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The Treatment of Black Americans

The Treatment of Black Americans

Question 1

Stephen Foster’s songs appealed to different kinds of American citizens from diverse beliefs and backgrounds. He succeeded in blending ‘parlor ballad with minstrel ditty,’ which thus eliminated a part of the obvious racism common with other minstrel tunes. Regarding Gershwin, the Virginia Minstrels, formed in 1843, captured the public’s imagination. The minstrel shows succeeded because of the various entertainments it offered as well as the fact that minstrelsy was in response to the audience’s interests as it was very much similar to the audiences. The minstrels, according to Gershwin, allowed persons to fulfill their curiosity about slavery. Gershwin also asserted that Foster’s songs allowed the audience to escape from the daily doldrums and instead sink into the nostalgia of past days.

I believe that black performers went to great lengths to assure their audiences that they were Caucasian by using sheet music. Thus, minstrel music was a mix of white and black influences in its contribution to the popular culture in the US. However, minstrel music would later become an example through which the popular culture in the US would benefit whites through the exploitation of the black culture.

In a show performed in the early 19th century, white minstrels performed in black-painted faces that depicted how dim-witted blacks were. Unfortunately, this kind of entertainment was very popular. The 20th century was riddled with racial tensions, even in the music industry. Jazz gained popularity in the 20th century with major influences from both European and African cultures. Although discrimination still existed, jazz would sometimes bring together black and white musicians. For example, Archie Shepp (Gerard 1998) introduced Roswell Rudd, a white trombone player, to play in a black music group.


Gerard, C. (1998). Jazz in black and white: Race, culture, and identity in the jazz community. Westport, CT: Praege


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The Treatment of Black Americans

Choose one of the discussion questions to answer in your initial post, being sure to address all parts of the question. Respond to two other students in the class who chose different questions from the one that you chose, if possible.

  1. After listening to “Bess, You is My Woman Now” by George Gershwin, compare and contrast Gershwin’s treatment of black Americans with that of Stephen Foster and the minstrel shows. What do you personally think about these treatments? What role did racial tension play in the development of the music entertainment industry in the United States?

    The Treatment of Black Americans

    The Treatment of Black Americans

  2. Watch this except from the musical Wicked: Discuss why you think American musical theatre has been called America’s opera – what is its enduring appeal? What themes expressed in this clip hold great appeal for the American public?
  3. In order to begin exploring the music of vaudeville, cabaret, and Tin Pan Alley, watch the following video and consider what it would be like to experience music in this period. How is vaudeville different from minstrelsy? What contribution did Vaudeville make to the music and entertainment industry in the United States?

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