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Blackface

Blackface is a type of character performance in which performers paint their faces black (with burnt cork or greasepaint makeup) in a manner that presents a crude caricature of African features. This was a fairly common show-business phenomenon in the USA from 1828 through the 1930s (also enjoying some popularity in the UK and in parts of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century). It was often associated with the Negro minstrel show tradition of comedy and musical entertainment.

Blackface was invented by a white comedian, Thomas D. Rice, who introduced the song "Jump Jim Crow" and an accompanying dance in his act in 1828. The song had a syncopated rhythm and purportedly recreated the dancing of a crippled black man Rice had seen in Cincinnati, Ohio:

I wheel about and turn about and do just so,
Ev'ry time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.

It is said that the "trucking" dance derived from the Jim Crow dance. Rice performed all over the country under the pseudonym Daddy Jim Crow.

The name became attached to the Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation in the post-Civil-War period.

While most commonly blackface denoted a white performer who would thus stereotype a black person, by 1840 African-American performers were also performing in blackface makeup. At the time, the stage also featured comic stereotypes of conniving Jews, cheap Scotsmen, drunken Irishmen, ignorant Southerners, gullible rural folk, and the like.

Blackface was essentially eliminated post-vaudeville when it became widely associated with racism and bigotry[?]. While some performers of genuine talent performed in blackface (including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, both white, and Bert Williams, the first black performer in vaudeville and on Broadway) today most people associate blackface mainly with the demeaning attitudes towards persons of African descent in that historic era. On the other hand, it has also been said that blackface entertainers did much to introduce African-American music and humor to white audiences.

Certainly, white performers have continued to emulate black performers, but without the makeup. Frankie Laine[?], Johnny Ray[?], Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and his Comets, Mick Jagger, and many many more emulate a black style, both out of genuine admiration and out of recognition of the performance power of that style.

Indeed, allusions to black style are virtually standard for rock and roll and pop music, not only at its beginnings, but up to the present day. From Led Zeppelin's blues appropriations in the 1970s, which developed into heavy metal, through the careful emulation of the New Edition[?] by the New Kids on the Block in the 1980s which spawned the boy bands, to such white rappers as Eminem, Kid Rock, and Vanilla Ice, the black style is a constant presence.

Cartoons from the 1930s and later often feature characters in blackface as well as other racial caricatures. Such films were still being shown on television as late as the 1970s but have rarely appeared since.

Blackface and minstrelsy form the theme of Spike Lee's film Bamboozled. It tells of a black television executive who reintroduces the old blackface style and is horrified by its success. The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British musical variety show that featured blackface performers, and remained on British television until 1978.

Related types of performances are yellowface, in which performers adopt Asian identities, brownface, for Latino or East Indian, and redface, for Native Americans. Whiteface is sometimes used to describe non-white actors performing white parts, although more commonly describes the clown or mime[?] traditions of white makeup.

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