Question: How did the minstrel show develop? Describe its form, major characters, and musical content. When and why did African Americans become minstrels? In what seminal ways did African American and White minstrel performances differ?

The minstrel show emerged in the 1840s, were made by four-man teams. The shows were founded by a majority of white men from the north who were accustomed to seeing African Americans in circus acts. Minstrel teams are made up of musicians using burnt-cork makeup, blackface, who played instruments such as the fiddle or banjo and performed different skits, songs and dances. White minstrel teams claimed that they were only mirroring the behaviors of the African Americans, whether or not they were slaves.

These minstrel shows were full of music and behaviors that were very loud, lively and rhythmic, including syncopations. The music and skit dialogue were obvious in their attempts to portray African Americans. Some of their songs included, “Lucy Long”, “Blue Tail Fly”, and “Buffalo Gals”. Some minstrel shows used the format of an opening act using songs and song parodies. The middle section consisted of instrumental solos, ensembles and dances, and the final section would be a skit.

African American began doing theatre in the 1850s also using burnt-cork makeup. Some of their objectives were to get money, educate their children and to debunk the stereotypes portrayed by the white minstrel shows. Their skits were also used to advocate for what would become the Emancipation Proclamation making them very different than the white minstrel shows.


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