"Nothing Now Goes Down But Burnt Cork": Blackface Minstrelsy and Ethnic Impersonation in South Africa, 1862--1968
Table of Contents Acknowledgements iii Abstract vi Project Introduction 1 Chapter One. Moving Beyond Jim Crow’s Thirty-Sixth Verse: Toward a Critical Vocabulary on Minstrelsy’s Discursive Formulas. 38 Chapter Two. “The Young Men Must Blacken Their Faces”: The Minstrel Show in Pre-Industrial South Africa, 1862-1872. 112 Chapter Three. “The Hall Was Crowded From Floor to Ceiling, and From Ceiling to Floor Again”: Minstrel shows during the South African Mineral Revolution, 1872-1889. 175 Chapter Four. Toward a “Modernizing” Hybridity: McAdoo’s Jubilee Singers, McAdoo’s Minstrels, and Racial Uplift Politics In South Africa, 1890-1898. 224 Chapter Five. Brown-on-Black Masquerade: Cape Town’s Coon Carnival from 1907-1968. 282 Project Conclusion. 359 Appendix 402 Bibliography 403 vii
Project Introduction In 1926 the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, toured South Africa to much acclaim. In each city he visited large crowds turned out to celebrate the presence of the future heir to the throne of England. In Johannesburg and Pretoria the song sheets to “Dixie”, “ My Old Kentucky Home”, “The Old Folks at Home” and other standard minstrel songs were passed among the crowds and sung in order to welcome the Prince. 1 These events, in which minstrel material was used in an attempt to establish a common cultural bond between colony and metropole, attest to the widespread circulation of minstrel lore throughout the British Empire. 2 In the mid-nineteenth century, American, British, and Australian minstrel troupes were constantly traveling abroad in search of new audiences for their acts. As these entertainers danced their way across newly formed transnational performance circuits they disseminated, and in some areas, normalized, a whole set of conventions for representing black people and colonial others. Minstrel images could be applied locally in colonial societies that depended heavily on maintaining racially subordinate labor pools. Indeed, by 1926 this transatlantic interchange of minstrel caricatures, gestures, and songs had been going on for nearly a century. 1 1 Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998),
44. 2 “Minstrel Lore” is a term that was created by WT Lhamon in order to describe the various elements of the minstrel show that have traveled across the Atlantic and been passed down from generation to generation, sometimes laying dormant for decades before being incorporated into the acts of later performers. See WT Lhamon, Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop
( Massachusetts: Harvard University Press , 1998)
In 1836, just four years after the first introduction of the character of “Jim Crow” to New York audiences, TD Rice took his show to England and met rave reviews. His popularity reached such a high level that the Boston Post could confidently declare in 1838 that “the two most popular characters in the world at the present time are Victoria and Jim Crow.” 3 TD Rice performed to packed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic well into the 1850s. 4 As one of the pioneering performers of blackface minstrelsy, Rice played a central role in developing America’s first home grown semi-autonomous “national culture.” 5 Before the explosion of the minstrel show on American stages, cultural influence between the old and new worlds was decidedly unidirectional as European performance genres and traditions poured into North America. This one-way cultural exchange and the simultaneous originality of minstrelsy was not missed by commentators at the time, as Putnam’s Monthly
begrudgingly observed in February of 1854, “The only places of Amusement where the entertainments are indigenous are the African Opera Houses, where native American vocalists, with blackened faces, sing national songs, and utter none but native 2 3 Quoted in Dale Cockrell, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 66. 4 WT Lhamon, Jump Jim Crow: lost plays, lyrics, and street prose of the first Atlantic popular culture. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University, 2003), Vii. 5 I use the term “semi-autonomous” because the English had traditions of blacking-up in theatre and during public holidays long before the formation of the American republic and these traditions in addition to the tours of Charles Mathews may have influenced the development of early American minstrelsy. See Cockrell, Demons. Virginia Vaughan Mason, Performing Blackness on English Stages, 1500-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
For a discussion of the complex debates that preceded the emergence of minstrelsy as “national culture” see Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), Chapter 4. For other works that make the argument that minstrelsy was the first American popular culture see Michael Rogin, “Nowhere Left to Stand: The Burnt Cork Roots of Popular Culture” Cineaste 26, no. 2 (2001):15, and Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture (New York, Da Capo Press, 1997).
witticisms.” 6 Rice’s tours of England and continental Europe and the subsequent popularization of the American minstrel show abroad represent the first moment of large scale new world cultural influence on the old world. A sardonic hyperbolic genre for representing blackness was the first international cultural commodity to be exported by the United States. Over the past twenty years numerous monographs, journal essays, and collected anthologies have been published on cultural globalization. Many scholars have become increasingly interested in American cultural influence abroad and the aggressive roles that various global and regional cultural hegemons play in the making anew of local cultures. Some have chosen to center the concept of cultural imperialism in their analyses while others have highlighted moments of creative appropriation in local contexts. The overwhelming majority of these studies have focused on the latter half of the twentieth century, a time period when the United State’s rise to superpower status was paralleled by rapid advances in information technology, and the post-World War II Breton Woods economic agreements allowed for global integration on a level that was unmatched in human history. Without downplaying the significance of earlier approaches to cultural globalization, studies on the transnational circulation of blackface minstrelsy argue for an expanded historical framework for analyzing America’s cultural influence abroad. Although the modes of distribution were light years behind what they would become in the twentieth century, and the state was 3 6 Lott, Love , 90.
largely absent in facilitating the process of cultural exchange, blackface minstrelsy was disseminated globally during the mid to late 1800s at a rate that allowed it to become an important medium through which people in many countries viewed and experienced race. The minstrel show was particularly well suited for the nascent transnational performance circuits of the nineteenth century as minstrel troupes carried with them a small number of props, had relatively few performers, and relied heavily on a kind of grotesque physical humor that could easily permeate different cultures. Minstrel troupes in search of new markets toured places such as Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, Canada, Ghana, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, China, Japan, Jamaica, Trinidad, Surinam, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand among many other locations, and yet little is known about their transcontinental crossings and performances. This dissertation contributes to the study of transnational blackface minstrelsy by piecing together a history of the genre in a location which has one of the longest lasting legacies of the minstrel tradition. Even today, a variant of the minstrel performance tradition, known as the “Coon Carnival”, is still very alive in Cape Town South Africa. Veit Erlmann asserts that for nearly three decades “blackface became the dominant form of popular white musical and theatrical entertainment in South Africa, perhaps only second in popularity to the public lecture and the circus,” 7 yet surprisingly few works have been published on the history of minstrelsy in South Africa, and there 4 7 Veit Erlmann, African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 31.
is still much archival material that has yet to be collected. In order to write various chapters or short articles on the minstrel show in the Cape Colony, scholars have collected archival materials that tell us fragments of the story, but no scholar has thoroughly sifted through the major South African newspapers of the late nineteenth century with a reading practice that is attuned to minstrel lore. “Nothing Now Goes Down but Burnt Cork” is the first in depth history of blackface minstrel performance in South Africa. This project makes a number of important contributions to a wide range of disciplinary fields and subfields, including but not limited to cultural globalization, the African Diaspora, blackface minstrelsy, and South African race discourse. 8 The vast majority of scholarship on the nineteenth century antecedents of apartheid employs materialist perspectives which privilege political economic explanations over all others. This approach rarely addresses the ways in which discourse and culture contributed to the creation of South African racial hierarchies. Recent post-structuralist interventions have demonstrated that culture offered extremely significant discursive contributions to the formation of racial identities in nineteenth century South Africa. 9 These post- structuralist works have not adequately addressed the complex ways in which minstrelsy contributed to the construction and maintenance of South African racial 5 8 My project is in conversation with a number of fields of inquiry which due to space constraints cannot be adequately addressed in this section. They include American Studies, African American history, whiteness studies, cultural studies, performance studies, musicology, post-colonial hybridity theory, and studies on cultural appropriation. For a more thorough summary of the fields and subfields my work is in conversation with see the literature review portion of this document. 9 See literature review for a more thorough summary of the materialist and post-structural perspectives in South African historiography
hierarchies. I argue that the minstrel show may have been the major discursive institution working to construct racial difference in late nineteenth century South Africa. This line of reasoning leads me to an important intervention I am making in the subfield of minstrelsy studies. Over the past fifteen years a wave of revisionist histories have been published on early minstrelsy and these histories seem to occupy a central position in the academy at the present moment. These revisionist histories have attempted to redefine the racial meanings of minstrelsy by demonstrating that the early minstrel show was not simply about racial domination, but was also a means to express a certain amount of admiration for black culture, an ambiguous appreciation for black people, and ultimately may have had liberating possibilities. 10 Through close readings of archival materials I argue against this perspective by demonstrating that the minstrel show was first and foremost a vicious cultural production of racial denigration. In the archival material I found there were a few brief moments when cross-racial empathy may have been evoked from audience members, but these moments were fleeting and few-and-far-between. Paul Gilroy’s seminal work on black cultural globalization can also be expanded by studies on transnational blackface minstrelsy. In The Black Atlantic, Gilroy attempts to move beyond the narrow nationalist orientation of western modernity by highlighting 6 10 Cockrell, Demons. Lott, Love. Lhamon, Jump. Lhamon, Raising . For a very reductionist, popular level analysis that takes this perspective see John Strausbaugh, Black Like You Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture (New York: Penguin Group, 2006)
Although not making the same claims about interracial solidarity, William Mahar’s Behind the Burnt Cork Mask (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999)
should also be included in this list as it is attempting to move the discussion of blackface minstrelsy away from race so that an analysis of the minstrel burlesquing of English and Italian operas can be brought to the forefront.
the many black cultural formations that were created through transnational circuits of exchange which linked the African Diaspora in the United States, the Caribbean, and England. Gilroy’s Black Atlantic calls for a geographic framework that moves beyond the nation-state in order to acknowledge a long history of intellectual and cultural exchange across the Atlantic Ocean. The metaphor of the transatlantic ship is central to Gilroy’s model of diasporic cultural formation. The transatlantic ship connects various points of the African Diaspora by carrying written texts, activists, and cultural materials across the Atlantic Ocean. Interestingly enough, the role that blackface minstrelsy played in the transatlantic dissemination of “black culture” is rarely mentioned in Gilroy’s text. Clearly, the mid nineteenth century international circulation of the minstrel show played an extremely large role in shaping how people in many different countries viewed blackness and simultaneously influenced the ways in which black activists and cultural producers who were instrumental in the formation of the Black Atlantic were received in the international arena. 11 Studies on transnational blackface minstrelsy can be employed in order to expand Gilroy’s theory by proposing the question: how is our understanding of the Black Atlantic complicated when we include a minstrel troupe alongside the activists, books, and gramophone records in the hold of Paul Gilroy’s metaphorical transatlantic ship? 12 7 11 See Kennell Jackson’s introduction to Black Cultural Traffic for an interesting discussion of the ways in which African American anti-slavery activists had to strategically present their public personas in ways that diverged from the minstrel stereotypes that audiences in England and the United States expected from them. Kennel Jackson and Harry Elam Jr. Eds, Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005). 12 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993)
A brief recapitulation of the major moments in the history of minstrelsy in South Africa, that we know of so far, seems necessary at this juncture. 1862 through the mid-1880s mark what musicologist Veit Erlmann calls, the “height of the minstrel craze.” In 1862 the Christy Minstrels ended their engagement in England and embarked on a tour of the British colonies. They instantly became a major success in the Cape Colony, as they performed each night to houses that were filled beyond the official capacity and woke each day to glowing reviews in the local newspapers. One reviewer admiringly reported “The Christy Minstrels have set everybody mad, and nothing now goes down but burnt cork…” 13 During the tour the Christys sold copies of their songbooks and effectively shaped the form of blackface minstrelsy in the colony for years to come as these songbooks continued to circulate long after their departure, showing up in sheet music form in music stores in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Before the Christy’s departure, the cape authorities presented Washington Norton with a “twelve-point star medal of gold” as a gesture of “recognition of the great pleasure” he brought to the Cape people with his “humorous and clever delineation of negro character.” 14 Less than a month after the Christys first performance in Grahamstown a local amateur troupe known as the Grahamstown Christy Minstrels was formed and thus began the Cape Colony’s local amateur minstrel scene. 15 Indeed, minstrelsy had planted itself firmly on South African soil. 8 13
Cape Chronicle , November 7, 1862. 14
Cape Argus Supplement . Nov 20, 1862. 15 Erlmann, African, 31.
Throughout the 1860s many local amateur minstrel troupes began performing in each of the major cities of the colony. Even though the 1860s were turbulent years for the Cape Colony as recession after recession drained resources from local institutions and settlers, the popularity of minstrelsy was such that repeat tours in 1865 and 1868 by the Christys were still profitable. In the 1870s new capital created by the mineral revolution helped speed the process of urbanization and larger urban audiences patronized minstrelsy with increased vigor and enthusiasm. Between the 1870s and mid 1880s at least six American minstrel troupes visited the colony, the most successful being the Harvey-Doughertly-Leslie-Brahim Minstrels. In 1880 the earliest evidence of African minstrelsy emerges with the performance of a group called the Kaffir Christy Minstrels in Natal. In the 1890s a group of African American jubilee singers led by Orpheus McAdoo successfully toured South Africa three times. During the first two tours the repertoire of the jubilee singers was filled mostly with African American spirituals. It was not until the third tour, when McAdoo returned to the colony with an expanded troupe that included minstrel and vaudeville performers, that McAdoo’s program resembled that of the traditional minstrel show. In the late 1880s Cape Coloureds started blacking their faces and dancing in the street in order to ring in the New Year, in what would later become known as the “Coon Carnival.” This event has evolved, changing with the times, and has survived up until the present day. Indeed, minstrelsy has a rich and multilayered legacy in South Africa but no book length comprehensive history of the subject has been written to date. 9
This American Studies project works under the presumption that much of America’s history happens overseas. I will be employing a transnational approach to American Studies that takes seriously George Lipsitz’s assertions that “the hegemony of the nation-state as the ultimate horizon in American studies… has deadly consequences” and “excessive focus on unilateral national histories and national cultures directs our attentions away from polylateral relations between sites, from the very circuits and networks most likely to generate new imaginaries, identities, and intersubjectivities.”
16 Key questions to be addressed include: How did portrayals of enslaved African Americans contribute to South African racial constructions during a time period when industrialization depended largely on the formation and maintenance of a subordinate black labor force? How did minstrelsy contribute to the racial order of South Africa by strengthening and preserving English settler identities? What role did minstrelsy play in helping to create new urban identities among the diverse groups of people that flooded South Africa’s cities during the era of rapid urbanization in the late nineteenth century? Why did the minstrel genre have such a strong hold on communities of miners in Kimberly and California? What social factors allowed for minstrelsy to gain popularity among a greater range of whites in South Africa than in America as the genre moved from originally being working class entertainment in the United States to a genre that was enthusiastically consumed by working, middle, and upper class English settlers in South Africa? How did coloureds and Africans respond 10 16 George Lipsitz, American Studies in a Moment of Danger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 17.
to the racial images of minstrel performances? How did Orpheus McAdoo and his band of African American jubilee singers negotiate their way through a South African entertainment landscape that had been thoroughly saturated by the conventions of blackface minstrelsy by the 1890s? Clearly, there is much that has not been adequately explored in terms of the cultural consequences and social significance of blackface minstrelsy, in South Africa, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Literature Review This project draws from and makes interventions within several significant academic fields and subfields, including but not limited to transnational blackface minstrelsy (minstrelsy in South Africa in particular), nineteenth century South African race relations, and post-colonial hybridity theory. The international dimensions of blackface minstrelsy have not been adequately studied. T.D. Rice’s “Jump Jim Crow” is often understood as “the first great international song hit of American music”
and minstrelsy has been labeled the “first Atlantic popular culture,”
yet the vast majority of the scholarship on minstrelsy is nationally bounded. 17 Scholarship that focuses on minstrelsy solely within the confines of the United States has been invaluable in that it has advanced our understanding of the aesthetic formats, complex social meanings, political commentaries, presentation methods, musical styles, and often virulent racism 11 17 Gilbert Chase, America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955), 264. Lhamon, Jump . The scholarship on blackface minstrelsy in the United States is too vast to be cited in total. Perhaps the most widely referenced history of minstrelsy is Robert Toll’s Blacking-Up (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974) Other important histories include, Joseph Boskin, Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). William Leonard , Masquerade in Black (London: Scarecrow Press, 1986). Lott , Love . Cockrell, Demons. Mahar, Behind. Lhamon, Raising. Lhamon, Jump.
of minstrel shows. However, a conceptual framework focused only on the United States has been constraining at times, as scholars have failed to offer significant attention to the very real transnational dimensions of the genre. The national orientation of scholarship on blackface minstrelsy has been challenged by a swell of recently published works that have begun to sketch out the transnational dimensions and consequences of the genre; however, there are still many contributions that can be made to this nascent field of inquiry. W.T. Lhamon has been the most vocal advocate calling for an expansion of studies on blackface minstrelsy to a transnational scale. His works on TD Rice’s multiple tours of England have been invaluable to this nascent body of scholarship. Sarah Meer and Michael Pickering have employed post-structural/post-colonial textual analysis methods in order to examine in depth the reception of minstrelsy in mid- and late-nineteenth century England. The recent works of Catherine Cole and Jill Lane have used theatre/performance studies approaches in order to build their studies on blackface performance traditions in Ghana and Cuba respectively. Louis Chude-Sokei is primarily interested in establishing Bert Williams and the phenomenon of Black-on- Black Minstrelsy as “central to the study of literary and cultural modernism”
and dedicates much of his monograph to literary criticism in order to sketch out the relationship between Williams’ performances, the Harlem Renaissance, and Pan- African thought in the early twentieth century. Richard Waterhouse has provided an extremely important history of blackface performance in Australia. Errol Hill’s classic 12
book on the history of Jamaican theatre includes a brief discussion on touring minstrel shows that visited Jamaica in the middle of the nineteenth century. Hollis Liverpool’s history of the Trinidadian carnival offers a brief discussion on the ways in which characters who were inspired by blackface conventions were incorporated into carnival in the early twentieth century. It should be clear from this brief literature summary, which includes works that only dedicate a few pages to the minstrel show there still is much more that can and will be done in this burgeoning field of inquiry. 18
The need for more grounded archival research on transnational blackface minstrelsy becomes most evident when we examine closely the works of WT Lhamon and Louis Chude-Sokei, the first two scholars to attempt to carry out comparative approaches to transnational blackface minstrelsy that analyze the ways in which minstrelsy was received in multiple locations. Lhamon argues that in the early nineteenth century minstrelsy became the most vocal cultural expression of a hybrid proletariat class that spanned across Atlantic. In this model blackface minstrelsy was a kind of international culture of the proletariat which voiced an emerging class consciousness that critiqued high society values. I do not contest Lhamon’s claims of 13 18 Lhamon, Raising. Lhamon, Jump. Sara Meer, Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 2005). Michael Pickering, Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain (England: Ashgave Pub Co: 2008), “Mock Blacks and Racial Mockery: The ‘Nigger’ Minstrel and British Imperialism.” In J.S. Bratton, ed, Acts of Supremacy: The British Empire and the Stage, 1790-1930 (Manchester University Press, 1991). Catherine Cole, Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001). Jill Lane, Blackface Cuba