Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain

Author: Michael Pickering

Publication date: 2008

Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series

Ashgate Publishing

"The historical study and cultural analysis of minstrelsy is important because of the significant role it played as a form of song, music and theatrical entertainment in the development of popular culture in Britain since the nineteenth century. Minstrelsy had a marked impact on popular music, dance and other aspects of popular culture, both in Britain and the United States. Its impact in the United States also fed into significant song and music genres that were then assimilated in Britain, from ragtime and jazz onwards, but prior to these influences, minstrelsy in Britain developed many distinct features and was adapted to operate within various conventions, themes and traditions in British popular culture. Pickering therefore provides a convincing counter-argument to the assumption among writers in the United States that blackface was exclusively American and its British counterpart purely imitative.

It can be seen that minstrelsy went considerably beyond its entertainment value, whether this is considered theatrically, musically, comedically or choreographically. Jokes at the expense of black people and demeaning racial stereotypes of blacks were integral to minstrel entertainment, and along with other aspects of the form created a cultural low-Other that offered confirmation of white racial ascendancy and imperial dominion around the world. The book will attend closely to how this influence on colonialism and imperialism operated and proved ideologically so effective. But British minstrelsy cannot be reduced to its racist and imperialist connections. Enormously important as those connections are, Pickering demonstrates the complexity of the subject by insisting that the minstrel show and minstrel performers be understood also in terms of their own theatrical dynamics, talent and appeal."

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