The best books about minstrel shows 📚

Browse the best books on minstrel shows as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America

Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America

By Robert C. Toll

Why this book?

Published almost half a century ago (1974), but still the best introduction to the minstrel show as it emerged in America in the 1840s. Describes the various elements of a minstrel show, how it was originally received, and how it materially evolved in the late 1800s, but stops at the end of the century. A good, readable overview of this highly popular form of entertainment as it was originally performed on stage.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain

Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain

By Michael Pickering

Why this book?

Americans and Brits alike will be amazed to learn how pervasive the minstrel show was in Britain in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Originally experienced as an import, Britain developed its own minstrel troupes and stars and continued to embrace the format long after it was deemed unacceptable in the U.S.A. BBC television’s highly popular Black and White Minstrel Show lasted—are you ready for this?—until 1978. The troupe even performed for the royal family at the annual Royal Variety Charity Performances, although modern editors have tried to scrub that fact from the historical record.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy

Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy

By Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, Brooks McNamara

Why this book?

A collection of essays by leading scholars in the field exploring various aspects of the minstrel show in the 1800s, including its portrayal of women, social commentary, its music, and the prominent participation of African-Americans who staged their own minstrel shows. Good, concise treatment of many elements of the genre.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

By Eric Lott

Why this book?

A highly opinionated, and thus sometimes frustrating, analysis of the pre-Civil War minstrel show, and how it impacted both oppressed African-Americans and the working-class whites who made the shows so popular. This was the first major book to advance the idea that the minstrel show was not only an exploitation of black culture (the “theft”), but also appreciated that culture and began its integration into the American musical mainstream (the “love”), which would prove to have profound implications in decades to come. An influential book that has been frequently cited in subsequent works.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

By M. Alison Kibler

Why this book?

A unique and insightful look at how three groups fought back against their widespread stereotyping in the media of the early 20th century, and how two of them largely succeeded in changing these portrayals. The reasons why African-Americans were much less successful than Irish and Jews in fighting stereotypes are complex and fascinating, and hold lessons for us today.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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