Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1860s Minstrel Shows

I've been prospecting for primary source accounts of Minstrel Shows in the early 1860's... Here are a couple accounts lifted from Alf Doten's journals.

Sept 18, 1861- [San Francisco] Stephen & I went to Tuckers Academy of Music this evening - a sort of free and easy place - no ladies there - pretty good house - about 500 present - women waiters carrying round drinks cigars, &c that were ordered, among the audience - a long, varied and amusing performance - commenced with the male & female minstrels - 16 of them in all - Only 2 of them blacked, the tambourine (Walter Bray) and bones - ladies all in short skirts and tights - guitars, flutes, banjos, violins, &c - songs & grand chorus - jokes, conundrums &c - curtain fell - then followed lots of dancing, and songs, by single performers - pas de deux &c - whole wound up with a very laughable burlesque, entitled Norton the 1st or the Emperor of a day...

May 21, 1863 [San Francisco] evening I went to Gilbert's Melodeon - male and female minstrels &c ... songs, music, choruses, jokes &c  - Johnny De Angelis & Joe Murphy were blacked up - Grand medley walk around - best I ever saw - overtures, ballads, solos &c - Farce of the "Two Gregories" - whole concluded with the comic ballet of "the Vivandiere" - between pieces Md'lle Fleury, a French lady of fine operatic talents, appeared and sung, in all four ballads - "Napolitaine," "Don't let the Roses Listen" in English and two others in French - sings splendidly but speaks very poor English - The dancing was best I ever saw - Miss Lotta [Crabtree] is an A No 1 jig dancer but the comic little capering rogue of the evening was Jennie Worrell - She beats all I ever saw in her line - she danced some very comic, dashing, rattling, capering jigs and sung several comic and Irish songs - The whole performance was highly satisfactory and all the fun one could ask for one evening - No vulgarity...

Dec 26, 1863 [Como, Nevada] Evening performance Bryant & Case's minstrels - our troupe - doors open at 7 1/2 oclock - Martin & I played big drum, cymbals & fife in front of door half an hour - full house - 50 cts a ticket - lots of ladies present - at 8 oclock curtain rose - 8 of us on the stage - Cross's hall - Overture - sang several songs - plenty of gags, jokes, conundrums &c - Walk around by the company - I led the whole performance with violin - Lindsay played 2nd violin - Andrews did banjo a little - bones & tambourine - part 2nd, I & Lindsay were in the orchestra - solos, overtures, songs & dances, & little funny acts - were much applauded throughout the entire performance - Martin the Wizard followed with his trick  of the "magic rings" - then ventriloquism - & wound up with his dancing figures - the benches were then cleared away & we had a few quadrilles &c - I played - Lindsay helped some - we got nothing for it - The whole performance was a perfect success and a decided hit ... had terrible time washing black off tonight -

above: Martin the Wizard and his "magic rings" circa 1863

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