100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Recorded September 23, 1912

In pre-Civil War America popular stage characters included the tall-tale telling Yankee, the Frontiersman and the “Sambo” character – a performer in black face. In the 1830’s white actor Thomas Rice made a character called “Jim Crow” one of the most recognizable face in the US and Europe. As theater became more pedestrian and vulgar, black face performers lampooning African-Americans became more popular. In 1843 the Virginia Minstrels became the first full-time minstrel show “entirely exempt from the vulgarities and other objectionable features which have hitherto characterized negro extravaganzas.” Minstrel shows became respectable.

Performers would dress in costumes and apply exaggerated black and white makeup, to portray themselves as different types of stereotypical African American characters. They sang and spoke in dielect. Typically, the performers would be seated in a chorus with the main characters seated in front. The host, or “Mr. Interlocutor”, would remain standing and would introduce and direct the show. Jokes would be exchanged between the host and different characters of the group. By the 1860’s minstrels shows changed to be more pro-slavery with race as its main focus. Most minstrels showed African-Americans as cheerful, simple slaves always ready to sing and dance and to please their masters. After the Civil War the shown romanticized the fallen soldiers and was critical of the South.Minstrelsy lost popularity as new entertainments such as variety shows, musical comedies, and vaudeville appeared in the North. The popularity of Minstrel show faded rapidly after the beginning of the 1900’s. Though several performers use black face in vaudeville like Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker records of this time already refer to these as ‘Old Time’ minstrels.On September 23, 1912 the Victor Recording studios in Camden, New Jersey recorded the “Victor Minstrel Company” featuring which included the voices of studio regulars like Arthur Collins, Henry Burr, Albert Campbell and John H Meyer performing various minstrel songs.

The four members of the Victor Minstrel Company can be seen in the middle photograph

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