Eric Blair Presents – Daily Knowledge: The Minstrel Show (Day 24)
Unfortunely this is part of our history; I feel like people need to know there are still minstrels in entertainment today but without the paint. So, before Lil Wayne and BET, in the 1840s and 50s, William Henry Lane and Thomas Dilward became the first African Americans to perform on the minstrel stage. All-black troupes followed as early as 1855. These companies emphasized that their ethnicity made them the only true delineators of black song and dance, with one advertisement describing a troupe as “SEVEN SLAVES just from Alabama, who are EARNING THEIR FREEDOM by giving concerts under the guidance of their Northern friends.” White curiosity proved a powerful motivator, and the shows were patronized by people who wanted to see blacks acting “spontaneously” and “naturally.” Promoters seized on this, one billing his troupe as “THE DARKY AS HE IS AT HOME, DARKY LIFE IN THE CORNFIELD, CANEBRAKE, BARNYARD, AND ON THE LEVEE AND FLATBOAT.” Keeping with convention, black minstrels still corked the faces of at least the endmen. One commentator described a mostly uncorked black troupe as “mulattoes of a medium shade except two, who were light. . . . The end men were each rendered thoroughly black by burnt cork.” The minstrels themselves promoted their performing abilities, quoting reviews that favorably compared them to popular white troupes. These black companies often featured female minstrels.