Minstrelsy in post -Civil War New York, 1865–1870
Blackface minstrelsy transformed the colonial, European-based theater culture, which had existed in America since the 1780s, into a true American popular genre. Minstrels integrated elements from European, African American, and Anglo-American musical and dramatic sources into a highly improvisational format in order to produce the minstrel show.1
Bryant's Minstrels, Christy's Minstrels, and the San Francisco Minstrels—New York's most popular minstrel troupes—flourished by performing blackface and war time skits and songs, challenge dances, farces, burlesques of serious opera and theater, and by including acts such as instrumental virtuosi and brass bands. These minstrel troupes continued their success by adapting to the changing tastes of reconstruction era audiences.
My current research involves developing a chronology outlining minstrel activity in New York for the years 1865–1870. Advertisements and reviews of minstrel shows in New York newspapers serve as the primary source material. I will present data describing this activity during the period of study in the political and social context of the time. Topics will include population shift and changing values, the demand for variety and cheap entertainment, new sources for show material, opportunities for new black and female performers, and programs performed.
1William J. Mahar, Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 1–2.
0337: American history
0323: American studies