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Course & Subject Guides

Blackface Minstrelsy Resources: Home

This guide has been developed by The Center for American Music to provide resources for researching blackface minstrelsy and other demonstrations of blackface performance.

Welcome to the Blackface Minstrelsy Resource Guide

Christy's Minstrels Ensemble

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The Stephen Foster Memorial Museum

Center for American Music

106A Stephen Foster Memorial

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Phone: 412-624-4100

Emailkmill@pitt.edu

Hours:

by appointment only

What is Blackface Minstrelsy?

Blackface minstrelsy, also called blackface, is an indigenous American theatrical form that constituted a subgenre of the minstrel show. Intended as comic entertainment. Blackface minstrelsy was performed by a group of white minstrels (traveling musicians) with black-painted faces, whose material caricatured the singing and dancing of slaves. The form reached the pinnacle of its popularity between 1850 and 1870, when it enjoyed sizeable audiences in both the United States and Britain. Although blackface minstrelsy gradually disappeared from the professional theatres and became purely a vehicle for amateurs, its influence endured in later entertainment genres and media, including vaudeville theatre, radio and television programs, and the world-music and motion-picture industries of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Two blackface minstrel actors

 


 

White actor in and out of blackface

 


White actor in and out of blackface

 


Minstrel troupe

 

"Blacking up"

White actor with no blackface makeup on.

Blacking Up

"Blacking up" was the term used to describe putting on blackface makeup.

White actor putting blackface makeup around mouth.

Burnt Cork

Blackface minstrel makeup was made out of a cork burned in oil, also known as burnt cork.

White actor putting blackface makeup on cheeks.

Exaggerated Features

Fictitiously exaggerated lips were typically outlined in white or pink makeup, while eye were outlined in white.

White actor in full blackface makeup without wig.

Blackface Caricatures

Once the blackface makeup was applied, actors would put on costumes to create caricatures. To the present day these caricatures have pervaded American culture as African American stereotypes. Some of the most widely recognized blackface characters include Mammy, Uncle Tom, Jim Crow, and the picaninny.

White actor in full blackface makeup, hair, and costume.

The Minstrel Costume

Although numerous blackface caricatures were created for the minstrel stage, the most widely recognized blackface costume utilized an ill-fitted tuxedo with pinstriped pants, an oversized bow-tie, and a wooly wig.