Minstrel Shows

"If I could have the nigger show back again in its pristine purity,    
I should have little use for opera." -- Mark Twain

Blackface performers are, "...the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens."    
-- Frederick Douglass  

Minstrelsy evolved from several different American entertainment traditions; the traveling circus, medicine shows, shivaree, Irish dance and music with African syncopated rhythms, musical halls and traveling theatre. 

The "father of American minstrelsy" was Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice (1808-60), who in 1828, in a New York City theatre, performed a song-and-dance routine in blackface and tattered clothes. Rice's character was based on a folk trickster persona named Jim Crow that was long popular among black slaves. Rice also adapted and popularized a traditional slave song called Jump Jim Crow.   

TD Rice as "Jim Crow" - 1836   
TD Rice as "Jim Crow" - 1836

Come listen all you galls and boys   
I'se jist from Tuckyhoe,   
I'm goin to sing a little song,   
My name is Jim Crow

Fist on de heel tap,   
Den on the toe   
Ebry time I weel about   
I jump Jim Crow.   
Weel about and turn about   
En do jus so,   
And every time I weel about,   
I jump Jim Crow.

His act was an immediate sensation and while continuing to prefect the routine, Rice gained fame and fortune by performing it throughout the U.S. and in England.

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