The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface.
Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr’actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. By 1848, blackface minstrel shows were the national artform, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience.
By the turn of the 20th century, the minstrel show enjoyed but a shadow of its former popularity, having been replaced for the most part by vaudeville. It survived as professional entertainment until about 1910; amateur performances continued until the 1960s in high schools, and local theaters. As the civil rights movement progressed and gained acceptance, minstrels lost popularity.
David Pilgrim Article on the Minstrel Show and Jim Crow.
David Pilgrim Fantastic image collection of Minstrel Show performers, memorabilia and posters.
Encyclopedia.com Brief entry on the Minstrel Show.
Fansite Article on Minstrel Shows in relation to how the blues affected race relations in the United States.
George Mason University Overview of the characteristics and major performers of the Minstrel Show.
George Mason University Minstrel Show publicity posters.
Jim Comer Historical account of the Minstrel Show as a form of entertainment.
Jochen Scheytt Excellent academic paper on the various characterisitcs of the Minstrel Show form.
Musicals 101 Very good history of the Minstrel Show in two parts by John Kenrick.
New World Records CD liner notes on the Minstrel Show.
Nugrape Records Overview of Minstrelsy in Australia.
PBS Excellent series of questions and answers about Blackface Minstrelsy with several historians.
Princeton University Details of the Minstrel Show collection of advertising material (1850s to 1920s) in the Princeton University Library.
Southern University Definition of the Minstrel Show.
Susan Smulyan Article arguing today’s entertainment derives from the Minstrel Show.
Tim Faigin Article on the Minstrel Show’s contribution to folk music.
University of Virginia Excellent collection of historical Minstrel Show publicity posters.
University of Virginia Account of Blackface Minstrelsy in relation to Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain’s love for the art form. Includes photographs and script.
Wikipedia Useful entry on ‘blackface’, the type of make-up used in Minstrel Shows.