This unfortunate variant of European theatrical tradition, in which blacked-up white men savagely parodied and lampooned negro music,
dance and speech using caricatures such as Jim Crow, Mr.Tambo and Zip Coon, has it's roots in the travelling shows and circuses
of early America, and first became widely popular in the late 1820's after the entertainer Thomas "Daddy" Rice
the song "Jump Jim Crow"
The first well-known minstrel troupe was Daniel Emmett's Virginia Minstrels
, whose routine of plantation
songs and shuffling dances took America by storm in 1842.
Despite the embarrassment in which most people now see it, minstrelsy was one of the earliest vehicles through which budding songwriters and
entertainers could popularise their material, including America's first truly great songwriter, Stephen Foster
His legacy is partly due to the way his songs were made popular by the most famous of all troupes, The Christy Minstrels
whose own legacy lies in their development of the standard three part minstrel routine.
The minstrel tradition continued to thrive throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, with many respected
songwriters including minstrel songs in their repertoire, including one George Gershwin
, whose "Swanee"
famous by minstrelsy's most famous son, Al Jolson
By the time the tradition finally died out in the 1950's, by then a much gentler form of entertainment, it had become an anachronism,
virtually a parody of itself.