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Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843.

The Virginia Minstrels or Virginia Serenaders was a group of 19th century American entertainers known for helping to invent the entertainment form known as the minstrel show. Led by Dan Emmett, the original lineup consisted of Emmett, Billy Whitlock, Dick Pelham, and Frank Brower.

After a successful try-out in the billiard parlor of the Branch Hotel on New York City's Bowery, the group is said to have premiered to a paying audience nearby at the Chatham Theatre, probably on January 31, 1843.[1]. They followed with a brief run at the Bowery Amphitheater in early February before an expanded schedule of venues.

Unlike earlier blackface acts that featured solo singers or dancers, the Virginia Minstrels appeared as a group in blackface and what would become iconic costumes and performed more elaborate shows. In March 1843 they appeared in Welch's Olympic Circus as part of an equestrian act.[2] Although they primarily appeared within a larger schedule of entertainment in their earliest months, they surely were the first minstrels to also be hired to perform by themselves at smaller venues.

Among other things, they are credited with the songs "Jimmy Crack Corn" and "Old Dan Tucker", which passed into American folk culture.

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Notes

  1. ^ Whitlock, who detailed the beginnings of the group, stated that the event was a benefit for Pelham. See Lawrence Hutton, "The Negro on the Stage," Harpers New Monthly Magazine, June 1889, p. 140. Such an event occurred on 31 January. See The New York Herald, 31 January 1843, p. 3. The following day the Herald reported that the troupe would be appearing at the Bowery Amphitheatre, and an advertisement in the 6 February issue refers to their first performance that evening.
  2. ^ New York Herald, 1 March 1843, p. 3.

References

  • Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-507832-2. p. 136 et. seq.
  • Toll, Robert C. (1974). Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.
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