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minstrel show

minstrel show

minstrel show, stage entertainment by white performers made up as blacks. Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who gave (c.1828) the first solo performance in blackface and introduced the song-and-dance act Jim Crow, is called the "father of American minstrelsy." The first public performance of a minstrel show was given in 1843 by the Virginia Minstrels, headed by Daniel Decatur Emmett. Christy's Minstrels (for whom Stephen Foster wrote some of his most popular songs) appeared in 1846, headed by Edwin P. Christy. In the first part of the minstrel show the company, in blackface and gaudy costumes, paraded to chairs placed in a semicircle on the stage. The interlocutor then cracked jokes with the end men, and, for a finale, the company passed in review in the "walk around." This part of the minstrel show caricatured the black man, representing him by grotesque stereotypes that were retained in the minds of white American audiences for many decades. In the second part of the show vaudeville or olio (medley) acts were presented. The third or afterpart was a burlesque on a play or an opera. The minstrel show was at its peak from 1850 to 1870 but passed with the coming of vaudeville, motion pictures, and radio.

See C. Wittke, Tambo and Bones: A History of the American Minstrel Stage (1930, repr. 1968).

Form of entertainment popular in the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It originated in the 1830s with the popular white performer Thomas D. Rice, known as “Jim Crow,” who wore the stylized makeup called blackface and performed songs and dances in a stereotyped imitation of African Americans. Blackfaced white minstrel troupes were particularly popular in the U.S. and England in 1840–80 and included groups such as the Christy Minstrels, who played on Broadway for 10 years and had songs composed for them by Stephen Foster. The minstrel show included an opening chorus and frequent exchanges of jokes between the emcee, Mr. Interlocutor, and the end men, Mr. Tambo (who played the tambourine) and Mr. Bones (who rattled the bones), interspersed with ballads, comic songs, and instrumental numbers (usually on the banjo and violin), as well as individual acts, soft-shoe dances, and specialty numbers. Minstrel troupes composed of African Americans were formed after the Civil War; in general, minstrel shows were the only theatrical medium in which black performers of the period could support themselves. Minstrel shows had effectively disappeared by the early 20th century, but the effects of their racial stereotyping persisted in performance mediums well into mid century.

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The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British television series that ran from 1958 until 1978 and was a popular stage show. It was a weekly light entertainment and variety show presenting traditional American minstrel and Country songs, as well as show and music hall numbers, usually performed in blackface, and with lavish costumes.

History

The show was first broadcast on the BBC on June 14 1958. It began as a one-off special featuring the male Mitchell Minstrels (after George Mitchell, the Musical Director) and the female Television Toppers dancers in 1957. It was popular and soon developed into a regular 45 minute show on Saturday evenings, featuring both solo and minstrel pieces (often with extended segueing) as well as "comedy interludes". It was produced by George Inns with George Mitchell.

Popularity

Audiences regularly exceeded 18 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show which ran for 6,477 performances from 1960–1972 and established itself in The Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people. At this time, the creation had gained considerable international respect and kudos. The show won a Golden Rose at Montreux in 1961 for best light entertainment programme and the first three albums of songs (1960–1962) all did extremely well, the first two being long-running number ones in the British album chart.

While the show started off being broadcast in (genuine) black-and-white, the show was one of the very first to be moved to colour by the BBC in 1967.

Several famous personalities guested on the show, while others started their careers there. Comedian Lenny Henry was one such star, being the first black comedian to appear, in 1975.

Controversy

The show's premise began to be seen as offensive on account of its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving in a stereotypical manner. A petition against it was received by the BBC in 1967, and since cancellation it has come to be seen more widely as an embarrassment, despite its popularity at the time.

Post-TV

The BBC1 TV show was cancelled in 1978 as part of a reduction in variety programming (although by this point the blackface element had been reduced), but the stage show continued. Having left the Victoria Palace Theatre, where the stage show played from 1962 to 1972, the show toured almost every year to various big city and seaside resort theatres around the UK, including The Futurist in Scarborough, The Festival Hall in Paignton and The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. This continued each summer until 1987, when a final tour of three Butlins resorts (Minehead, Bognor Regis and Barry Island) saw the last official Black and White Minstrel Show on stage.

Cultural impact

"Alternative Roots", an episode of the BBC comedy series The Goodies, spoofed the popularity of The Black and White Minstrel Show, suggesting that any programme could double its viewing figures by being performed in blackface, and mentioning that a series of The Black and White Minstrel Show had been tried without make up. In the late 1960s, Masquerade, a "whiteface" version of the show, had been tried, only to lose viewers.

When a revival of the Black And White Minstrel Show was proposed by fictional television presenter Roger Mellie, Tom states "Television bade good riddance to that racist rubbish decades ago".

References

External links

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