Broadsides and playbills of minstrel performances. Collection New-York Historical Society.
Minstrel Shows

Minstrel songs, skits, and dances evolved in theaters in New York and other eastern cities in the 1830s. By the next decade, white performers blackened their faces, mimicked enslaved black men and women on southern plantations, and performed evening-long minstrel 'concerts.' Playing both European- and African-influenced musical instruments, their songs and dances were strongly influenced by Scotch-Irish ballads. Tremendously successful minstrel troupes traveled throughout the United States and Europe for many years.

To see a video about minstrelsy, click here.

William Henry Lane was the first African American to perform on stage with whites. Born free around 1825, Lane danced on New York stages from age 15. He soon achieved top billing as “Master Juba,” the best jig dancer in America. His skill in the “beautiful jig” led to tours with all-white minstrel troupes to England. Working day and night, with a poor diet and no rest, he died in London at age 27.

To see a video about Master Juba, click here.