6 Feb: Here Come The Minstrels

Blackface performers The Virginia Minstrels – replete with white clown mouths, oversized tailcoats, and bookended by tambourine and bones players – first appeared on 6th February, 1843, at the New York Bowery Amphitheatre. They were an instant hit, but it wasn’t the first time a blackface act had been making (white) crowds laugh.

American minstrelsy originated some 12 years earlier, when white performer Thomas ‘Daddy’ Rice first appeared as ‘Jim Crow’ – a comic parody of an elderly, disabled, enslaved African-American. His act proved so wildly popular the Boston Post reported that only Queen Victoria was a more crowd-pleasing character.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly reveal why it wasn’t only white performers who performed in blackface; examine how Hollywood kept this racist tradition alive long after it had fallen from favour in theatres; and discover that, over the decades, blackface became such an established and celebrated entertainment that it was performed at The White House…

CONTENT WARNING: historical racist language, discussion of racially offensive tropes

Further Reading:

• ‘Blackface: The Birth of An American Stereotype’ (National Museum of African American History and Culture): https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype

• ‘Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy – Ed. Stephen Burge Johnson’ (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012): https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Burnt_Cork/yxupgt6nNFMC?hl=en&gbpv=0

• ‘Blackface: A cultural history of a racist art form’ (CBS Sunday Morning, 2018):

#Racism #Theatre