Known most often as a racist representation of blacks pre an post civil war in America, Minstrel shows, which began in the 1820s, were first conducted by white entertainers who “performed in blackface”. And despite their history of portraying African Americans as lazy, ignorant, baffoons, it helped to spawn some of the greastest music in history–classic blues.
By 1980, black entertainers hoped to find money by performing and revampin minstrel shows–creating troupes of their own and eventually dominating this entertainment field, which performed traveling three-act sets in tents mostly across the south. Out of this domination came the “Classic Blues” artists that P&C has written about often here; the blues artists gaining their first start in show biz through minstrel performances.
Eventually, by 1900, minstrel shows were out–and vaudeville was in. Giving way to acrobats, comedians, comedians, and of course, blues singers, for 25 years these “Classic Blues” artists traveling perfecting their stage performance–think Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and the like.
And thanks to the deliciously amazing Mike Rugel at the Delta Blues Museum and his brilliant Uncensored History of the Blues podcast, you can take a trip through these “Minstrel Songs”. Performed by the likes of blues greats Son House, Gus Cannon, Barbeque Bob, and Furry Lewis, Rugel gives a nice history of the tunes, the musicians, and the role of minstrel.
It’s a must listen for all blues devotees, really.
So enjoy a slice of some of my favorite blues artists, you won’t regret it.