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American Blackface Minstrelsy

            In the 19th century, American blackface minstrelsy was a form of entertainment performed by white men and women with blackened faces. By imitating dances and songs which were especially inspired by black people working on Southern plantations and their typical African-American vernacular, white minstrel performers thus portrayed African-American people on stage until William Henry Lane – an African-American artist – became popular as being one of the first black performers in the United States. As a start, minstrel shows served as an entr'acte in theatres or traveling circuses until Thomas D. Rice made blackface minstrelsy even more popular with his song and simultaneously dance "Jump Jim Crow" and minstrel shows could fill a whole evening's entertainment program – Rice can be seen as the father of blackface minstrelsy. Other popular companies were the Virginia minstrels, directed by Daniel Decatur Emmett or Christy Minstrels for whom Stephen Foster, one of the best known songwriters for minstrel songs. All of them were Northerners which emphasizes the fact that blackface minstrelsy was not a phenomenon of the South but in fact of the North.
             It was Edwin Pearce Christy of Christy Minstrels who then established the format of the minstrel show which the other performers overtook afterwards. Part one opened with a chorus and showed the interlocutor – the master of ceremonies in the minstrel show and clothed distinctly different than the others – in the middle of a semicircle formed by the other actors; at the ends – the end men – were Mr. Tambo playing the tambourine and Mr. Bones playing a pair of clappers. Afterwards, jokes between the interlocutor and the end men were made and musical pieces followed often played on the banjo or the violin. Then, the show continued with the second act, usually accompanied by a stump speech in which issues of politics, science or society were parodied.

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