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Whitewashing Blackface Minstrelsy in American College Textbooks

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Abstract:

Blackface minstrelsy, the entertainment genre that rose in the 1830s and came to dominance in the music of Dan Emmett and Stephen Foster in the 1850s, is given short shrift in textbooks on American music. What Spike Lee has called “the most popular form of entertainment of its time” is typically conflated into a few paragraphs tucked away in blandly-titled chapters such as “Popular Music of the Civil War Era.” When lyric examples are given, they are selected from the tamest, and in one egregious case, actually re-written. This article demonstrates the ubiquity of minstrel songs, pervading popular music in homes, glee clubs, and vaudeville well into the 20th century. It then takes on the contemporary suppression of the genre and its progeny in college textbooks, where racism is presented as an embarrassing but aberrational phenomenon, rather than a foundation of the national culture.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007760802207882

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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