Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture

Overview

The songs, dances, jokes, parodies, spoofs, and skits of blackface groups such as the Virginia Minstrels and Buckley's Serenaders became wildly popular in antebellum America. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask not only explores the racist practices of these entertainers but considers their performances as troubled representations of ethnicity, class, gender, and culture in the nineteenth century.

William J. Mahar's unprecedented archival study of playbills, newspapers, sketches, ...

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Overview

The songs, dances, jokes, parodies, spoofs, and skits of blackface groups such as the Virginia Minstrels and Buckley's Serenaders became wildly popular in antebellum America. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask not only explores the racist practices of these entertainers but considers their performances as troubled representations of ethnicity, class, gender, and culture in the nineteenth century.

William J. Mahar's unprecedented archival study of playbills, newspapers, sketches, monologues, and music engages new sources previously not considered in twentieth-century scholarship. More than any other study of its kind, Behind the Burnt Cork Mask investigates the relationships between blackface comedy and other Western genres and traditions; between the music of minstrel shows and its European sources; and between "popular" and "elite" constructions of culture.

By locating minstrel performances within their complex sites of production, Mahar offers a significant reassessment of the historiography of the field. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask promises to redefine the study of blackface minstrelsy, charting new directions for future inquiries by scholars in American studies, popular culture, and musicology.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This monograph, part of the distinguished "Music in American Life" series, is an interdisciplinary study drawing on music, performance, and theater history to examine the beginnings of an influential entertainment medium. Mahar (humanities/ music, Pennsylvania State Univ.) uses the study of blackface minstrelsy from 1843 to 1860 as a way to examine the formation and effect of much late 19th-century American popular culture. He provides generous samples of playbills, sheet music, lyrics, selections from comic sketches, and photographs as evidence for his argument. Mahar shows that the minstrel show made fun of formal speech and rhetoric, satirized opera for popular consumption, and provided a mirror for the polarities of contemporary American life, social rituals, and sexual roles. It prepared the way for melodrama, burlesque, vaudeville, and the musical comedy, all of which extended those functions. Recommended for scholars.--Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252066962
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Series: Music in American Life
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Musical Examples
Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 Revisiting Minstrelsy's History: The Playbill and Contextual Evidence 9
The Playbills 42
2 Blackface Parodies of American Speech and Rhetoric: Burlesque Lectures and Sermons, Political Orations, Comic Dialogues, and Stories 59
3 Opera for the Masses: Burlesques of English and Italian Opera 101
4 Ethiopian Sketches of American Life: Skits, Farces, and Afterpieces 157
5 Blackface Minstrelsy, Masculinity, and Social Rituals in Vocal and Choral Repertories 195
6 Blackface Minstrelsy and Misogyny in Vocal and Choral Repertories 268
Conclusion 329
App. A Representative Minstrel Companies and Personnel in Playbills and Newspaper Advertisements, 1843-60 355
App. B Representative Concluding Numbers from Selected Minstrel Shows, 1843-60 364
App. C Song Text Frequency in Selected Antebellum Songsters 367
Notes 369
Works Cited 413
Index 431
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