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Lecture 2

MUS 365 Lecture 2: Roots & Mixed Traditions Pt5

Course Code
MUS 365
Benjamin Ordaz

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Roots & Mixed Traditions
Part 5
Stage Music
o One could see an enormous variety of staged entertainment in 19th century
America, much of which included music
o In addition to operas in English, English translation, or in Italian, German, or
French which often featured arias or songs interspersed between sections of
dialogue much like a Broadway musical, there were farces and burlesques of
popular stage works of the day
o Interludes and brief farces were even presented between the acts of operas
o Pantomimes were stage action and dance set to music without singing
o Circuses rivaled theaters in popularity and not only featured animal acts and
feats of strength but also elements of pantomime and comic opera
o Stage extravaganzas rival contemporary film for their spectacular special effects
o The most popular form of 19th century American stage musical performance by
far was blackface minstrelsy
o Like the Blues and other forms of 19th century stage music, the legacy of music
and even some comedic traditions from blackface minstrelsy was imported into
the mix that would become Country Music
Blackface Minstrelsy
o Drawing upon English theatrical traditions that lampooned various minority
cultures such as rural peoples: Irish, Germans, Jews and Africans
o Blackface minstrelsy developed in the US during the 1830’s principally through
the performances of Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice and George Washington
o African American performers supplanted whites in minstrel shows following the
Civil War, performing first in blackface and then slowly dropping the convention
over time
o These minstrel shows revived themes that were popular before the war, such as
a nostalgic longing for plantation life, that harkened back to the 1850’s
o This preoccupation with a nostalgic rural past was mirrored in the larger world of
popular, sentimental, and parlor songs
o It now seems incomprehensible that African American blackface minstrels, such
as James Bland, sang of a romantic and idealized plantation life under slavery, as
in his popular 1878 song “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”
o African American blackface performers did humanize minstrelsy’s stock
characters and provided a performance platform from which African American
entertainers made the transition to minstrelsy’s successor variety show format
called vaudeville
o Blackfaced comedy, skits and singers remained a staple of early vaudeville
o Famous white blackface vaudeville performers such as Al Jolson, who
popularized the song Mammy” in the 1927 film the Jazz Singer and Eddie Cantor
who continued to perform in blackface into the 1940’s
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