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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry$
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Sandra Jean Graham

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041631

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041631.001.0001

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The Minstrel Show Gets Religion

The Minstrel Show Gets Religion

(p.125) Chapter 5 The Minstrel Show Gets Religion
Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Sandra Jean Graham

University of Illinois Press

After the Civil War, blackface minstrels found in religion a steady stream of subject matter tailor-made for comedic treatment. This chapter examines three songs that nicely illustrate the postwar phenomenon of religious parody in its infancy and its evolution toward slave-themed entertainment: “Carry the News! We Are All Surrounded” (1870), “Rock’a My Soul” (1871), and “Contraband Children” (1872). Performed initially by whites in blackface, these songs replicate the musical style of black folk spirituals in their parody of a camp meeting. The story of “Carry the News” in particular shows how blackface entertainers were already drawing on musical styles and themes loosely related to those of spirituals, and how the public easily confused newly created popular songs with traditional folk songs. When the vogue of jubilee singing began to spread a few years later, minstrelsy was primed for a convergence and eventual merger with jubilee song. As black minstrel entertainers multiplied, white minstrels increasingly found that they had to cede their plantation-themed material to them.

Keywords:   Camp meeting, folk spiritual, blackface minstrelsy, parody of religious song, religious burlesque, Walter Bray, Charley Howard, “Carry the News—We Are All Surrounded” (minstrel song), Simmons and Slocum’s Minstrels, Fayette Welch, Welch, Hughes and White’s Minstrels, J. W. McAndrews (blackface dancer), Georgia Minstrels, “Rock’a My Soul” (minstrel song), “Rock o’ My Soul” (folk spiritual), Fred Cartee, “Contraband Children” (minstrel song), [William] Delehanty and [Thomas M.] Hengler, commercial spirituals

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