||The Minstrel Show Collection, 1831-1959 (bulk 1860-1940), contains 4,000 items
documenting the form of entertainment known as the minstrel show and, to a much
lesser extent, other entertainments that used blackface makeup. Minstrel shows
featured white Americans appearing in blackface in a three-part show, performing
what were billed as "genuine" Negro songs and
dances. The earliest minstrel shows appeared in the early 1840s and were very
popular until they were eclipsed by vaudeville in the 1890s. At their height,
of minstrel show companies toured the United States; some even played theaters
England. By 1910 the genre was nearly obsolete, as attested to by advertisements
appealing to nostalgia about an age of minstrelsy already past. Though the minstrel
show had all but vanished, some variety performers and motion picture actors adopted
the minstrel's blackface makeup in the 1920s and 1930s, notably Al Jolson.
||The bulk of the collection documents individual performers and minstrel show
companies, including touring companies. It is organized into six series: I. Minstrel
Show Companies and Performers, 1831-1959 (31 boxes, 42 oversize folders), II.
Playbills and Programs, 1847-1914 (1.5 boxes, 10 oversize folders), III. Scrapbooks,
1835-1927 (4 boxes), IV. Printed Music, 1834-1934 (7.5 boxes, 1 oversize folder),
Songsters, Jokesters, and Miscellaneous Booklets, 1833-1908 (6 boxes), and VI.
Miscellaneous, 1858-1931 (3.5 boxes, 1 oversize folder).
||The Companies and Performers series, 1831-1959, comprises the bulk of the collection
and contains photographs, prints, letters, sheet music, clippings, programs,
playbills, scrapbook leaves, and a small number of tintypes for over 700 minstrel
show companies and performers, arranged alphabetically by name. Included are the
performer-managers Dan Bryant, George N. Christy, Frank Dumont, Lew Dockstader,
Billy Emerson, Dan Emmett, Al. G. Field, Eddie Leonard, and George H. Primrose,
ensembles the Big 4; Haverly's Minstrels; McIntyre and Heath; the San Francisco
Minstrels; and Thatcher, Primrose, and West's Minstrels. This series also includes
photographs of motion picture actors and variety performers from the 1920s and
who utilized blackface makeup in their routines, as well as female impersonators
banjoists. Very few female or African American minstrels are represented in this
series or elsewhere in the collection. (See the folder of "lady" minstrels in the Miscellaneous series.)
||Notable items include the unpublished manuscript of the memoirs of the minstrel show
performer-manager Samuel S. Sanford (d. 1905), and autograph vocal and instrumental
parts used by blackface comedian and dancer "Hi-Brown" Bobby Burns. With few exceptions, the correspondence in the
Companies and Performers series (letters, telegrams, and postcards) was addressed
Greene's Opera House in Middletown, Conn., having been taken from the Greene's
House Records. (Researchers may wish to consult these records, which also form
of the Performing Arts Collection.) Notable correspondents include Bobby Beach,
Bryant, Frank Dumont, Al. G. Field, and J. H. (Jack) Haverly.
||Many of the photographs from the 1920s and 1930s are publicity photographs that were
previously in the possession of the Palace Theatre's Photograph and Press Bureau
New York. Aimé Dupont was frequently the photographer, and most of the
photographs are gelatin silver prints. Composite portraits and unidentified items
are located at the end of the series.
||(See Notes Concerning the Folder List for Series I following this Scope and Contents
note for an explanation of how the contents of the folders were described.)
||Series II contains playbills and programs, mostly for New York City theaters,
1847-1914, arranged alphabetically by name of company or performer. Companies
represented by five or more items warranted a separate folder; others are filed
||The Scrapbooks series, 1835-1927, contains photographs and clippings mounted in two
intact scrapbooks, one disbound scrapbook, and about 50 loose scrapbook leaves,
latter grouped according to provenance insofar as this could be determined.
(Scrapbooks in this collection were previously handled in several ways: individual
leaves were acquired, as were entire scrapbooks, and some scrapbooks were disbound
and the leaves distributed into Series I. Groups of scrapbook leaves should not
considered complete.) Photographs in the "Minstrels 1835
to 1891" scrapbook are cross-referenced in the folder list for Series
||The bulk of the Printed Music series, 1834-1934, comprises sheet music for circa 500
songs, most of which were popularized by white minstrel show performers. A small
number of other songs were introduced by African American singers. The sheet music
files also include several piano scores for songs. The music is arranged by date
publication, or by copyright date when no publication date is given. (In addition
the sheet music in this series, Series I contains a small number of photographs
early sheet music from the 1840s and 1850s.) This series also includes a folder
clippings about the songwriting business and three songbooks.
||The Songsters, Jokesters, and Miscellaneous Booklets series is divided into two
subseries: A. Songsters, 1833-1883, undated, and B. Jokesters and Miscellaneous
Booklets, 1870-1908, undated. Within each subseries, items are arranged by title,
except for several folders of mounted songster leaves that are arranged by date.
Songsters subseries comprises about 240 booklets of lyrics for songs which were
popularized by comedians and minstrel show performers; sometimes the texts of
are interspersed with the lyrics. About one third of the songsters bear the name
a specific company or performer, as in Dave Reed's "Sally Come Up" Songster; others depict
African American customs and lifestyles as seen by white Americans, as in Old Plantation Songster. (In addition to the songsters
which are intact and identifiable by title, the Songsters subseries contains a
incomplete, but mostly intact, songsters for which titles are unknown; a small
number of loose single pages from songsters; and twenty groups of related songster
leaves. The latter consist of sections or loose leaves gathered into groups
according to their original order, size, and subject matter.) Concluding the
Songsters subseries are five folders of songster leaves mounted on heavy paper,
often with an accompanying print. The Jokesters and Miscellaneous Booklets subseries
contains several booklets with the texts of jokes used in minstrel shows, e.g.,
Burnt Cork Joker, as well as a dozen booklets on
miscellaneous topics, such as books of sayings, the texts of speeches, and acting
||Highlights of the Miscellaneous series, 1858-1931, include a McDonough's Opera House
folder which contains letters to the manager of the Opera House in Middletown,
Conn., and contracts. The banjo, a common instrument in minstrel shows, is
represented by a folder of clippings, advertisements, and instruction books. In
addition to the "Early History of Negro Minstrelsy"
newspaper clippings, many other clippings describe the history of minstrelsy as
through the eyes of veteran performers.
||For a fuller description of the collection, see:
||Brokaw, John W. "The Minstrel Show in the Hoblitzelle
Theatre Arts Library."
Library Chronicle of the University of Texas at
Austin, New Series no. 4 (1972): 23-30.
Note to Researchers
||The finding aid for the Minstrel Show Collection is a conflation of the original
inventory created in 1999, and of a small addition that was catalogued in 2008,
well as later additions. Currently the additions are described by a second inventory
which has been appended to the original inventory, continuing the box and folder
numbering sequence. Indices are available for the songsters and jokesters contained
in Series V.
||The Minstrel Show Collection was assembled by Theater Arts staff from the Albert
Davis and Messmore Kendall Collections. Other materials were added later: the
"Hi-Brown" Bobby Burns papers from the W. H. Crain
Collection, and letters from Greene's Opera House Records dating 1895-1906. The
collection was formerly known as the Minstrelsy Collection.
Notes Concerning the Folder List for Series I
||The contents of each folder in Series I are described by format (photos, prints,
clippings, etc.). Engravings and lithographs are referred to generically as "prints." Unless a date is specified, items are
undated. Because many of the items bear handwritten dates added by a previous
collector, the dates given may not always be reliable. In addition, items described
as "photos" are sometimes photographs of sheet music
covers, posters, or prints, not personal portraits; this is especially true for
items dated 1860 or earlier. Many of the postcards are only pictorial in nature
(without inscriptions). References to "box 35, p.
__" indicate that a photograph of the subject can be found in the "Minstrels, 1835 to 1891" scrapbook located in Series
||Many minstrel show performers, particularly the more successful ones, performed with
more than one ensemble during their career, sometimes lending their names to the
group if they owned all or part of it. Their names are cross-referenced wherever
possible; e.g., for the duo Williams and Walker, the entry for George Walker points
to Williams and Walker. (However, Bert Williams is not afforded a cross-reference
because he is a short step from Williams and Walker in the alphabet.) Names of
individuals precede names of ensembles; thus, "Williams,
Bert" comes before "Williams and Walker."
Regarding the names of companies, superlatives like "Consolidated" and "Enormous" were
generally avoided except to distinguish those ensembles which were administratively
distinct, as in the case of Haverly's Mastodon Minstrels and Haverly's Minstrels,
two separate touring companies managed by J. H. Haverly.
||Edward Le Roy Rice's Monarchs of Minstrelsy (New York:
Kenny Publishing Co., 1911) was the primary source used to verify the names of
minstrel show companies and performers.
Abbreviations used in the folder list and index of
correspondents are as follows:
- ALS autograph letter signed
- p., pp. page, pages
- PC postcard
- TD typed document
- TLS typed letter signed