The History of Minstrel Shows- Musical Theater (Book Work)

  1. How did the minstrel show develop? Describe its form, major characteristics, and musical content. When and why did African Americans become minstrels? In what seminal ways did African American and White minstrel performances differ?                                                  Minstrel shows developed in the 1840s and peaked after the Civil War. The show’s characters were both White and Black, with the White characters dressed up in blackface. The show consisted of dancing, musical performances, comic skits, and variety acts. African-Americans became minstrels after the Civil War as opportunity for advancement and financial security. African-American minstrel performances were overly sensual, full of dances, and mocked the actions and behaviors of White people. White minstrel performances used blackface and depicted Blacks as “happy-go-lucky” and made a mockery of them.
  2. Discuss the historical and socio-cultural significance of the production A Trip to Coontown and Shuffle Along. To what extent was the music of these shows of African-American origin? Identify at least two African American stars who emerged from these productions and discuss the full extent of their influence on African American musical theater.                                       A Trip to Coontown and Shuffle Along were significant because Shuffle Along was the first major production in more than a decade to be produced, written, and performed entirely by African-Americans. A lot of the music in the production were songs by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, which means that ragtime was heavily incorporated into the show. Two African-American stars that emerged from the production were Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson. Josephine Baker fought against racism that plagued the French Renaissance and was a trailblazer for many Blacks in theater. Paul Robeson became a political activist that opposed war and used his theatrical talents to portray those beliefs and implement change.

    -Ivorie Farley-Cook

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