When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Minstrel Jubilee Quartets

White Minstrelsy: The Racist Tradition

Minstrelsy is the prime example of racism in America and the acceptance of public ignorance. Minstrelsy or White minstrel shows was a tradition that was formed due to white northerners “fascination” with slavery in the south. This was originally created by whites for the entertainment of whites during the 1860’s. The white people that were in white minstrel shows painted their faces black (blackface; oftentimes with shoe polish) and sang songs, performed dances, dialogue, and performance numbers as if they were black. The dialogue was presented in the way that whites assumed that blacks spoke. This was done in an attempt to demonstrate how whites portrayed blacks as lazy and ignorant buffoons and was fueled even more by the racial tension after the Civil War(Reconstruction Era).

From Minstrel Shows to Minstrel Jubilee Quartets

  • Since white minstrel shows were created for the comedic relief of white people, they restricted blacks from performing in them. This sparked the formation of black minstrel troupes as a response to the rejection. Such groups began appearing in the 1850’s but became widely popular in the 1870’s after Reconstruction and the debut of Fisk Jubilee Singers. While existing during the reign of offensive white minstrelsy, the black minstrel groups wanted to commence a competition to see who would create the best representation of slave life. This led to black minstrel groups beginning to incorporate religious practice. The public sparked interests in the black minstrel shows, so in order to keep their attentiveness on track, they added spiritual repertoire to their shows. The black minstrel group that had the first major impact in 1875 due to their inclusion of spirituals were the Callender’s Georgia Minstrels. This was a group with an all black cast but it was managed by whites, and featured an ensemble performing jubilee songs. The spark of popularity of black minstrel shows influenced minstrel shows (and other black ones) to include a religious singing group. These groups then added jubilee to their titles, initially creating Minstrel Jubilee Quartets.

Minstrel Jubilee Quartets' Influence on Musical Culture

Minstrel Jubilee Quartets contributed to a music style that played part in the foundation of the twentieth century Black community quartets. Minstrel Jubilee Quartets resulted in both black and white minstrel groups including African American jubilee singing groups in their shows during the late 1800’s. Their exposure led to an increase in desire of black male quartets in the commercial industry. While Minstrel Jubilee Quartets were influenced by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, they managed to exceed the entertainment demands of the pop culture of that time. As a result of black Minstrel Jubilee Quartets “gained recognition, income, entertainment skills, and business acumen, which otherwise were unable to be done by African American performers of the time. While winning the Adoration of black as well as white audiences, they successfully integrated into an entertainment world previously reserved for whites” (Burnim and Maultsby 76)


Minstrelsy is a valid example of the extent that white people would take to show their racist ways. Although the initial goal of minstrelsy was for white people to make a mockery and belittle black people in the public eye, the blacks were able to take their minstrel shows and turn them into something enjoyable for all. The incorporation of black jubilee groups in the black minstrel shows led to the increase demand of black male jubilee groups and overall recognition that ultimately improved the image of black artists.



Burnim, M. V., & Maultsby, P. K. (2015). The Transatlantic African Cultural and Musical Past. In African American music: An introduction (2nd ed., p. 4). New York: Routledge.

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