Early Minstrel Show Music, 1843-1852

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Minstrelsy, Pre Blues, Robert B. Winans, The Colour Line

Author : Robert B. Winans

Source : https://sites.google.com/a/wildblue.net/winansbanjo/

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“The first complete minstrel show was put on in 1843 and was an immediate “hit,” spawning many imitations and initiating what was to be the most popular of popular entertainments for the next forty years or more.  What was it about, this entertainment, especially in its first, formative decade, 1843-1852, that so captivated a nation? Though many factors might enter into the answer, surely one of the more important ones is the music of the shows. For the minstrel show was primarily a musical event, not really “musical theatre” in the modern sense, but what one might call “theatrical music.” Musical performances were what structured the early minstrel show. Printed programs for the shows, which are the primary sources for this essay, look like concert programs (see figure 9). Of course, much more occurred on stage in the actual shows than appears in the programs, which do not indicate all the dialogue and comic “business” that went on in between musical numbers. But the musical pieces on the program structured the evening. And previous scholarship has not dealt very substantially with the music of the early shows, with the partial exception of Hans Nathan’s book on Dan Emmett. So my purpose here is to examine some of the features of that music as it was performed on stage between 1843 and 1852.”

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