When was the last minstrel show?

In the Spike Lee film Bamboozled a frustrated black TV exec tries to commit career suicide by creating a variety show based on the traditional American minstrel show. As in the Mel Brooks film The Producers, the plan backfires – but never mind that. It got me to thinking – what ever happened to minstrel shows? I mean, it’s pretty obvious why nobody puts them on nowadays – but the form seems to have died out well before the modern civil rights movement got going in the 1950s. So, when was The Last Minstrel Show? And why did they stop doing them?

It seems perverse to mourn the passing of such a blatantly racist tradition. But it has occurred to me that the minstrel show was the only unique form of stage entertainment American culture has ever produced. Stage plays go back to ancient Greece, vaudeville was more or less the same thing as British music-hall, Broadway musicals descended from Old World light opera. Minstrel shows were a distinctly American invention. And now they’re gone.

Minstrel shows survived in amateur theater at least into the 1960s. The late governor of Missouri was the target of an election campaign that featured his appearance on stage in blackface at a hometown organization’s entertainment back in something like 1967. I myself saw an amateur blackface minstrel show in 1963.

As for the last “professional” minstrel theater, if it hadn’t passed on already, I’m sure television killed it, as it did with vaudeville.

I’d disagree that the modern Broadway musical, with book, songs and dance, all of which are done in character and all which can advance the plot, are uniquely American, but that’s another topic for a different forum.

Chris Tucker’s performance as Rhuby Rod in The Fifth Element was pretty darn minstrelish…

Trinopus

“The Black And White Minstrel Show” ran on BBC TV from 1958 to 1978.

Us Brits didn’t appreciate how offensive it would have been and it seemed like harmless entertainment.

It was crap though!

Link here:-
http://www.whirligig-tv.co.uk/tv/adults/other/tbawm.htm

And then there was Ted Danson’s blackface appearance during a Whoopi Goldberg roast ten or so years ago. Whoopi thought it was hilarious; the rest of America failed to appreciate the humor in it and Ted took a career hit (although at that point it was hard to tell…).

I remember an episode of All in the Family in which Archie is performing in a minsrel show.

I also saw a vaudeville short on TCM in which Benny Rubin did a blackface routine. The blackface routine may have been funny or not, but to me what made it hilarious was that it was Benny Rubin.

The practice seems to have lingered a bit on British television. For example, there is the episode of Are You Being Served called “Roots?” that featured the Grace Bros. staff performing a minstrel show. It was first shown in 1981. I also seem to recall an episode of Jeeves and Wooster that features blackface–of course, that show is set at a time when minstrel shows were actually common, and the incident in question comes directly from one of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, so I’m not sure if that really counts.

In 1981, the Smithsonian got together some medicine show veterans to produce “Free Show Tonight,” a re-creation of the traditional medicine show, which included blackface minstrel performances.

I could only find the video online at one place:

http://www.citylore.org/cgi-local/SoftCart.exe/online-store/scstore/p-FST.html?L+scstore+fsnr5640ffdb1adb+1054412751

If you have trouble with this link, go to http://www.carts.org/

ME