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The Creolization of American CultureWilliam Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy$
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Christopher J. Smith

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037764

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037764.001.0001

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Recovering the Creole Synthesis

Recovering the Creole Synthesis

The Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy

(p.1) 1 Recovering the Creole Synthesis
The Creolization of American Culture

Christopher J. Smith

University of Illinois Press

This book traces the roots of blackface minstrelsy—and the creole sounds, practices, and procedures that made minstrelsy possible—by analyzing the artworks, letters, sketchbooks, music collection, ephemera, and biography of William Sidney Mount, together with similar materials from some of his predecessors and contemporaries. It argues that nineteenth-century blackface is not a radical new invention, but rather the codification and theatricalization of a cluster of working-class performance idioms that were already familiar from the boundary zones of streets, wharves, decks, and fairgrounds. It also uses ethnography and ethnochoreology to reconstruct the behavioral contexts in which minstrelsy took place, along with its creole synthesis of music-and-movement, sound, and the body across boundaries of race, class, geography, and time. This chapter looks at a few preliminary examples that confirm Mount's relevance as a visual source for minstrelsy's musicological reconstruction, including information that he provides on musical instruments and techniques in the period, as well as attitudes about class, race, and gender.

Keywords:   blackface minstrelsy, William Sidney Mount, ethnography, ethnochoreology, creole synthesis, race, class, gender, musical instruments

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