The first minstrel shows were performed in 1830s New York by white performers with blackened faces (most used burnt cork or shoe polish) and tattered clothing who imitated and mimicked enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. These performances characterized blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice. Thomas Dartmouth Rice, known as the “Father of Minstrelsy,” developed the first popularly known blackface character, “Jim Crow” in 1830. By 1845, the popularity of the minstrel had spawned an entertainment subindustry, manufacturing songs and sheet music, makeup, costumes, as well as a ready-set of stereotypes upon which to build new performances.
“Blackface: The Birth of An American Stereotype.” National Museum of African American History & Culture. https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/blackface-birth-american-stereotype
It is something gained when the colored man in any form can appear before a white audience; and we think that even this company [Gavitt’s Original Ethiopian Serenaders], with industry, application, and a proper cultivation of their taste, may yet be instrumental in removing the prejudice against our race. But they must cease to exaggerate the exaggerations of our enemies; and represent the colored man rather as he is, than as Ethiopian Minstrels usually represent him to be. They will then command the respect of both races; whereas now they only shock the taste of the one, and provoke the disgust of the other. Let Cooper, Davis and Richardson bring around themselves persons of equal skill, and seek to improve, relying more upon the refinement of the public, than its vulgarity; let them strive to conform to it, rather than to cater to the lower elements of the baser sort, and they may do much to elevate themselves and their race in popular estimation. [—Frederick Douglass]
North Star [Rochester, NY]. June 29, 1849. Quoted in “Minstrelsy: Contemporary Accounts.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/minstrel/miar03at.html
The minstrel show, which reached the height of popularity during 1850-70, caricatured a variety of ethnic types, including Germans, Irish, and blacks, but each ethnic group’s popularity varied over the 1800s.
Wood, Mary. The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma04/wood/ykid/irishstereo.htm
With the popularization of radio and motion pictures in the 1920s, professional minstrel shows lost much of their national following. However, amateur minstrel shows continued in local theaters, community centers, high schools, and churches as late as the 1960s.
“The Origins of Jim Crow.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. https://ferris.edu/jimcrow/origins.htm
A 1953 INSTRUCTION book for amateur performers, Burnt Cork and Melody, noted that “despite the fact that all professional minstrelsy had practically vanished, there was never a night when a minstrel show was not being given somewhere in our country.” During the first sixty years of the twentieth century, white middle-class men, women, and children across the United States joined together to put on minstrel shows. A large industry supported these amateur minstrels with books of instructions, music, and jokes; costumes, wigs, “bones,” and burnt cork makeup; and sometimes professional directors to organize the amateur productions. […]
By the 1960s many people had decided that objections to blackface minstrel shows merited consideration, and amateur minstrelsy died out. Amateur groups presented minstrel shows sporadically, throughout the next thirty-five years, but organized protests followed most performances.
Smulyan, Susan. “Minstrel Laughs: Popular, Race, and the Middle Class.” Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-century. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. 17, 39.
FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY.
This Unrivalled Troupe, respectfully announce to the citizens of this place, that they will give one of their Ethiopian Operatic entertainments, at the Olympic Saloon on Wednesday evenings, July 24. Their program comprises many new and attractive pieces, never before performed in Lansingburgh. Gentlemen are particularly requested not to beat time with their feet. Doors open at half past 7. Concert to commence at a quarter past 8 o’clock. Cards of admission 25 cts. Children half price.
Lansingburgh Democrat. July 18, 1850: 2 col 6.
BYRNE, SHERWOOD & FOLLET’S
Take pleasure in announcing to the citizens of Lansingburgh and its Vicinity, that they will give two of their Grand Concerts on Friday and Saturday, May 20th & 21st, 1853. The Band consists of the following artists: F. J. Byrne, alias, Broder Bones; C. Sherwood, the renowned Banjoist J. Follett, the great Tambourinist; T. Connois, A. Claasen, and J. Patterson.
☞ Admission 25 cts. Children half-price.
F. J. BYRNE, Manager.
Lansingburgh Democrat. May 12, 1853: 2 col 6.
☞ NEW MINSTREL TROUPE.—Cross, Fay, & McAllister’s Minstrels, gave an exhibition at Redner’s “Washington Hall,” on Monday evening, the 27th ult. They had a large audience, and everything went off satisfactory. Young Fay is a son of James Fay of this village, and possesses fine musical talents.
Lansingburgh Weekly Chronicle. December 5, 1865: 3 col 2.
—The world-famed New Orleans minstrels will be at Fireman’s Hall Wednesday evening. The only “Happy” Cal Wagner is connected with this troupe of truly excellent artists, and the other talent is of the highest order. […]
—Be sure and take in the New Orleans minstrel at Firemens’ Hall Wednesday evening.
“Amusements.” Lansingburgh Courier. April 11, 1879: 3 col 2.
For the first time in many months the hoodlums of the village did not make nuisances of themselves and annoy the public, at Concert hall, Saturday night, on the occasion of Street & Boyle’s minstrel exhibition. The arrest of three of the unruly youths on Thursday night, at the time of the Lime Kiln Serenaders’ entertainment, their subsequent incarceration for the night and three days in jail for the eldest offender, a young man of 19, proved a most salutary lesson. Scores of lads had come to believe that nothing moe serious than a few minutes in the lock-up would come of it, no matter how disorderly they might be about the hall, and this slight punishment they considered fun rather than otherwise. They have now changed their minds. They do not appear to altogether like Chief Longstaff’s accommodations.
Lansingburgh Courier. May 17, 1884: 7 col 3.
William Anthony is organizing an amateur minstrel troupe with which he proposes to start on the road the week before Christmas.
“Notes About Town.” Lansingburgh Courier. December 4, 1886: 3 col 2.
Many colleges have minstrel clubs and raise money by exhibitions. We have some excellent material for one. Why not organize it?
Rensselaer Polytechnic. April 13, 1889: 138.
—Lansingburgh council, Royal Arcanum, will receive two new members this evening. The committee having in charge the minstrel entertainment will meet to arrange for the assignment of parts and to prepare for rehearsals.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Daily Times. August 19, 1891: 3 col 5.
—A minstrel performance will be given Sept 24 under the auspices of the Royal Arcanum. The “Cotton Blossoms” will have charge of the entertainment.
“Local News and Seasonable Jottings.” Lansingburgh Courier. September 3, 1891: 3 col 1.
—At a minstrel entertainment given in Waterford Monday evening Wm. Mealy, of this village, was a conspicuous figure. Those who witnessed his performance claim he acquitted himself better than many professionals. Mr. Mealy has an offer to travel with a minstrel troupe this winter.
“Local News and Seasonable Jottings.” Lansingburgh Courier. November 19, 1891: 3 col 1.
—The Fake hooks will give a minstrel performance soon after Easter. Rehearsals will soon commence.
“Local News and Seasonable Jottings.” Lansingburgh Courier. February 23, 1893: 3 col 1.
—Adelbert Howard, the young man who was injured at the Troy steamboat dock some months ago, will be given a benefit performance at Concert hall in November. The entertainment will be of the minstrel order, and rehearsals are already being held.
“Local News and Seasonable Jottings.” Lansingburgh Courier. September 14, 1893: 3 col 1.
—The musical portion of the minstrel entertainment given in this city Tuesday night by the Fake Hook and Ladder Company of Lansingburgh was under the direction of M. N. Koninsky of this city.
“With the Musicians.” Troy Daily Times. February 4, 1898: 3 col 2.
—A dress rehearsal, with orchestra, of the Clef Club minstrels will be held at Powers opera house to-night.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Daily Times. May 12, 1899: 4 col 2.
—The members of the Fifth Avenue Club are arranging to give an entertainment after the Lenten season. A minstrel performance is under consideration. Two years ago the club gave a minstrel entertainment in the Powers Opera House, Upper Troy.
Troy Daily Times. March 20, 1902: 3 col 2.
[…]—Entertain Dark-Faced Thespians—[…]
—A social was enjoyed last evening at the rooms of the Lansingburgh Young Men’s Christian Association by the participants of the recent minstrel entertainment held for the benefit of the Association. George Skillman, Carl Dennin and Ralph Revilo rendered vocal selections. Miss Antoinette Hall, Miss Mattie Flack and Miss Harris were in charge of the festivities.
Troy Times. February 13, 1908: 6 col 2.
M. Koninsky was the director of the first rehearsal for the minstrel show to be presented by the All-Troy Athletic Association last evening in the rooms of [One Hundred] Seventeenth Street. The performance will be held in Young Men’s Christian Association Hall the first week of May.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Times. March 18, 1919: 12 col 2.
—The All-Troy Athletic Association met last evening. The Minstrel Committee will meet to-night to arrange for the show, which the club plans to present some time during the latter part of January. A rehearsal will be held to-night.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Times. December 7, 1920: 6 col 4.
The cast for the minstrel show which the All-Troy Athletic Club will present on Monday and Tuesday evenings in Dania Hall will hold dress rehearsals Saturday evening at the All-Troy rooms and Sunday afternoon at Dania Hall. From indications the minstrel show ill be a great success.
“Lansingburgh.” Troy Times. January 20, 1921: 2 col 3.
Clay Hibbert, a former resident of Lansingburgh, is in this city for a few days. Mr. Hibbert was on a tour with Guy Brothers’ minstrel show, which recently closed its season at Englishtown, N. J. He will appear at the Griswold Theatre to-night in novelty harmonica numbers. Later he will go to Syracuse, where he will join the John R. Van Arnam’s troupe.
Troy Times. May 6, 1926: 5 col 7.
A meeting of the members of Tordenskjold Grove, Order of Druids was held last evening, when plans were completed for the Christmas party to be held Friday evening. The weekly euchre parties have been discontinued until January 7. Plans are also being made for a joint minstrel and dance to be conducted together with the Mistletoe Grove, Order of Druids, in Germania Hall. Rasmus Sorensen is Chairman of the committee. Dennis Navin and George Jones were appointed as a Committee on Delinquent Members last night. Greater Troy Camp, Modern Woodmen, will meet Sunday afternoon for a rehearsal for the joint installation with the Druids, January 8.
Troy Times. December 3, 1930: 3 col 3.
700 Attend Presentation; Christmas Party Planned For Children
Neighbors applied burnt cork to their faces, plumbers becoming comedians and police officers singers at the 30th annual edition of the minstrel review of the All-Troy Athletic Club last night at Knickerbocker Junior High School. […]
Times Record. December 12, 1950: 22 col 2.
CYO MINSTREL COMPETITION—More than 400 persons attended the recent CYO Minstrel Competition at St. Augustine’s Hall in Lansingburgh. Winners of the event were the performers of St. Jude’s of Wynantskill. St. Augustine’s placed second.
Times Record. March 19, 1963: 3 cols 3-5.
Ethnic Unit Objections Change Ticket Wording.
Because of objections by certain ethnic groups in Troy to the word “minstrel show” on tickets, the form of the show sponsored by the Lansingburgh Boys Club Auxiliary has been changed.
New tickets are being printed. The show will be called, “Hullabaloo and Old Times Too,” Mrs. Timothy J. Fogarty and Joseph Manupella, chairmen of the show, in announcing the change, said that no acts in blackface had been planned. The word “minstrel,” they said, had been used to mean the old fashioned musical type of show.
The show will be given on Monday and Tuesday, April 25 and 26 at Knickerbacker Junior High School and will be an Irish musical and variety show.
John F. Higgins, director, said that some of the script will be rewritten, although the cast has been practicing for several weeks.”Members of the cast are good troupers” he said, “and versatile enough to make the changes and turn out a good show.”
Higgins said that the plan to revive some of the old All Troy Club show numbers will have to be dropped. He added:
“We have made concessions to those who object to one type show in the hope that we can please everyone who attends.”
Troy Record. March 28, 1966: 22.