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Minstrelsy was an American form of entertainment developed in the 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people.
Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr'actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. By 1848, blackface minstrel shows were the national artform, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience.
By the turn of the 20th century, the minstrel show enjoyed but a shadow of its former popularity, having been replaced for the most part by vaudeville. It survived as professional entertainment until about 1910; amateur performances continued until the 1960s in high schools and local theaters. As the civil rights movement progressed and gained acceptance, minstrels lost popularity.
The typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure. The troupe first danced onto a stage then exchanged wisecracks and sang songs. The second part featured a variety of entertainments, including the pun-filled stump speech. The final act consisted of a slapstick musical plantation skit or a send-up of a popular play. Minstrel songs and sketches featured several stock characters, most popularly the slave and the dandy. These were further divided into sub-archetypes such as the mammy, her counterpart the old darky, the provocative mulatto wench, and the black soldier. Minstrels claimed that their songs and dances were authentically black, although the extent of the black influence remains debated. Spirituals (known as jubilees) entered the repertoire in the 1870s, marking the first undeniably black music to be used in minstrelsy.
Blackface minstrelsy was the first theatrical form that was distinctly American. During the 1830s and 1840s at the height of its popularity, it was at the epicenter of the American music industry. For several decades it provided the means through which American whites viewed black people. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of what some whites considered significant aspects of black culture in America.
Although the minstrel shows were extremely popular, being "consistently packed with families from all walks of life and every ethnic group", they were also controversial. Racial integrationists decried them as falsely showing happy slaves while at the same time making fun of them; segregationists thought such shows were "disrespectful" of social norms, portrayed runaway slaves with sympathy and would undermine the southerners' "peculiar institution".
Learn more at Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minstrel_show
Wm. H. West's Big Minstrel Jubilee
314 Media in collectionpage 1 of 4

Boston minstrels. The celebrated Ethiopian melodies ...

Music cover illustrated with caricatures of six minstrels in two scenes.

The crow quadrilles. Piano forte by John H. Hewitt / N. Currier's lith., N.Y.

Music cover with eight vignettes of caricatures of blacks.

Long tail blue / Willig's lith.

Music cover showing man wearing top hat and coat with tails, holding monocle and walking stick.

Ginger blue, a popular Negro melody, composed & sung by Mr. R.W. Pelham / Fleetwood lith.

Music cover showing boy dancing in dilapidated room, with kettle in fireplace.

Plantation melodies / J.H. Bufford's lith., Boston.

Music cover showing two boys seated on bench, with one of them playing a flute, and the other holding book of music.

[Bryants Minstrels]

Group portrait of nine members of Bryant's Minstrels, a group of white actors impersonating blacks, in particular "plantation life."

Modern minstrels

Consists of multiple portraits, including the Eight Madrigal Boys.

Palmer's Uncle Tom's Cabin Co.

Includes small portraits of George W. Goodhart and Tom Dailey.

Gorton's Original New Orleans Minstrels

Includes small portraits of Jos. Gorton and Chas. H. Larkin.

Gorton's Original New Orleans Minstrels

Includes small portraits of Jos. Gorton and Chas. H. Larkin.

The William H. West calendar

Consists of calendars for July 1899-June 1900, portrait of West, vignettes of his minstrel company and the Battle of San Juan Hill.

Gorton's Original New Orleans Minstrels

Includes small portraits of Jos. Gorton and Chas. H. Larkin.

Gorton's famous Minstrels

Includes small portraits of Jos. Gorton and Chas. H. Larkin.

Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels the show you know.

Includes Aug. 1906-July 1907 calendar.

Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels oldest 23rd year, best.

Includes portraits of Hamilton Alvin and Jack Alvin.

Eat, drink, and be merry / L.M. Glackens.

Illustration shows an angry, well-dressed man labeled "Monopoly" sitting at a table eating from a plate heaped with "Benefits of Protection"; standing next to him is a minstrel holding a song sheet labeled "Tar... more