Background & Reading
The blackface minstrel show is one of the most controversial types of early American music. Regardless, it has had a tremendous impact on American society (both good and bad). This was America's first musical form that was part of a “mass” culture (as opposed to folk or high culture). Due to the large number of touring minstrel troupes (white troupes prior to the Civil War, and black troupes appearing after), most of America had been exposed to the minstrel show and embraced it for a variety of reasons.
Plan on about 2 hours to complete the reading and assignment.
Read about the minstrel show at the link below before beginning the assignment. Be sure to watch the three-minute documentary clip and other videos embedded into the reading. This will give you some general background on the minstrel show before you read further for this assignment.
Reading and Listening - Minstrelsy
Read about the minstrel shows at the links below, then answer the questions that appear following the links. First, however, have a look at the topics listed below. The assigned reading for this assignment will provide some information on each of them.
A stereotype is "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing" (Google). In this case, the stereotypes are exaggerations and inaccurate representations of a group of people (black slaves) that have persisted beyond the minstrel show.
As you read, look for information on these topics:
- Stereotypes originating from the minstrel show – what are they, where did they come from?
- Stereotypes originating from the minstrel show and their influence on later forms of entertainment (music, radio, television, film)
- The impact of minstrel shows on the entertainment industry (not related to race)
- Potential positive outcomes of black entertainers performing in minstrel shows
- Negative outcomes of black entertainers performing in minstrel shows
Reading and Video Links
Reading Link (????????)???????? 1 (Here is a brief overview of the Minstrel Show.)
Reading Link (????????)????????2 (Please read all seven pages. Caveat: this is an amateur enthusiast's exploration of the Minstrel Show. As such, it is uneven in quality, but does provide interesting perspective. I'm not a fan of the writing at this website. You'll find there many errors of the sort I'm trying to discourage in your own posts. :) Don't use this writing as a model!)
Video Link (????????)???????? 1 (Watch this 7-minute video.) This is a pre-workshop discussion by the director and company members of Spectrum Dance Theatre of Seattle, who in 2015-2016 presented a minstrel-show-based workshop performance. In this video they talk about the content and purpose of this production.
- What are some of the stereotypes originating from the minstrel show? Select and describe two of the stereotypes found in the minstrel show. (Be careful you are referring to the minstrel show and not something that came later.)
- How did stereotypes originating from the minstrel show influence other forms of entertainment (music, radio, television, film)? Provide at least two examples from the reading. Then, provide one example of minstrel show influence on entertainment in the last twenty years.
- What was the impact of minstrel shows on the entertainment industry (not related to race)?
- Were there any positive (or at least practical) outcomes for black entertainers performing in minstrel shows?
- What were negative outcomes of black entertainers performing in minstrel shows? Chose the negative outcome you feel is most important to write about, and use quotes from the reading to support your answer.
- Why do you think it was so easy for people in the 1800s and early 1900s to believe that what they were seeing on the minstrel show stage was a true representation of African Americans and their lives?
- What purpose do you think the Spectrum Dance Theatre is intending to serve by performing a minstrel-show based performance in the modern day? If you could talk to the Director of this production, what would you want to tell him or ask him about the minstrel show?
The Continuing Influence of The Minstrel Show
This activity has two purposes:
- To see how pervasive the stereotypes established by the minstrel show have been on American society.
- To identify influences of the minstrel show on American music and entertainment.
Be sure to have at least completed the reading for Assignment 4 before beginning this discussion. You'll need that background information for these tasks to make sense!
Choose TWO of the three topics below and post the information you find.
- Find one example from a movie or television show that makes use of a minstrel show or blackface. Identify the movie or TV show and the year it was released or aired on television, and post a video clip from it. Explain in a few sentences why you chose this example.
- Search “Minstrel Show Characters” images on the internet, to see examples of the way minstrel show characters were portrayed in drawings and photographs. Then, find an example of a minstrel show stereotype in American advertising. Examples can be of specific stereotypes such as the Mammy, Jim Crow, or Zip Coon, or just a general stereotyped image that evolved from the minstrel show. Post an image or video clip, identify the product, and add a few sentences explaining why you chose this example.
- There are some famous American songs that came from minstrel shows: Some of these include "Oh, Susanna!", "Camptown Races", "My Old Kentucky Home", and "Dixie". Find a version of one of these songs - or another song that came from minstrel shows, for extra credit - on YouTube. Post the video, state the name of the song and the performer, and explain why you chose this song and this performance of it.
- A version recorded by a famous person might be interesting
- A version by an amateur could show how these old songs continue to have fans.
- You might find a version with something unusual or interesting about it, such as the costumes, the setting, or the style of performance, for example.
Reminder about how to post videos: after pasting the link into the discussion forum, place the cursor at the end of the link and press "ENTER" in order to embed the video in to your post. If you have followed these directions and are still having trouble making the video appear, email Dr. Burdick for help.
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