“Good” Minstrels?

Throughout our classes, the aspect of Blackface Minstrelsy (and other forms of racial exploitation) that seems to be of greatest concern, is the way in which white society comodifies and reduces various races and cultures into stereotypical caricatures for the purposes of white entertainment. In Love and Theft, by Eric Lott, however, he discusses that in the case of Blackface Minstrelsy, there is the simultaneous presence of racism, fear, and even “fascination.” It struck me as a very unique and unusual statement, the idea that Blackface Minstrelsy could come out of and be perceived by some as an expression of fascination and twisted admiration. That was until I read the article “Good Minstrels” from page 6 of a 1919 issue of The Broad Ax, a Chicago newspaper.


This reviewer from the Chicago Tribune praises this Blackface Performance for it’s “…amazing Negro feeling for rhythm and pulse and life…” and even compares their performance to that of the Fisk cantors (the Fisk Singers being a historically well known African-american music ensemble).

Throughout the article, the reviewer expresses nothing but excitement and respect for the performance, even referencing “Negro” music in the same breath as Brahms and Dvorak. It is clear that this is Blackface Minstrelsy performance at a high caliber, and in this case, it’s not outwardly comedic or meant to be degrading. It was a performance that showcased black music as something worthy of being performed in the same venues and at the same skill level as that of western classical music. This is highly remarkable given date of this review. After reading even this one review, Lott’s claim, that there is a certain fascination and admiration for “blackness” present in white performances of Blackface Minstrelsy, doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may first appear…

-Sources Consulted-

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), February 15, 1919: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2:13364E8FB5DF2117@EANAAA-1336A9472B369F40@2422005-13365F056E6C2BA8@0.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993 (Introduction and Chptr. 1) https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxQzWOgr8AurZHRwTEcwWTczZW8/view

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