Black theatre has become a staple in performance style, music and acting over the years, making it the primary influence of many musical theatre performances today.
Black theatre has roots in minstrel shows which were often put on by white performers to imitate black stereotypes for comedic relief and entertainment amongst white audiences. These degrading shows were accompanied with coon songs and white performers in blackface. The black community began to take their stance in playing and producing their own theatrical shows when composers and lyricists Will Marion Cook and Bob Cole created their own black musical comedy to Broadway in 1898. The first all black musical to play in a prestigious Broadway house was “The Origin of the CakeWalk.” In addition, “A Trip to Coontown” was the first New York musical comedy written, directed and performed by an all black cast. While it is great that black artists got an opportunity to perform, it is unfortunate that they had to continue to play stereotypical role for white audiences.
Below are some prominent works from black performers in musical theatre.
These early musicals acted as the blueprint for the development of black musical theatre and movie productions. Many of these productions are considered classics, not only in the black community but in main stream culture overall. Black theatre really flourished after during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1945 black theatre portrayed messages of more progressive and radical ideals to create sophisticated works apart from stereotypes of the black community to focus on storytelling narratives. Many of these iconic musicals were made into movies and inspired other movie musicals focusing on unique black narratives.
Below are some more modern works that have greatly impacted media.
In conclusion black musical theatre has greatly impacted mainstream media as we know it. The songs, actors, and storylines of these black musics have stamped themselves into history and have a cult following. Black theatre is another great example of the power of black creativity and artistry that may have started from racism bur transformed into a powerhouse entertainment.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Black Theatre.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 Oct. 2020, www.britannica.com/art/black-theatre.
Reuben, Walter. “SIX GREAT AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSICALS.” WalterFilm, 11 June 2020, www.walterfilm.com/six-great-african-american-musicals/.
Sterling, Scott T. “15 Memorable Black Movie Musicals.” The Root, The Root, 23 July 2012, www.theroot.com/15-memorable-black-movie-musicals-1790868202.