- Although both minstrel singing and blackface performance can be traced back to the Middle Ages, the origin of this American entertainment is usually credited to Thomas D. Rice, who was performing a "Jim Crow" song and dance in blackface by the 1830s. In 1843, a group calling itself the Virginia Minstrels began to set the pattern for a minstrel show, which was perfected by the long-lived Christy Minstrels. Numerous others followed, and after the Civil War , minstrelsy became a ready foothold for African Americans who wished to find a way into show business. Thus the latter part of the century saw a proliferation of "genuine" Ethiopian minstrels. Yet the stylized production values called for blackface or burnt cork makeup, even by black performers.The minstrel chorus wore identical bright-colored costumes, often shiny satin, cut in fancy evening dress style with top hats. They would sit in a semicircle, sometimes several rows deep, during the comic patter between the whiteface straight man called the Interlocutor and the two end-men, Tambo and Bones. A cakewalk culminated the songs and patter of the first part of the show. The second part comprised olio acts, often including a male in drag. The third part was a short play, either a "plantation spectacle" or a burlesque of well-known highbrow material.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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