contemporary writers still espouse the idea that many blacks on the plantation were happy, and better off than they would have been in Africa. Some of the stereotypical minstrel songs perpetuate these ideas. Should they therefore not be sung, ever again? NO. But, they should, if sung, be put in context, and they should be part of a general apology to the descendants of slaves (all blacks in this country are not necessarily descendants of slaves, but they are treated as such, and deserve an apology, and ALL Americans, no matter when they arrived here, benefit in some way from the riches that slavery produced, IMHO). We claim to celebrate diversity these days, and we celebrate ethnicity, we have our S. Pat's day, Oktoberfest, Columbus Day, but do we as a people celebrate the African-American? Not yet! Juneteenth is a Late Night joke to most Americans, if they have heard about it at all, or they have been fed by the media and have adopted a stereotypical view of it as 'rowdy', 'licentious', 'dangerous', 'out of control', etc. I am glad to see threads like this on a public forum, and especially as it is directly related to music, but I am sure my views are not the same as anothers and I respect that. Sensitivity to others views, not blind 'political correctness' is what many in this thread have espoused and I embrace that.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:31 PM


I think the vociferous emotional reactions to even just the tune, as you speak of regarding "Dixie" is very real to many people.

I can't stand "Oh Susannah" because I was taught to sing it in an integrated (black and white) classroom as a child, with the original offending words, and remember how some white children used those words to taunt one of the black girls in our class in particular with them. They regularly reduced her to tears, and I felt utterly powerless to stop them from taunting, or her from crying. I can't stand to even hear the tune, because it triggers that memory of my powerlessness, and hers.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 04:42 PM

The views and beliefs of educated whites that were taught in schools and universities in the pre-1920 period, I believe, had more importance than the minstrel shows and other entertainments of both lower and lower middle class blacks and whites. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911, is still prized for the brilliance of many of its essays. The scholarship of the period is summarized. Some of the essays, however, perpetuated stereotypes.

Nowhere in the essay under NEGRO is black music or black-influenced white music mentioned. The subject we are discussing was scarcely noticed by the educators and elite of the time, except in black, racially separate schools. Minstrelsy was entertainment for the lower and lower middle class populace. The characterizations of Negroes in reference works and in upper level school classrooms had much more to do with negative stereotypes and discriminatory practices than the minstrel shows, dialect and coon songs. The characterizations provided a means for the "common people" to laugh at their own ignorance, shortcomings and failures through the antics of the blacks and blackface comedians of the minstrel circuits. The characterizations and the songs were regarded as humor by both blacks and whites.

To show the viewpoint of the educated classes, here are some quotes from the top English encyclopedia of the time, the Britannica (1911).
"For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test. Given suitable training, the negro is capable of becoming a craftsman of considerable skill, particularly in metal work, carpentry and carving." Another- "Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white. The research of F. Manetta, made after long study...."
These attitudes were taught and perpetuated. The folk music we enjoy, largely a development by both blacks and whites in the south, did not begin to widen its appeal until the 1920s and the population shifts from south to north as employment patterns changed. Ragtime and Jazz had paved the way, starting about 1900. The first impact was on the working class.

Speaking of conditions in 1908,the essay continues: "It was too early to say whether the negroes would be given an equal or fair opportunity to show that they could be as serviceable [in the new situation] as they had been in that which was passing away."
The last two paragraphs discuss writers and scholars who study the Negro, and at the end, two black authors are mentioned: "Among the southern negroes doubtless the most important writers are the two representatives of somewhat antagonistic views, Booker T. Washington" [Up From Slavery, Future of the American Negro] "and W. E. B. Dubois" [The Souls of Black Folk, Physique of the Negro American].

Is any of this pertinent to this discussion? I think so, because it reflects the views held by the educated English-speaking white in both North America and Great Britain in the post-slavery period and and almost to WW 2.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Greg B
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:01 PM

There's this really impressive trap here, GUEST, where being taught to 'own' your own words seems to make you think it's all about you. Or your sensibilities.

News flash: it isn't.

Nor is about someome who 'finds' given words offensive. Anyone. Even the actual member of an oppressed group, as opposed to the empathic poseur, which you more resemble.

Culture is culture;it is what it is. History was history, it was what it was. Deal with it. Learn something.

'Traditional' or 'folk' music is, at the end of the day, about *the experience of the people who sang it.* You don't get to modify that experience just because your 2002 sensibilities don't match theirs. Even about the word formerly known as the N-word, and once known as the B-word, but know properly the A-A words. That isn't part of the deal.

Nor do you get to erase those people, who lived, loved, raised families, and were as baffled by their changing world as you and I (such as when they wrote 'Dixie'), from memory.

If you want that, then go dig up some Rogers and Hammerstein. Mid 20th-century Show Tunes are definitely the way to go. Along with liberal doses of the theme from 'Leave it to Beaver.' Immerse yourself up to your armpits in fluff. Plug your ears with fluff until the fluff plugs up your mind as well.

But don't go out to MTV, because you'll hear the N-word all over there, too. And you'll hear anti-Semitic, misogynistic and violent stuff that will curl (or uncurl, as the case may be) your hair.

I firmly stand for a world where we don't tell people what to sing. Or say. Or think.

Everything else seems just a little too dangerous, however well-meaning and correct the thought-police think that they are...this time around.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:27 PM

OK Greg B, I can accept your logic. Racism: deal with it.

Just how do we do that? Is pointing out racist behavior ever acceptable to you, or is it always just an example of the PC/thought police telling people what to think?

How do you think systemic injustices and racial oppression should be dealt with in our society?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:34 PM

Dicho, you said:

"The characterizations and the songs were regarded as humor by both blacks and whites."

I find it nigh on impossible to believe that blacks found Jim Crow, Stepin Fetchit, coon songs, etc. to be humorous, as you are claiming.

What evidence of this do you have?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:44 PM

And BTW, here is the offending lyric, as I remember it, from my school days. I've done it in minstrel dialect, which is the way I remember us singing it too.

I jumped aboard de telegraph

and trabelled down de ribber,

the electrie fluid magnified

and killed ten thousand nigger,

De bulgine burst, de horse ran off

I really thought I'd die

I shut my eyes to hold my breath

Susannah don't you cry.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:57 PM

May I interrupt just long enough to say this-- what I find most significant about this thread is how much we seem to want to talk about this stuff.

And I'd like to point out, as well, that no matter how rigid some of the opinions may seem to be at the moment the SUBMIT MESSAGE button is clicked-- it looks to me, from here, like everyone is continuing to think and to be really trying to hear one another. And doing that-- well I'm impressed with each and every one of you!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:25 PM

Guest, my evidence is the many Negro songs that have been collected and which are variations of the minstral songs. Have you ever looked into:
Thomas W. Talley, Negro Folk Rhymes
Newman L. White, American Negro Folk Songs
Odum and Johnson, The Negro and His Songs?
There are many more, but my budget can't afford them all. Of course there are also the songs written for minstrel shows by black performers.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 06:57 PM

OK Dicho, thanks for providing the cites for those song collections. But I don't think that the existence of the songs means, by extension, that black audiences then and now, found them humorous.

Considering how popular these songs were, and the fact that the minstrel circuit was one of the few venues where black entertainers were allowed to perform professionally, they had a strong economic and artistic incentive to compose songs and perform the minstrel shows according to the white audience's standards, not black audiences. The main audiences, as I understand it, were white, not black, right up to 1900.

Blacks certainly didn't have to think the songs they were composing humorous--just effective. Same with the audiences. I guess I'd rather have evidence of some scholarly analysis of how black audiences perceived the minstrel shows, rather than just the songs themselves, as justification of your suggestion I quoted.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 07:34 PM

Just wondered what the thought is on this bit of dialect.
Aunt Dinah, a black cook, is speaking. Excerpts:
"I may say dat. Good, plain common cookin', Jinny'll do- make a good pone o'bread- bile her taters far,- ...." "Ta'nt no fault o' hem. An, Mas'r George, you doesn't know...." "And so ye telled Tom, did ye? O, Lor! what young uns will be up ter!"

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:53 PM

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence." -Albert Einstein

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:13 PM

Found this fragment of late(?) minstrelsy from a book by Paskman and Spaeth (Sigmund?) titled "Gentlemen, be seated!": Minstrel
In case that doesn't work:

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: M.Ted
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:16 PM

Minstrel shows, particularly black ones, played to both mixed and black audiences--and, as is the case for the spirituals before them, the performances carried different messages to the black audiences than to the white--a lot like Chris Rock does today, I would suspect--

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:24 PM

Aha! The page is headed with the ending htm, but html is noted in Google. Trying again: minstrel (if this doesn't work, try adding the www. after the http://)

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:27 PM

No comments on the Aunt Dinah quotes? There are lots more....

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: DonD
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:39 PM

Alternative 1:

"There was slavery. There was and is racism. There were racist songs. I know a lot of them because they're part of our musical -- and national -- history. I'm going to sing one for you. What do you think?"

alternative 2:

"There was slavery. There was and is racism. There were racist songs. I know a lot of them because they're part of our musical -- and national -- history. But I'm not going to sing any of them for you, because I think I already know what some of you may think."

Alternative 3:

"Oh, Susannah? No, sorry, I don't sing that. In fact, just about any song you can name might offend someone, so I don't sing them either. Just play the tune? Sorry, it might bring up a painful memory for someone and I daren't risk unknowingly causing pain. Why don't we all just sit quietly for a couple of hours and then go home and talk about what a great concert it was."

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:41 PM

The "Black and White Minstrel Show" of BBC television, England, 1958-1978: Black and White

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 10:48 PM

Sophomore Class Minstrel Show, Livermore, CA, High School, 1954-1955 (Livermore Class Picture Archive): High School

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:04 PM

More random shots, showing the use of minstrel shows. Here was one used to campaign for votes for women, Winnipeg, Canada, 1915: Votes for Women

The University of Texas has perhaps the largest and most diverse collection of minstrel material at the Ransome Center.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:42 PM

DonD, if all a musician knows is offensive, racist songs and they've nothing else in their repetoire to entertain an audience with, then yes, I'd prefer we sit quietly.

Aren't you being a bit over the top here? I really don't think any of the hysterical scenarios being presented are realistic.

Reasonable people can disagree about this subject can't they? Or is that what so many of you are upset about? That what you really think is no one has the right to be offended by the performance of these songs? Seems to be what the majority of people posting to this thread are claiming. That white folk musicians not only have a right to perform these songs, but that they should have the right to perform them with impunity. That they shouldn't be challenged by people who are offended by them.

Have I got that about right, now?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 11:55 PM

"Butch and Susan are acting as if others have no right to challenge their performance of extremely provocative material with deep and long associations with a racist past. It is material they KNOW offends many, yet the seem to be suggesting their performance of the material either doesn't offend anyone (which I grant may be true), or that it SHOULDN'T offend anyone. "

Boy you go away for a day and the whole thread goes crazy (in a good way)

Please allow me to make my position on the above statement clear.

I do not, in any way, or in any form, feel that others do not have the right to challange what I do, or how I do it. You do have the right and I have the further right to defend my actions. That is all. I do not wish to offend, but I warn people that the words I use may offend in some cases. I feel that the lessons learned are more important that the possible offense. If and when I am ever confronted, my reaction will be simple. I will apologize and let the offended have at me. I will defend myself only lightly and I will apologize again. I am not in this to hurt anyone, I am in it to educate if I can. There are lessons about shared heritage that SOME songs can teach. Some songs have no redeeming quality at all, and those I leave to be printed but never sung. I try and make my choices carefully.

The song "Jim Crack Corn" was a minstrel tune. It was also a favorite among slaves in Georgia during the war. Should their association with the tune be lost simply beacuse the tune was written and sung by minstrels?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 12:01 AM

"That white folk musicians not only have a right to perform these songs, but that they should have the right to perform them with impunity. That they shouldn't be challenged by people who are offended by them. "

Please read above Guest, that is not what I am saying and I don't think that DonD is either. I have the right to perform what I like, that is American freedom. You have the right to be offended, same freedom. You have the right to show me my folly and I have the right to try and change your mind. Don't go off on thei " You think....." track it only shuts down a perfectly good arguement. You don't really know what any of us think. Stick to what we right and leave the thinking to each person.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 12:14 AM

There is something uniquely NOW about one of the attitudes I see around the edges of this discussion-- the idea that one can and should know, before one has experienced something, how it is going to feel and what one is going to think about it. I see it often, these days, but it wasn't always the way people thought. Now, though, it's very common to hear people say things like, "I could never do such and such because if I DID, I'd feel like THIS...." as if one can pre-know all there is to know, without having to actually experience anything.

Kinda makes hindsight obsolete.

But I live by it, to a certain extent, I mean I depend on hindsight to help me do better in the future.

I betcha if Butch did an evening that really HURT someone, he'd notice that, and figure out what was happening and what to do about it.

I wish people trusted each other, more, to keep thinking and learning, instead of forming instant, permanent, irrevocable judgments about whatever little slice of reality they happen upon in someone else's life.

I wish I had a t-shirt that said, "The gross error you see me committing today will be the foundation of my wisdom, tomorrow." That would be on the front. The back would say, "Hindsight! Remember???"

I wish people could realize that the fear of a possibility does not mean one can stay safe by cutting out that possibility, and all that might flow from it.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Greg B
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 09:34 AM

Guest, by 'deal with it' I mean stop kvetching and whining and trying to find a racist to persecute under every rock in your effort to shore up your flagging self-esteem. While hiding beyond anonymnity, no less. Can I be any clearer?

These crusades are tiresome. Move on. Watch MTV and you'll find that music has.

I admit amusement at the stilted way in which you view your 'offensive' verse. In fact, the verse says much more about society's tendency to suspect new technology and to foretell resulting doom than anything else. Early on, people widely believed that electricity was somehow a genie (am I allowed to say 'genie' or is that anti-Islamic?) that was going to escape from its bottle and cause massive casualties.

If it is the N-word that gets your knickers in a twist, remember it's a 19th-century rhyme in 19th-century language, one which made perfect sense at the time.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 12:49 PM

Are Chris Rock and Chris Tucker representative of the New Minstrel Movement? Provocative and interesting article.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 08:48 PM

Guest, I'm reading an old novel. Above somewhere I posted some lines spoken by a black cook, Aunt Dinah (antecedent of Aunt Jemima of pancake fame?). I was wondering whether the dialogue is acceptable now. Here is a little more:
"And de gineral, he knows what cookin' is," says Aunt Chloe, drawing herself up with an air. "Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of the bery fustest families in Old Virginny! .... Ye see, there's pints in all pies, Mas'r George; but tan't evrybody knows what they is, or as orter be."
Should this language be rewritten for the readers of today?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 08:18 PM

I believe not. I know whites from certain parts of Virginia that still speak in this manner. If the dialect is accurate, why change it? We would use dialect if this were two New England Yankees or German farmers in early America, why does race figure into this?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 08:30 PM

Butch, I was trying to get a comment from our anon. guest. I have no objections to the dialect. I don't know if the dialect was correct. It was written by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." I was wondering whether he objected to that book as well as "Huckleberry Finn."

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 09:55 PM

Dicho, perhaps you could try engaging some other people who are participating in the conversation, instead of goading me for being anonymous. I think the conversation would be much more enlightening.

Perhaps someone would like to respond to or discuss some of the issues raised in that article Lonesome EJ posted the link to, for instance.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 10:25 PM

I will, but not till next week. I'se all busied up till then.

Be nice to each other, huh? I see no enemies here, just human beans trying to understand one another.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 10:41 PM

WYSIWYG, are you always this condescending?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 14 Jun 02 - 11:15 PM

Sad to see we have reached the "let's get nasty" stage.

Just a reminder-- people posting in good faith will kindly remember to ignore the trolls and continue our good discussion.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Jun 02 - 12:51 AM

I find it difficult to comment on the article posted by Lonesome EJ. Not having ever seen or heard of the comedians Tucker and Rock, I believe that I should disqualify myself from comment since I would be remarking on actions possibly taken out of context. The article represents the views of a columnist for the New Republic, whose stance I don't know either. Is it a true evaluation of these comedians?
There have been a comment or two in our local paper about the Republic being radically leftist, but I consider the local paper to be radically rightist, so that adds up to zero.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 15 Jun 02 - 06:47 AM

Have a good weekend Susan, whatever you do I hope it goes well!


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 15 Jun 02 - 03:31 PM

Well, Guest, since you mentioned it, what was your response to the article. I don't think the bias of the magazine should matter a whit. The article should stand or fall on its own merit.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,SeanN
Date: 15 Jun 02 - 06:36 PM

If New Republic can be said to be "radically" anything, it would be radically centrist. To the right of Harpers, but about the same as Atlantic Monthly.

Does that help any?

Dicho, if you haven't any idea of who the comedians in question are, or of any of the African American cultural issues raised in the article, what makes you think you are qualified to "teach" people about the blackface minstrel tradition. If anything, my opinion of what you are doing plummeted when I read that you have no inkling of who they are, and that New Republic might be radically left, I conclude that you are a person with precious little knowledge of the political realities involved in "teaching" people about the blackface minstrel tradition by performing coon songs.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 15 Jun 02 - 08:03 PM

Sorry, I don't go to the movies except those shown on TV. Are those two actors representative of black comedy today? Does anyone else contributing here know of their work?

The only thing I hope to teach is tolerance. I believe that should be shown by all, for all.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 18 Jun 02 - 07:22 AM

Let me ask a question to all. What guidline would you like to see used to decide if a song should be sung?

I do not want to be to broad so I will give examples:

1) No song associated with minstrelsy should ever be played even if no direct mention of race is present.

2) Songs should only be sung if all racial material is removed. O Susanna with the second verse (see above is dropped or modified) removed

3) Only famous or important songs that demonstrate shifts in American music should be used but not the most offensive and never those of no musical value. ie The Wedding of the Chinee and the Coon (this would never be played)

4) All songs are fair game with the proviso that the song in question is well explained as to meaning. This could mean that if the only meaning is pure racism; it should be dealt with as such. This level should be restricted to the college classroom.

5) No restrictions at all. Music is music.

I must say right now, I am not trying to provoke anyone. I want to clarify that which has been said already. Some of the posts here have been a bit unclear OR contradictory. I just want to fully understand.

In self defense, I am also NOT looking for an answer from any single person, I hope to get many answers from many people.

Last--- Susan how was your weekend?


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 18 Jun 02 - 12:33 PM

I had a great weekend, thanks, but I'm still up to my ass in alligators the next few days. But perhaps something about my weekend activities pertains.

On Sunday I started a new twice-a-month church gig, at a place where their experiences and expectations are different from those of the people who attend our church's weekly Saturday Night service. I took this one on partly to gain experience transferring all I have learned (and my presentation approach) to different sorts of folks.

Their priest is very different in his approach to decision-making, from my husband in our parish. This guy is much more authoritarian-- pretty opposite to my approach. (They did pick him as their leader.) What to do? He had indicated I should do whatever I do and the people would deal with it! *G*

So I started ahead of time with a survey for him to distribute. He wanted to phone me with results-- sounded like he was going to just ask the questions from the floor and get a show of hands. But the survey was meant to spark individual reflection and to introduce my way of seeing things to them, too.... to generate safety. So I replied that no, I needed to SEE the surveys. A few weeks later, they appeared in the mail. They were GREAT! What an eye-opener! Lots of clues how to work with them.

So I chose music they would recognize for my first Sunday there, pretty things, some in 3/4 time, to counter the liturgical weightiness of their priest. And I planted our sweetheart of a daughter behind them to sing nice and loud, and to send the melody up to their ears in case I had picked the wrong opening piece.

And so forth.

These serious and somewhat worried-looking people were beaming quite nicely by the time we finished the service.

We will get to the spirituals and so forth when we know one another better and are less likely to misunderstand one another. And I solicited the most-positive person there, after the service, to come to me and let me know if anyone ever starts to express discomfort with the music, behind my back.... to speak up if we went to far too fast.

My conclusion, when I came to this thread and saw Butch's questions, and his question to me, was this-- it matters a LOT whether you are doing something over a period of time with people you know (and who know and trust YOU), or a new, one-time thing with people you do NOT know.

You can't make a canned format, in any event, and expect it to accurately address whatever situation you arrive at, no matter how well you have done your homework. For instance, I had planned an offertory I thought they would not know but would like and might like to sing another time, soon. Was I going to ask them to sing along? From the responses I had gotten from the two preceding pieces, I invited them to sing and indicated it was probably new to them but had a particularly simple chorus. So about half of them sang that part, and that was just right for them.

The best you can do, I think, is be prepared to go in a number of directions once you see what's on hand, to know enough to choose a good approach and to modify it once you get going if needed.

My musical work thus far has been mostly extended relationality, with a few invitations to play predetermined types of music as one-time gigs. But I have quite a bit of experience parachuting in as a consultant, in other nonmusical settings.

Everything I have experienced in leadership, and working with people in most any capacity, tells me that safety is important, that safety and comfort are NOT the same thing, and that the one who presumes to lead, present, teach, or perform is responsible for making it work, for making it safe enough for the people to risk their own discomfort... that drawing people forward past a stuck spot is tricky but often important, and that you do it by attracting them to something better than what they have, something they freely choose, something they might not have thought possible... and that this beats PUSHING them where YOU think they ought to want to go, every time. EVERY time. And that this is not easy to do but is possible to do in all circumstances, if we remember that's what we are about and that it is possible.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 18 Jun 02 - 01:41 PM

Between alligators for a moment-- I'm thinking about that article about the black comedians, as the new mistrels... I have seen those comedians, and what I saw was a complex thing, having to do with getting the audience to an acute awareness of their own attitudes and foibles, and bringing laughter to those very complex, interwoven places.

There is a way humor can work to bring catharsis to embarrassments, shames, discomforts... and in their comedy I have seen an imperfect mix of that and mere restimulation of existing feelings and prejudices. (They are after all HUMAN.)    At it's best, and most difficult to describe unless one is there feeling it, it's like a knowing wink between performer and audience, that says, "I KNOW you [white and black folk] see us [black folk] this way, let's be playful about ALL that entails [such as your fear and your hate, your assumptions, your desires to understand and be close]...."

To enjoy comedy you only have to be in the audience. To critique it and analyze it you have to be able to discern a wide range of things happening simultaneously in rapid-fire time-frames. What MAKES comedy work IS the complexity and the juxtaposition of differing concepts, all brought together in one moment to explode through the audience member's usual mental barriers between those concepts.

I think the article focused on the superficial observations of someone not understanding ALL the levels of skill going on there, and all the nuances of meaning.

And I bet that applies to the minstrel shows, too, but then we were not there, were we? It applies equally to the audiences and critics of the time-- each one got only as much as they got.

So Butch, what do you see aout that when you do what YOU do? On how many different levels are people experiencing what you present? Like, 9 or 10 for each person, with each person's response being completely individual to their own experiences and perspectives?

Lot going on there, eh? Makes rigid rules kinda... non-applicable, huh?

What a concept-- putting rules and rigidity over something essentially creative and always-in-the-act-of-being-created.

I think that's what some of the people, who have been so concerned about this issue, have asked us to do-- agree to the imposition of rigid rules. I think what we should ask of ourselves is to THINK.


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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 18 Jun 02 - 04:58 PM

I found the article makes at least one valid point : Both contemporary black stand-up comedy, which caters primarily to a black audience, and 19th Century Minstrel humor, which catered to mainly a white audience, share the common attribute that stereotyping black behavior is a legitimate approach. They also share SOME of the same interpretations of those stereotypes.

It bothers me a great deal that a word that I grew to hate as I matured as an example of gross ignorance and racism has become a common term of self-reference in black culture, and most obviously on the comedy stage. Does the tossing about of this term among black people justify its use? Is it possible to use it casually in one instance, while in turn condemning a work such as Huckleberry Finn because the term is incorporated in the name of a main character, Nigger Jim?

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 18 Jun 02 - 06:31 PM

Lonesome EJ has touched on a point which seems to be downplayed. The term was used throughout the 19th century and into the WW2 period by blacks, in several connotations. It distinguished them from the whites. It was a term that showed unity against the foe. It could express bitterness, dispair, and the whole range of emotions depending on its context. It is still used in that sense on the prison farms. Hundreds of songs bear witness to this.
With the struggle for equality that grew in strength after WW2, with increasing education and sense of worth, the term became anathema. Now that some measure of equality is being attained (I say some measure because of the disparity in income, which also is a cause of segregation), some blacks are using it again to call attention to their unity, and to the things that still separate them from other parts of American society.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: Butch
Date: 19 Jun 02 - 07:33 AM

We all need to read the book "Nigger", it details the changes in th meaning of the word better than any of us.

On the music issue, Susan points out some wonderful ideas about trust and comfort with an audience. I had really not spent much time on this issue, but you are very right about it. Trust is a major issue that can not be overlooked.

I also think that how we handle ourself on stage, the words we use, our body signals all help in our presentation. If we are not theatening in any way, we will have an easier time detailing hard subjects. I will have to think more on this later, I will check this list again tonight and see what other gems of knbowledge have been left.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 02 Nov 03 - 12:56 PM

Alas, I saved the text but not the URL.



Minstrelsy in Australia: A Brief Overview.

The beginning of the legitimate theatre is generally regarded as when Mr. Barnett Levey attained permission for the establishment of plays in the saloon of the Hotel Royal, Sydney. The license being given on the 22/12/1832 for a trial period covering from 26th December, 1832 until the end of May, previous to this occurrence their were periodic musical entertainments at the above hotel by local amateur artists with not always the best of reviews. (note:plays were performed well before this date, ie Sidaway's Theatre, Sydney in 1796, etc) .

Along with the increase in activity generated with the opening of Levey's theatre, there were also advertisements issued by a Mr.Edwards around July, 1828 mentioning the transfer of his various musical instruments & music to the shop of Messrs.Ferris & Chapman, instruments included violins, guitars, portable organs, aeolian harps, clarinets, flutes, etc.

Contrary to the generally held belief that minstrelsy dates back to when Charles Backus toured Australia in 1855, minstrelsy had its initial appearance in Sydney back on the 28th August, 1838 when a Mr.Ferguson sang "the celebrated popular comic song"-'Jim Crow' at the Royal Victoria theatre.subsequently, numerous renditions of various minstrel songs were performed by local artists including the actor/manager Mr.Joseph Simmons,) "Jump Jim Crow"-17/8/1839) , as well as numerous other local performers such as John Hyde who approx.thirty years later was loosely affiliated with Corbyn's Georgia Minstrels, when "The Octoroon" was performed at the Bijou Theatre, Melbourne on the 9th June, 1877. all this no doubt was directly attributed to T.D.Rice's(Daddy Rice) success in England from his tour of 1836, with the play of "Jim Crow" first being performed in Sydney at the Royal Victoria theatre on the 11th April, 1839 for Joseph Simmons benefit night, featuring local performers.the popularity of this piece was such that Jim Crow hats were advertised for sale in the following period.

The first minstrel group to appear in Sydney was in 1850 with the arrival of Henry Burton who etched his name into history by being one of the founders of the circus in Australia:besides his great contribution to the circus, Henry Burton on his arrival in 1849, teamed up with a group of artists including Mr.Charles V.Howard, Mr.George.B.Howard, Mr.James W.Reading.these artists including Henry Burton as Blythe Waterland opened their Sydney season at the Royal Hotel on the 1st of April, 1850 as Blythe Waterland's Serenaders featuring banjo duets, flutina (1) solos, etc.songs & tunes included items such as :- "Lynchburg Town", "Walk along John", "Johnny Boker", "Dandy Jim", "Old Grey Goose", "Ole Dan Tucker", "Boatman's Dance", "Jenny get your hoe cake done".

With the subsequent break-up of the Waterland troupe, members appeared in various groups sometimes in competition to Henry Burton, giving musical lessons & later as was the case with Charles V.Howard, managing various theatrical groups that included minstrel acts, freak shows, etc.these groups were the first to tour extensively throughout the goldfields & districts.The following years gave rise to local amateur ethiopian serenader concerts as well as tours by other professional groups such as the New York Serenaders, Backus Minstrels, New Orleans Serenaders, Rainer's Serenaders as well as female ethiopian serenaders, & the creation of the N.S.W.Christy Minstrels who were a feature of the Sydney scene for many years at the various picnics & functions at holiday periods such as at Manly beach, Cremorne, etc they also performed with the touring troupe of professional Christy's Minstrels in the 1860's.minstrel troupes were to continue to tour throughout the 1860's & 1870's e.g. Billy Emerson's Minstrels, Hiscock's Federal Minstrels, etc. The popularity of minstrelsy was such that printed songfolios were marketed for the popular troupes from this period & could be purchased from the music saloon of Mr.Grocott's or Mason's bookstall, etc.

Minstrelsy was not confined to the established theatres but was also part of the entertainment at taverns such as the Crown & Kettle, Bull & Mouth, & Evan's saloon, etc.generally these venues had free admission.

The first black minstrel troupe to appear in Australia, "featuring real negroes from the slave states" were Sheridan Corbyn's troupe of Georgia Minstrels who appeared at the School of Arts in Sydney on Boxing night, 1876. they were soon followed by C.B.Hick's Georgia Minstrels(organised in 1865) who also toured Australia over the same period opening in Melbourne at St.George's Hall on Monday the 13th August, 1877.a number of these artists were to stay in Australia & be a permanent feature of Australia's theatrical scene for many years e.g.Hosea Easton, Sam Keenan, etc.

Following the first tour of the Georgia Minstrels, a number of other black troupes were to follow with an off-shoot of the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers arriving in Australia in 1886 & touring extensively throughout Australiasia with great success.from this first troupe of Fisk Jubilee Singers, Mr.O.M.McAdoo was to see the potential of future ventures & toured Australasia & Africa with his own jubilee & minstrel company over the proceeding years until his untimely death in Sydney on the 17th July, 1900.his theatrical companies contained some of the best black minstrel acts as well as singers/musicians to ever appear in Australia, with such stars as William James Ferry(Ferry the frog) , Billy McClain, Miss Flora Batson, C.W.Walker, Prof.Henderson Smith, etc.(Billy McClain originally came to Australia with M.B.Curtis's Afro- Americans) .

F.J.Loudin's Fisk Jubilee Singers original tour spurned many derivative organisations besides the McAdoo troupe of jubilee singers with Huntley Spencer (former member of the Era Comedy Four with Hugo's American Minstrels) being associated with a troupe of Fisk jubilee singers as late as 1936 in New Zealand.numerous Australian & New Zealand performers were to be in one of the many "Fisk Jubilee Singers" groups to have flourished following the visit of Loudin's Fisk Jubilee singers in 1886.

Another important early black minstrel troupe to tour was Charlie Hick's Minstrels of 1888, which featured artists which were to stay for many years on the Australasian stage, notably Irving Sayles, Charley Pope, Wallace King, Billy Speed & the Connor brothers.their first performance was on the 1st of September, 1888 at the Opera House in Sydney.

The last overseas touring minstrel show to appear in Australia was the Hugo Brothers American Minstrels which featured the great Billy Kersands, performing around Sydney in July, 1913(Kersands was not part of the troupe by this time) where the Australian bandleader, Jim Davidson remembered viewing them as indicated from his autobiography.

Though numerous individual overseas minstrel/black-face acts toured throughout the following years on the Tivoli/Fuller circuits, no full minstrel company ever toured again, though black companies such as Joe Sheftell's Southern Plantation Revue(which featured elements of minstrelsy) & Sonny Clay's ill-fated colored idea were to tour(in 1926 & 1928 respectively) . The Tivoli management did advertise that Sonny Clay's company would put forward an "old plantation nigger show" on their second visit to Sydney, however from their repertoire it seems ludicrous by today's standards as Sonny Clay's company featured his up-to-date hot jazz band (plantation orchestra!) & modern artists such as the spectacular dancing of the Four Covans & singing of Ivy Anderson(she was to be one of Duke Ellington's favourite lead vocalists) , & the Colored Emperors of Harmony, who were touring Australia previous to joining the clay troupe at their opening in January, 1928.the minstrel show never eventuated due to their deportation under controversial circumstances.

The tradition of minstrelsy was carried on by local companies/artists as well as touring jubilee singers/artists (eg Randolph Forbes Kentucky Jubilee Singers in 1929) , who catered to local audiences with renditions of "Old Black Joe", etc;thus continuing on the stage, on radio & film for many years what had started way back in the 1830's & it does not require to much enquiry to find influences from this form of entertainment.

Minstrelsy & the associated branching, from its very early beginnings had been a feature of the Australian scene for well over a century & because of this deserves to be looked at in a more detailed way(as well as the other aspects of theatre/music) than has been in the past.


(1) the Waterland troupe was not the first minstrel group to perform in Australia, in July, 1849 a group performed at the Queen's Theatre, Melbourne known simply as the Four Ethiopian Serenaders, these performers performed "Dance the Boatmen", "Dance the Buffalo Gals", "My skiff is by de Shore".however, this group performed as a support to other entertainment, compared to the Waterland group's total minstrel performance.

Thanks go to Doug Seroff for his information on Huntley Spencer & to the staff of the State & Mitchell library of N.S.W.

Further Reading:

Under The Imperial Carpet, Essays in Black History 1780-1950 - Edited by Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, Rabbit Press 1986.

100 Years of the Negro in Show Business by Tom Fletcher, Da Capo Press 1984.

From Minstrel Show to Vaudeville - The Australian Popular Stage 1788-1914 by Richard Waterhouse, N.S.W. University Press 1990.

The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865-1910 by Henry T. Sampson, Scarecrow Press 1988.

Blacks In Blackface by Henry T. Sampson, Scarecrow Press 1980.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: masato sakurai
Date: 02 Nov 03 - 01:17 PM

Here's the link: Minstrelsy in Australia: A Brief Overview. But it's "an article that appeared in a local newsletter from a few years ago."

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: wysiwyg
Date: 03 Mar 09 - 08:28 PM


[unedited] [pictures and click-to-play songs at OTR site]

History of Minstrel Shows: Introduction

The Blackface Minstrel show is considered to be the first distinctly American theatrical form. A minstrel show is the imitation and often offensive exaggeration of African-American music, culture, vernacular English, physical traits, etc for entertainment.

Changes in minstrel shows correlate to events in American History:

    * War of 1812: Americans attempted to separate themselves culturally from their European Counterparts, early minstrel skits started.
    * Civil War: Minstrel shows grew in popularity and skits became full night extravaganzas during antebellum period and Civil War.
    * Reconstruction: As white actors moved to Vaudeville, black actors filled Minstrel show roles, first in painted black faces then without.
    * Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, Jazz: Southern African-Americans moved from the south to cities in the north in search of a better life, gaining more visibility, capita, and influence. Popular Radio with "Black" themes and characters were produced.
    * WWII: African-American veterans return home in search of equality, education, and hope to create positive images of Black people and culture.

It's easy to disown minstrelsy as a distressing and unfortunate area of American History. However, the minstrel show is significant to popular entertainment history for a number of reasons:

    * Though through a distorted lens, it brought aspects of southern black culture and issues to white and black northerners.
    * It allowed for cross-cultural collaboration, which although has a history of misuse and abuse, lead to widespread appreciation of African-American contribution to arts and expression.
    * Minstrel shows also lead to the development of old time radio sit-coms like Amos N Andy and Our Miss Brooks, variety shows like Jack Benny and Fred Allen, duo-acts like Laurel and Hardy, and stand-up comedy.

Early History of Minstrel Shows: War of 1812

    * 1600s first recorded blackface performances in Shakespeare's Othello
    * 1769 Lewis Hallam, Jr. portrayed a drunken black man in the play The Padlock
    * 1810s Local versions of the blackface clown
    * 1822 Englishman Charles Matthews comes to American to study black southern culture for parody, later develops a "Black Minister" character from a transcribed sermons
    * 1828 The song "Jump Jim Crow " written by Thomas Rice
    * 1837 U.S. economic panic: high-end theaters produce minstrel shows as cheap entertainment

The first recorded blackface performances can be traced back to the early 1600s in Williams Shakespeare Othello out of necessity; black people were not allowed to perform on stage and had limited rights in Europe. There were blackface performances in America since 1769, when Lewis Hallam, Jr. portrayed a drunken black man in the play, The Padlock. In the 1810's, localized versions of the blackface clown with curly wig and painted face was popular. After the war of 1812, Americans yearned to separate themselves culturally from their European counterparts; however, it was Englishman Charles Matthews who took the first major leaps in minstrelsy.

Charles Matthews is considered to be the father of American Minstrelsy; he toured the southern slave states to create a one-man minstrel show in 1822. Matthews also invented the pun filled "stump speech" after listening to a southern preacher:

Though many would disagree, many minstrel performers claimed that their productions were "authentic" accounts of black southern life and their characters were based on real people. Creator of the plantation dancer character known as Jim Crow, Thomas Rice claimed to have seen a disabled black man dancing in Kentucky. However, it was with the song entitled "Jump Jim Crow " written by Rice in 1828 that truly popularized blackface minstrelsy in the United States:

"Come listen all you gals and boys,
I'm going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

--"Jim Crow," a song by
Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice

The song was wildly successful and "Jim Crow" became a euphuism for an African-American--blurring reality and entertainment. Consequently, The Jim Crow Laws (enforced between 1876 and 1965) limited the rights of African-Americans, were named after this song.

Minstrel Performances were often a small part of shows, sometimes warm-up comedy or musical acts. These bawdy shows were considered low-brow and distasteful and many theaters would not allow such performances. However, U.S. economic panic of 1837, high-end theaters started produce minstrel shows as cheap entertainment because the acts were cheap. As the politics of the abolitionist movement surged, the popularity of minstrel shows also grew. Northerner's were curious about southern slave life. Some performances were somewhat sympathetic showing the cruelty of slavery, causing a ban of minstrel shows in some southern counties. Towards the beginning of the Civil War, there was a consorted effort to show Northerners that slaves were happy with their lot in life and were simple people who enjoyed the confines of slavery. The myths of the happy plantation slave, always ready to sing and dance, became more prevalent as the Civil War drew near.

Early History of Minstrel Shows: Civil War

    * 1843 Virginia Minstrels created, the first full-length blackface minstrel show, produced by Dan Emmett.
    * 1843 Christy's Minstrels formed, created a three-act performance
    * 1844 William Henry Lane, an African American performer and dancer known as "Master Juba" won a dance contest in front of an all white audience, opened doors for other black performers
    * 1844 Ethiopian Serenaders perform at the White House
    * 1840s Troupes visit southern cities, New Orleans
    * 1850 Minstrel shows banned in some southern states, because the prominent slavery themes.
    * 1850 Ten major minstrel show houses in New York City
    * 1852 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a staunchly anti-slavery novel using and inventing blackface types, is published. Many acts use characters from the novel in their skit.
    * 1857 Bryant's Minstrels first performed at Mechanics' Hall on Broadway
    * 1860s Troupes travel to western United States, California
    * 1861-1865 American Civil War

Blackface minstrel shows started as small aspect of entertainment but quickly became full-length shows. The Virginia Minstrels, created by Dan Emmett, were the first to create the first full-length minstrel performance giving audiences an entire evening of entertainment. Their show featured skits, music, and dance and was a success in America and abroad. Other minstrel troupes followed suit.

One troupe in particular, Christy's Minstrels, standardized their performance into three acts. The first act opened with a song then featured wisecracking banter between the straight-man master of ceremonies (interlocutor) and the more comic and silly music performers. This chitchat act later lead to duo-type performances between "Mr. Tambo" (tambourine player) and/or "Mr. Bones" (bones or spoons player). The second act featured a fractured play (often Shakespeare) or a dance performance with a featured guest of high talent like William Henry Lane or John Diamond. The third act usually opened with a pun filled stump speech and a large musical number using all the dancers and musicians. This show pattern can be seen in variety and talk shows to this day, such as the opening monologue, music performances, and banter between the bandleader and the host.

Music was a central aspect of the minstrel show. For many white northerners, the minstrel shows were their only glimpse into black southern slave life, music, food, and culture. Though skewed and unrealistic, the performances brought issues of slavery to the hearts and minds of white Americans. Popular musical instruments such as the banjo, tambourine, and bones (like spoons) taken from Black-American culture were fashionable due to the popularity of minstrel shows. The melody, lyrics, and structure of many songs used in minstrelsy were assimilated from slave spirituals and African-American cultural expression. Some shows, like Ethiopian Serenaders, attempted to keep to clean and inoffensive material. The focus of their show was to feature talent rather than slapstick and bawdy jokes.   However, most shows featured grossly distorted characters of African-Americans being stereotyped as lazy, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky. Skit and song subjects often featured a grossly inaccurate depiction of slave life and using a humorous view of the mistreatment of slaves. A common song theme featured a runaway or freed slave missing his master.

Dance became an important element of the minstrel show. For example, the cakewalk was a dance invented by slaves imitating the white slave owners. Amused by the dance, slave owners liked this dance and held cakewalk dance competitions, where the winner would win a cake, aka take the cake. These dances were appropriated and exaggerated by minstrel show performers. Later black performers danced the "cakewalk" dance and were told to make in more "authentic" by exaggerating body movements. Henry Lane, an African American performer and dancer known as "Master Juba", used both African-American dance and Irish-immigrant dance with an emphasis on footwork to create his routines. William Henry Lane and John Diamond, who both worked in multiple minstrel troupes and used dance steps from African, Irish, and English culture had multiple dance-offs in the 1840s. John Diamond, who was white, danced both with and without blackface make-up.

History of Minstrel Shows: Reconstruction

    * 1865 Brooker and Clayton Minstrel show rose to fame with an all-black cast, claimed that every member of their cast was a former slave
    * 1870 Madame Rentz's Female Minstrels, featuring all-women show in skimpy clothing
    * 1876 Callendar's Minstrels first all-black cast to perform blackface without make-up
    * 1903 Uncle Tom's Cabin 14 minute film made with all white actors in blackface, a dramatic presentation of black life
    * 1910 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded, outspoken against negative portrayals of African Americans
    * 1915 Birth of a Nation, silent film with white actors in blackface, first blockbuster of its time
    * 1918 Birth of a Race made in response to Birth of a Nation

After the American Civil War (1861-1865), African-Americans began to fill the roles in blackface minstrelsy first with painted faces and then without. Though the roles were often degrading, the minstrel shows allowed African-Americans to work on stage and break through some entertainment barriers. Most of the Minstrel shows moved away from the larger Eastern Cities like New York to the Midwestern United States, the South, and the West.

Early minstrelsy was not only about race, but also class and region; it was as much anti-Southern as it was anti-black. There were also black minstrel troupes, comprised largely of African-American men (Brooker and Clayton Minstrel Show, Thomas Dilward, William Henry Lane, Callendar's Minstrels, and Blackbirds) imitating poor and uneducated African-Americans from the south. However, for the most part, white actors and producers cornered the market until after the Civil War when most moved to the vaudevillian stage. It is the common belief that these shows were solely made for white audiences at the expense and humiliation of African-American cultural heritage. However, there were black northern audiences of minstrel shows who were often equally as clueless as their white counterparts of life in southern plantations. Many formally educated Americans criticized the shows from the beginning due to their derogatory lampoon and distortion of black people and black culture.

When African-Americans performed in Blackface minstrel style, producers and audiences expected these performers to use black-stage dialect, dance certain specialized routines and movements. In 1876, Callendar's Minstrels was the first all-black cast to perform blackface without make-up. When Black performers took off the blackface make-up and this was an important act in the history of minstrelsy and in stereotypes of black people. They took off the make up but continued to perform "minstrel" style, which blurred the lines between real black culture and contrived stage black impersonations. They traveled across America, often where few African-Americans actually lived and perpetuated stereotypes that were developed since the beginning of Minstrelsy.

Many African-American performers got their start in black minstrelsy. Comedian Bert Williams started performing in blackface with a duo act called "The Two Real Coons." In 1921 Lew Leslie directed, created, and produced Blackbirds, an all black mistrel show reached highest popularity across the United States and Europe in the late 1920s. Bill Robinson aka "Bojangles" performed in Blackbirds of 1928, Ethel Waters performed in Blackbirds of 1933, and Lena Horne in Blackbirds on 1939.

As African-Americans were making some social gains in America, anger and hatred perpetuated mainly from displaced Southern confederates. Veterans of the Confederate Army founded the first Ku Klux Klan in 1866 and other white supremacy organizations were created. In film Birth of a Nation, the Ku Klux Klan was portrayed as heroes and Gus (a black man played in blackface by white actor Walter Long) a dangerous rapist who was lynched. This created a new stereotype: "thug" or dangerous black man. It also produced an impetus for lynching black men accused of crimes or sometimes just for whistling at a white woman. It is believed that over 3,500 black men were lynched by mobs between the years 1880 and 1951. The racist organizations made life in the south extremely uncomfortable and dangerous for many black Americans and many chose to move north were they had more opportunities. This movement is called the Great Migration.

History of Minstrel Shows: Harlem Renaissance

    * 1921 Lew Leslie directs, creates, and produces Blackbirds, an all black mistrel show reached highest popularity across the United States and Europe in the late 1920s. Bill Robinson, aka "Bojangles," performed in Blackbirds of 1928, Ethel Waters performed in Blackbirds of 1933, and Lena Horne in Blackbirds on 1939.
    * 1924 Paul Robeson kissed the hand of a white actress in "All God's Children Got Wings" causing outrage. To avoid mixed race casts, many Broadway production houses called for black roles to be filled by white actors.
    * 1926 the first radio serial Sam n' Henry, created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll
    * 1928 Amos n' Andy produced by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll lasted 34 years and was one of the most popular radio shows
    * 1951 Amos n' Andy on television with an all black cast

The Great Migration of African-Americans moving from southern rural areas to urban areas in the northeast, upper Midwest, and West began around 1910. This movement was due to the increased work opportunities, better education for their children, and to escape racism. By the turn of the century there was a growing black middle and upper class, opening new businesses and property ownership in a neighborhood in New York City known as Harlem. The area became the epicenter to artists, musicians, intellectuals and more during the period known and the Harlem Renaissance a term coined by Alain Locke.

This was also the Jazz Age, and minorities were gaining recognition and social acceptance across the country. Performers in particular were making gains artistically including: Jelly Roll Morton (self proclaimed Originator of Jazz), Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Josephine Baker, Earl Hines, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Nat King Cole, Fats Waller, and many more.

At the same time that many African-Americans were making cultural and capital gains, they continued to face racism and stereotypes in the media. There continued to be records made racist lyrics such as "All Coons Look Alike to Me" by Arthur Collins.

Blackface performances were common feature in vaudeville, but it remained isolated to a skit or a song and did not dominate the entirety of the show. Vaudeville featured a string of entertaining acts including acrobats, animal acts, dancing, songs, magicians, comedy, and other performances. Many period performers got their start in Vaudeville including Al Jolson, Harry Frankel (Singin' Sam), Marx Bros, WC Field, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, and Abbott & Costello.

As vaudeville eased its way on to the medium of radio in the 1920s, minstrel skits aired on amateur radio. The earliest known attempt at blackface on radio is the rare radio show Two Black Crows that ran in the mid 1930s. The Black Crows featured Charles Mack and George Moran (also John Swor and Bert Swor) who were a renowned blackface vaudeville duo-act. The show feature black-stage dialect derived and developed from the history of minstrel shows, but no overly racist jokes and overtones. This show opened the door for the most famous and controversial blackface radio show of all time, Amos n Andy.
Gosden and Correll, blackface in this publicity photo, were the voices behind Sam and Henry Old Time Radio ShowFrom 1928 to 1960 Gosden and Correll broadcast their Amos 'n' Andy Show , which was one of the most famous and popular shows on radio in the 1930s. At one point capturing 60% of all radio listenership and being credited for selling 4.4 million radios. Movie houses would stop their films to air Amos and Andy over the loud speakers. Freeman Gosden met the director and more experienced actor Charles Correll in Durham, North Carolina, in 1920 and began a working relationship at a traveling vaudeville Joe Bren Production Company.   After working on a joke and jingle show, they were open to trying a new form of radio performance: the serial. With the help of WGN station manager Ben McCanna knew that the radio medium was moving beyond song and patter routines like the comic serial "The Gumps." Gosden and Correll were uncomfortable with producing "The Gumps" for the radio because they didn't relate to the characters in the strip but they did feel comfortable with black stage dialect from previous experience with the Joe Bren Production Company. They used the comic strip "Mutt and Jeff" as inspiration and created the hit serial show Sam and Henry. The show featured two African-American men from rural Alabama, Sam Smith and Henry Johnson, newly arrived in Chicago. The concept was loosely based on what is know historically as "The Great Migration", which was the movement of African-Americans from southern states to Northern states between the years 1919-1940.
Meanwhile, Jack L. Cooper became the first African-American Disk Jockey (DJ); he made his radio debut in 1922 on KDKA Washington DC as the "One man Minstrel Show." He worked until 1961 as a DJ, announcer, actor, newscaster, and other radio roles. He formed the Jack L. Cooper Radio Productions and worked every aspect of radio from producer, director, and writer.

The minstrel show on the radio medium offered a bit of a challenge because it could not rely on visuals. The voice characterizations needed to be exaggerated to help listeners distinguish between characters. Gosden and Correll were talented voice actors and had a wide voice range. Looking to expand the broadcasting of "Sam and Henry", Gosden and Correll soon became frustrated with the lack of vision WGN Chicago to look into syndicating the show nationally and creating phonographs with the "Sam and Henry." WGN Chicago owned the names of the show Sam and Henry. Gosden and Correll took the concept of the show to another local radio station WMAQ and created Amos and Andy. The NBC Blue Network began broadcasting Amos and Andy on August 19th, 1929 and it was an instant success. When NBC purchased WMAQ in late 1931, Gosden and Correll moved their show to "Studio F" in the NBC studios. In 1938, they again moved the show, this time to Hollywood where they continued production until 1960. After decades on the air, many listeners cared about and sympathized with Amos, Andy, Kingfish, and the others and developed a listening bond to their wellbeing.
Although the show was wildly popular with among black and white audiences, there was early negative response to the Amos n' Andy show in the December 1930 issue of Abbott's Monthly. Bishop W.J. Walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church wrote an article sharply denouncing Amos 'n' Andy, singling out the lower-class characterizations and the "crude, repetitional, and moronic" dialogue. The Pittsburgh Courier was the nation's second largest African American newspaper at the time, and publisher Robert Vann expanded Walls' criticism into a full-fledged crusade during a six-month period in 1931. (Later the Pittsburgh Courier supported the TV version of the show). Some may argue that there were plenty of "crude, repetitional, and moronic" white characters on the radio such as Lum n Abner, Eb and Zeb, Irma on My Friend Irma, some Abbott and Costello performances, Mel Blanc, Eddie Cantor, and even Gracie on Burns and Allen. However, there were not many alternative portrayals of African-Americans in film, stage, and on old time radio.

Amos n' Andy creator Freeman Gosden, was raised with an African-American nanny and based many of his 100s of characters on his memory. Both Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll visited black communities throughout the production of Amos n' Andy and hired African-American actors for female roles on their show. The Johnson Family is a one-man show put on by Jimmy Scribner from his childhood memories in the south. These claims of "authenticity" lead to widespread expectations and definitions of "blackness" which were not based entirely on truth. It also limited roles for African-American performers. If they did not speak in black stage dialect or behave a certain way they were not considered authentically black. Intellectuals and small radio stations looked to produce positive images of African Americans.

History of Minstrel Shows: World War

After WWII, millions of African-American soldiers returned to America with high hopes after defending freedom abroad. Over 2.5 million African-American men registered for the draft serving in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, and black women also volunteered for the war effort. The faced discrimination both in the military and the home front, but it solidified African-American equal contribution to America. Jubilee was a radio show gears towards African-American WWII soldiers and feature the best black performers of the era. After serving with distinction, African-American sought a greater role in America and a balanced representation of black people in film, television, and old time radio shows.
Very few black actors were able to find respectable dramatic roles. Paul Robeson was one of the first celebrated dramatic African-American actors in theater and film. Born in 1898, Robeson excelled academically and was involved in singing, acting, and athletics at Rutgers University. He could converse, sing and perform in over 20 languages. A staunch supporter of equal rights, he once stated "The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery." Though he did not make many films in the United States, he opened opportunities for other African-American performers including Sidney Pointier.

Meanwhile, main-stream broadcasts including traditional stereotype of African Americans continued into the 1950s. Although Amos n Andy is cited most often as an example of blackface radio performances, there were other minstrel-type old time radio shows like Beulah and Aunt Jemima. Both Beulah and Aunt Jemima radio shows were based on the "Mammy" stereotype (agreeable, servile, nurturing, overweight, jolly and boisterous) that was pervasive in 19th century minstrel shows and 20th century films. Beulah was a supporting character on the popular Fibber McGee and Molly radio series and became a spin-off show. The show was heard on radio from 1945 to 1954, portrayed by Caucasian actor Marlin Hurt then later the African-American actress Hattie McDaniel.
Meanwhile, many of the radio shows produced by African-Americans were made for local radio stations and not syndicated. Shows like Destination Freedom, A New World A Coming, Freedom's People, and Americans All, Immigrants All are all extremely rare. Americans All, Immigrants All ran for 23 weeks and featured a different ethnic group each week. Freedom's People focused on African-American history highlighting different contributors each week. The shows were eventually used in classrooms across America. The network supported program glossed over current events and issues.

African-American produced non-affiliated shows attempted a complete portrayal of black people Destination Freedom and A New World A Coming. Richard Durham's Destination Freedom premiered on June 27, 1948 on Chicago radio WMAQ. The show featured bibliographic accounts of importance African-American figures in American History including Satchell Paige, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Ralph Bunche, Harlem Renaissance Poet Langston Hughes, boxer Joe Lewis, and many others.

A New World A Coming is a radio show based on the writings of Roi Ottley, who hoped that African Americans could exercise right and responsibility of full citizenship in America. "The negro is the barometer of democracy in America." The program gave examples of people and soldiers mistreated due to their complexion in the workplace, theaters, restaurants, banks, and other situations. Equally, the show criticized black people who weren't civically active in their community and promoted buying war bonds. The show called for improved race relations for a better world.

As televisions gained in popularity, The Amos n Andy Show (as well as Beulah) moved to the television medium with one drastic change in the format: the actors on the television show were all African-American. The show faced a firestorm of criticism, most notably from the NAACP, which posted this bulletin calling for the cancelation of the show:

"Why the Amos 'n' Andy TV Show Should Be Taken Off the Air' NAACP Bulletin, August 15, 1951:

   1. It tends to strengthen the conclusion among uninformed and prejudiced people that Negroes are inferior, lazy, dumb and dishonest.
   2. Every character in this one and only TV show with an all Negro cast is either a clown or a crook.
   3. Negro doctors are shown as quacks and thieves.
   4. Negro lawyers are shown as slippery cowards, ignorant of their profession and without ethics.
   5. Negro Women are shown as cackling, screaming shrews, in big mouthed close-ups, using street slang, just short of vulgarity.
   6. All Negroes are shown as dodging work of any kind.
   7. Millions of white Americans see this Amos 'n' Andy picture of Negroes and think the entire race is the same."

The call for cancellation succeeded and Amos n Andy was withdrawn from television after two seasons. Networks also canceled other shows staring African Americans in 1953, most notably the Nat King Cole Show and Beulah. Between fear of reprisal and growing disinterest in advertisers to be associated with black shows, an African-American themed television show was not produced until the 1970s.

History of Minstrel Shows: Films

As the controversy of black representation on old time radio shows and television stirred as early as 1930, there were many blackface performances on film through the 1930s and into the 1940s.   Performing in blackface continued to be normalized, many well-known entertainers of stage and screen also performed in blackface including:

    * Judy Garland: Everybody Sing (1938)
    * Fred Astaire: Swing Time (1936)
    * Bing Crosby: Dream House (1933), Mississippi (1935), Holiday Inn (1942), Dixie (1943), Here Come The WAVES (1944)
    * Jimmy Durante: George White's Scandals (1934)
    * Eddie Cantor: Ali Baba Goes To Town (1937), Glorifying The American Girl (1929), The Kid From Spain (1932), Kid Millions (1934), Minstrel Days (1941), Palmy Days (1931), Roman Scandals (1933), Whoopee! (1930), Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
    * Al Jolson: A Plantation Act (1926), The Jazz Singer (1927), The Singing Fool (1928), Sonny Boy (1929), Mammy (1930), Big Boy (1930), Wonder Bar (1934), Go Into Your Dance (1935), The Singing Kid (1936), Swanee River (1939), Rose Of Washington Square (1939), Minstrel Days (1941), Rhapsody In Blue (1945), **

** It should be noted that Al Jolson was a staunch Civil Rights activist and helped open opportunities for African-Americans on Broadway.

Chronological list of directly-related old time radio show collections:

    * Sam and Henry (1926-1927)
    * Two Black Crows (1920's-1930's)
    * Amos n Andy Show (1928 -1956)
    * Singin' Sam (1930's-42)
    * The Johnson Family (1934-1950)
    * Jubilee (1942 - 1953)
    * Aunt Jemima (1943)
    * A New World A Coming (1944-1945)
    * Beulah (1945-54)
    * Destination Freedom (1948-1950)

Old Time Radio Personalities of interest:

    * Al Jolson
    * Ethel Waters
    * Marian Anderson
    * Paul Robeson




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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: wysiwyg
Date: 03 Mar 09 - 11:38 PM

Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows
From: Lonesome EJ - PM
Date: 03 Mar 09 - 10:07 PM

Excellent article, Wys! Thanks!

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 16 Jun 20 - 02:11 AM

Bump for the times and less drift elsewheres:

Origin: The Eyes of Texas (Are upon You)

RE: the black face legacy or connection in general:

Minstrelsy did not stand on its own. The distribution vehicle was the circus, vaudeville, medicine show &c. In terms of popular culture it's an entire century of radio, television, theater and cinema combined.

More people probably saw Uncle Tom's Cabin live, in black face, than read the book; second only to the bible in popularity for the century, the most effective piece of abolitionist popular art, bar none. At present, it's considered hopelessly racist.

Now there's just the one Uncle Tom's Cabin*, the only thing that changed was the audience. Heaven only knows what 2525AD will bring.

*There was, however, and entire sub-genre of Tom Show knock offs, spin offs and sequels – good, bad aaaand ugly. Some things in show business will nev-er-ev-er change.

Also, odd there are 2 threads, 195 posts and not one mention of shanties. Consider, chartered vessels were a regular occurrence, just like the modern tour bus & private jet. Sailors and the shows lived cheek by jowl for months on end all through the 19th century.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: cnd
Date: 16 Jun 20 - 09:31 AM

I think I made most of my points in the Eyes of Texas thread, and while I generally don't enjoy getting into these sort of discussions as they tend to not get anywhere, for the sake of being concise, I don't think that a song being performed blackface or in a minstrel style inherently condemns it to being a racist song.

If a modern performer were to continue to perform it in blackface style then sure, I could see it, but if they sing the lyrics in a normal manner and perhaps take out any of the potentially questionable lyrics to some otherwise-unoffensive songs then many (if not most) of the songs are simply songs about life, farming, or comedic and not inherently racist or offensive.

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Subject: RE: Minstrel Shows, Part Two
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 09 Oct 20 - 12:45 PM

The Essay
Thinking Black
BBC radio 3 October 2020

"Colin Grant looks at Bert Williams's place in the history of minstrelsy and explores whether Williams’s experience shares common ground with the gangsta rappers - and ordinary black people - of today."
About Bert Williams from ~2:50 but do listen to the intro.

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