Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


That's entertainment
June 4, 2008 1:53 PM   Subscribe

The Black and White Minstrel Show was a (very cheesy) British variety series that ran Saturday nights on the BBC for twenty years. Hard to believe that it was still on the air as late as 1978. A live show, "Memories of the Minstrels ," toured the UK to packed houses in 2004 and 2005. The show was performed white-faced and featured the stars, medley's and costumes from the original TV series. Previously.

Older episode seen here.
posted by miss lynnster (43 comments total)

 
Necessary Young One's People's Poet clip: What's your favorite sort of gig? Barry Manilow, or the Black and White Minstrel Show?
posted by porn in the woods at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


People in blackface are one of the few things more horrifying than clowns.

Especially when they sing and dance.


Dear lord, make them stop

Hold me

posted by Dr-Baa at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2008


Yeah, but this is blackface WITH BELL BOTTOMS.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:14 PM on June 4, 2008


Hey, it was the 1970's. Nobody's going to accuse our Minstrels of not being cool and up to date.

Well, aside from the whole blacking up thing.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:17 PM on June 4, 2008


But it's all about the makeup.

And the dancing.

And the ooohhhhh.....
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:17 PM on June 4, 2008


Me: quietly catalogues his collection of Robertson's Golly badges
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:20 PM on June 4, 2008


"what's your favorite sort of gig, pig?
Barry Manilow? Or the Black and White Minstrel Show?"

posted by anazgnos at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2008


dammit!
posted by anazgnos at 2:31 PM on June 4, 2008


“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
posted by ferdydurke at 3:04 PM on June 4, 2008


Dire, dire show. Great post. (but someone fix the shopkeepers' apostrophe, and delete this parenthesis!)
posted by imperium at 3:13 PM on June 4, 2008


A couple of hours ago I watched in amazement as the host of a certain French-language letters-and-numbers game show pulled the corners of his eyes to signify "Chinoise."

It was oddly quaint. Racist, to be sure, but at the same time, just so... impotent.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2008


I cannot believe this was on in the 1970's (or ever really). Is there any tradition of minstrel-type shows in the UK? Was their contemporary criticism of the show when it was on? Obviously, this would have never been acceptable in the US at that time, but the US has a specific cultural history that would have resulted in outrage at such a show. I know many Belgians don't have any issue with Black Peter. Is this a similar situation?
posted by Falconetti at 3:52 PM on June 4, 2008


If my understanding of 1970's Britain is anything to go on (it probably isn't), then this would have been on around the time a whole lot of immigrants were flooding in from all around Her Majesty's empire, which, not coincidentally, was the same time Enoch Powell & the BNP were in their xenophobic frenzy.

So, yeah, not cool, Brits in blackface. Not cool at all.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2008


What's more offensive, blackface minstels or hip-hop videos?

Minstrel shows portray African Americans as dumb, grinning, sometimes wiley pastoral figures with wild accents, who like loud clothes, stealing chickens, sentimental songs, and a good rhythmic workout.

Hip-hop videos portray young African American men as shallow, materialist, sex-crazed killers in ugly clothes, ugly jewelry, with ugly teeth.

What's worse, an Englishman doing a bad job of pretending to be African-American in blackface, or (say) Mick Jagger doing a great job of pretending to be African-American in plain-face? Or how about Amy Winehouse? What about her plain-face minstrel show?

Just asking.
posted by Faze at 4:14 PM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


According to one of the links:
In May 1967 the BBC were handed a petition by the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, signed by black and white people alike, requesting that the show be taken of the air. The BBC, despite both the controversy and publicity surrounding this campaign stood steadfast and continued for another 11 years when the final Black and White Minstrel Show was broadcast in July 1978.

posted by miss lynnster at 4:17 PM on June 4, 2008


Actually, Amy Winehouse is an insanely talented singer who started out with influences in jazz. What's offensive about Amy Winehouse is that she's a very very troubled girl who probably isn't going to live long at the rate she's going. Not her music.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:24 PM on June 4, 2008


YMMV though.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2008


Amy Winehouse, like so many other British pop singers, puts on this fake African-American accent when she sings. So does just about every white American singer (although not so much as they used to.) This is a kind of aural blackface. Is it offensive, or what? I'm just asking.
posted by Faze at 4:29 PM on June 4, 2008


I think you've got yerself a false dichotomy there, Faze. If white kids were blacking up to portray shallow, materialistic, sex-crazed killers, it would be just as shameful.

In fact, from time to time, white kids do pull a stunt like that, and the public reaction is generally one of anger and disgust — see, f'rinstance, the spate of "Pimps and Hos" parties on college campuses a few years back, and the predictable outcry afterwards.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:32 PM on June 4, 2008


What's more offensive, blackface minstels or hip-hop videos?

Blackface minstrels, hands down. All the "entertainment value" in minstrelsy is derived from denigration, with few to no exceptions.

Hip-hop videos portray young African American men as shallow, materialist, sex-crazed killers in ugly clothes, ugly jewelry, with ugly teeth.

Many do, many don't.

Mick Jagger, unlike most minstrels, actually knew and liked black people. (And Amy Winehouse is the very definition of the poor little rich white girl, so I don't quite understand what you're getting at with that example, other than the fact that she happens to sing in the R&B genre, which was once considered "black music" in a time before she was born.)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:36 PM on June 4, 2008


Ole Dirty Bastard vs. Old Black Joe? Which is the worse stereotype?
posted by Faze at 4:44 PM on June 4, 2008


Many hip-hop videos are examples of minstrelsy. All that has happened is that we've cut out the middle-man and no longer have white folks mocking us, we do it ourselves now.
posted by anansi at 4:47 PM on June 4, 2008


Excuse me for butting in here again, but this is a thought-provoking topic. The more I think about Amy Winehouse, the more her minstrelcy really gets obvious. I mean, miss lynster says Winehouse is "insanely talented" -- but is she, really? I mean, she sings well in the R & B idiom for a white girl. I know of at least three African-American women in my own workplace in a provincial American city, who could sing Amy Winehouse into a coma on a bad day, sotto voce. I'm pretty sure you could stop into an African-American church in any American town on any given Sunday, and hear an African-American woman who was a hundred times better singer than Amy Winehouse. What I'm getting at is that Winehouse's whole appeal is that she is really good at being a white person imitating an African-American. This is virtual, perhaps even benign minstrelcy. And if it is benign, it is because it is, in its way, a backhanded tribute to all the vocal talent in the African-American community -- just like those bands that imitate Kiss right down to the makeup are a called "tribute bands". If if Amy Winehouse is benign, then much of 19th century American minstrelcy was benign, because any deep familiarity with it reveals a kind of genuine affection for African-American culture on the part of white entertainers, whose culture really gave them no other cross-racial platform for expressing it. Maybe. I'm not sure.
posted by Faze at 5:06 PM on June 4, 2008


A couple of hours ago I watched in amazement as the host of a certain French-language letters-and-numbers game show pulled the corners of his eyes to signify "Chinoise."

It was oddly quaint. Racist, to be sure, but at the same time, just so... impotent.


Here's what I truly don't understand - is it "racist" to observe that in general, people of Asian heritage tend to share certain physical traits, such as almond-shaped eyes (often, but not always, accompanied by an epicanthic fold), skin that is of a generally sallow complexion, dark hair, brown eyes, and shorter stature than, say, Westerners?

Similarly, is it racist to observe that people from Northern Europe are often tall, with pale skin, blue eyes and blond hair?

Is it racist to observe that many people from Africa tend to possess dark brown skin, brown eyes, dark curly hair, and a greater tendency towards sickle-cell anemia than other ethnic groups?

By analogy, is it "sexist" to observe that female humans are often shorter in stature than their male counterparts? Is it sexist to observe that, all other things being equal, male humans tend to have a shorter life expectancy than their female counterparts? That women have breasts and a vagina? That men have penises? That women have two X chromosomes and men an X and a Y?

I would venture that the answer is "no" - I believe it is patently absurd to assert that it is "racist" or "sexist" to observe that there is a strong correlation between (respectively) ethnic background or gender and the possession of certain physical characteristics.

So then let's take a silly example - the game of charades, say. Let's say I have to convey without words that a person is male, or tall, or Chinese - how do I do so without committing an -ism of some sort?

I'm not just using these rhetorical examples to be provocative - I am genuinely perplexed.

Let's take it further - let's say, for example, I'm working for, I dunno, Hormel, and I'm on the street, trying to promote their latest bacon-based snack food by giving away free samples. I see a person approaching me wearing what appears to be long, flowing robes, wearing a headdress, and possessed of darker skin than myself. If I were a betting man, I might even guess that this person is of Arab descent, and therefore probably a Muslim.

Am I being racist, or am I belng "culturally sensitive", if I choose not to offer this person some pork on a stick?

Really, honestly, how does it work?
posted by kcds at 5:30 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone would deny that Winehouse has been influenced by African-American music. Arguing that this the only reason she's popular is kind of a slap in the face to everyone out there who actually does enjoy her music.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:36 PM on June 4, 2008


Excellent post and provocative conversation.
This is why I love the place.
posted by Dizzy at 5:40 PM on June 4, 2008


I can see how it directly influenced Monty Python. A giant blancmange! And Semprini! If it weren't for the blackface, I could see it as a sort of British Lawrence Welk, but at least Welk is soothing.

I can't be offended when I'm busy being impressed. This is more than awful. It's like an anti-entertainment. Only a few particles of it so overload my senses with everything bright and tacky and choral and hideous that I want to go and, I don't know, translate Herodotus, clean the bathroom, something real. I can't imagine a world in which this passed for fun among a majority of people.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:16 PM on June 4, 2008


I sent you a MeMail, faze. I'll just say that for my money, Amy Winehouse displays a great deal of natural talent and musical instinct when she's tackling challenging jazz songs like Moody's Mood for Love. Most pop singers just superficially butcher the Great American Songbook, but she tends to choose more obscure and complex tunes as her influences, respects the history of the tunes, gets what she's tackling AND works to make it hers. That's not an easy thing. Even Diana Krall spent her early career copying Nat King Cole note for note. Displaying a unique style when singing those songs while keeping them recognizeable is something many people just can't accomplish.

This version of Tenderly is barely even recognizeable. Yet there are some really interesting voicings in there that inspired me to try singing a song I was sick of very differently, which is great.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:16 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


See also The Minstrel Show and, especially, The Minstrel Show 2.0: Why Postmodern Minstrelsy Studies Matter and The Minstrel Show 2.1 - William Henry Lane & Pattin' Juba as well for ample links to intelligent articles and discussions on the complex matter of blackface minstrelsy.

The Minstrel Cycle from Reading The Committments, from The Minstrel Show 2.0, for example, are most informative, as is Robert Christgau's discussion of the academic literature in In Search of Jim Crow: Why Postmodern Minstrelsy Studies Matter. Christgua provides a good review of the literature on blackface minstrelsy and it is well worthwhile to read the links to and excerpts of the books he mentions. And, too, there is discussion of Spike Lee's Bamboozled and so on and so on. Blackface minstrelsy is where just about all American popular music began. It is an endlessly fascinating complex subject.
posted by y2karl at 6:45 PM on June 4, 2008


miss lynnster -- Hey, I really liked Amy's Moody's Mood for Love, and would have liked it a lot more if some guy hadn't been whacking on a park bench with a baseball bat through the whole thing.
posted by Faze at 7:01 PM on June 4, 2008


See Race/Music: Corrine Corrina, Bo Chatmon, and the Excluded Middle as well. Even if the main link has gone dead, here is a quote therefrom regarding the vocal stylings of
Henry St. Claire Fredericks, also known as Taj Mahal. Mahal, whose father was a jazz arranger and pianist from the West Indies, began to play coffee houses around 1964, while a student in animal husbandry at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His eclectic style was shaped by his interest in the fields of folklore and ethnomusicology, and by archival research on a variety of African American genres, including the blues, ragtime, jazz, string bands, and brass band music.

In the 'live' festival recording, the domain of the rural iconically represented in Mahal's purposefully 'sloppy' and slightly 'out-of-tune' guitar accompaniment, rough-grained voice, and choice of dialect--continues to function, as it did during the urban folk revival, as a imagined landscape beyond the reach of contemporary racial politics, a place where a largely white festival audience could sing, clap, and whoop along with a non-threatening version of the black authentic. It must also be noted that his re-working of Dylan's version of the song allowed Taj Mahal to claim sole composer and lyricist credits, once again channeling royalties away from Chatmon and Williams...
Sigh. That was an interesting article and I am sad to see it gone and gone unmirrored.
posted by y2karl at 7:10 PM on June 4, 2008


Well, while it is not online anymore, I see it can be found in dead tree form in Music and the Racial Imagination. Now that looks like an interesting collection of essays.
posted by y2karl at 7:25 PM on June 4, 2008


Here's what I truly don't understand - is it "racist" to observe that in general, blah blah blah

I will try to keep this simple, kcds.

What you are overlooking is a concept called OPPRESSION, in which one person or group holds power over another. When a generalized "observation" is a key factor in this oppression, it is called DISCRIMINATION. When the observation in question is racial in nature, the discrimination is called RACISM.

When one race of people--let's call them FRENCH (or, if we're avoiding derails, BRITISH)--have a vested interest in keeping or restoring a system of RACIALLY DISCRIMINATORY OPPRESSION, they will often use tactics such as IMITATION in order to belittle and dehumanize the other group--let's call them CHINESE (or BLACK) over whom they claim superiority.

When members of the former group continues such TACTICS--even without malicious intent--whether they wish it or not, they are committing an OFFENSE in the name of oppression.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:42 PM on June 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


This show sounds horrible.

Amy Winehouse sounds completely soulless to me- all style no substance. And being british, I'm pretty sure she's (badly) imitating Dusty Springfield. I'm kind of tired of this trope that says because a performer has a substance abuse problem she must also be really talented and interesting. A lot of them are just mediocre, boring people who like drugs too much (See Doherty, Pete)

But that's not really the topic here. Sorry.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:28 PM on June 4, 2008


a certain French-language letters-and-numbers game show

Consonne!
posted by Wolof at 11:17 PM on June 4, 2008


If my understanding of 1970's Britain is anything to go on (it probably isn't), then this would have been on around the time a whole lot of immigrants were flooding in from all around Her Majesty's empire, which, not coincidentally, was the same time Enoch Powell & the BNP were in their xenophobic frenzy.

All true, but on the upside, at least our minstrels were dancing around with scantily clad white women. This could never, ever have been allowed on US television, because the suggestion of racial miscegenation would have been simply too immoral for the US networks to tolerate.

OK, I'm joking again -- but do they *ever* show couples of mixed race on US television? Or did interracial sex in Anerica really begin with Colonel Cedric Daniels and ADA Rhonda Perlman on Season 3 of The Wire?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:30 PM on June 4, 2008


There was an interracial gay couple on "Spin City", about 10 years ago, I think.
posted by emf at 12:22 AM on June 5, 2008


karl -- interesting about Taj Mahal. So he's a sophisticated folkorist imitating an authentic folk artist... Kind of like an African-American Pete Seeger, without Seeger's knack for cobbling together a great original song out of folk materials.
posted by Faze at 2:52 AM on June 5, 2008


I have a handy principle for determining if something is racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory - if Jim Davidson would say or it for a laugh, it is.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:19 AM on June 5, 2008


There was an interracial couple on The Jeffersons, for what that's worth. That was back in the 1970s. And there's the famous Kirk/Uhura kiss on an episode of Star Trek, which was a first for American TV.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2008


I'm kind of tired of this trope that says because a performer has a substance abuse problem she must also be really talented and interesting.

For pity's sake drjimmy11, what a completely vapid statement.

I knew Amy Winehouse was Jewish before I realized she sounded "black."


My middle-aged ears tell me her voice hasn't hurtled out of a vacuum, I get her influences now. But it's odious and infuriating of you to claim fans somehow cherish the fuck-up she's making of her life as proof of her talent.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2008


Correction - it sounds odious and etc.
Didn't mean to get personal!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:26 AM on June 5, 2008


There was an inter-racial couple on The Jeffersons, USA TV of the '70s.

Don't think we saw them make out or anything, tho.
posted by hackly_fracture at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2008


« Older bomomo...  |  Enough is Enough: A Thinking A... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments