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Unmasking Jim Crow: Blackface Minstrelsy in American Popular Culture

Event Details

Unmasking Jim Crow: Blackface Minstrelsy in American Popular Culture

Time: January 26, 2015 at 4:30pm to May 8, 2015 at 7pm
Location: Loeb Music Library, Music Building
Street: North Yard, Harvard University
City/Town: Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Website or Map: http://music.fas.harvard.edu/…
Phone: 617-495-2794
Event Type: symposium/exhibition
Organized By: Students from the seminar “Blackface Minstrelsy in 19th Century America,” taught by Oja and Parler during the fall semester
Latest Activity: Jan 29, 2015

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Event Description

The Harvard Music Department announces a new library exhibit, Unmasking Jim Crow: Blackface Minstrelsy in American Popular Culture, examining the painful racist history and complex legacy of blackface performance in American culture. The exhibit will be on display January 26 through May 8, 2015 on the second floor of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library. Included in the exhibit are images, sheet music, songsters, and other minstrel show artifacts from the Harvard Theater Collection, which houses one of the most important collections of 19th century minstrelsy materials in the world.

An opening symposium will launch the exhibit on January 26, 2015 at 4:30 PM in the Spalding Room of the Music Library. Carol J. Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music and Samuel Parler, Ph.D. Candidate in Music, will offer introductory remarks, followed by a keynote address from Louis Chude-Sokei, Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington and author of The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2006).  The symposium will conclude with a performance by Rhiannon Giddens, banjoist and singer of the Grammy Award-winning folk trio The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Both the symposium and exhibit are free and open to the public.

The exhibit is curated by students from the seminar “Blackface Minstrelsy in 19th Century America,” taught by Oja and Parler during the fall semester. The artifacts of 19th-century minstrelsy include materials with toxic racial images and powerful, culturally ingrained musical texts. The historical impact of both the images and the music has been huge, and the goal of this project has been to engage students in a conversation about this important aspect of American racial history. The materials displayed document minstrelsy’s wide geographic and chronological span. Topics include the careers of composer-performers Thomas Dartmouth Rice (of European-American heritage) and James Bland (of African-American heritage); minstrel performance in America’s western frontier; black perspectives on blackface; and minstrelsy’s legacy in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The exhibit is supported by grants from the Elson Family Arts Initiative Fund and the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities.

Comment Wall

Comment by Strumelia on January 5, 2015 at 12:42pm

I can't attend, but this sounds really compelling and well planned.

Are you involved in any of the programs or material, Jim?

Comment by Greg Adams on January 10, 2015 at 9:41am

It should be a meaningful exhibit. I had the chance to give a guest lecture for this class and Jim Bollman and Paul Sedgwick shared the experience with me. If you can make it, I highly recommend it!

Comment by James Hartel on January 10, 2015 at 10:33am
Lisa, Paul Sedgwick alerted me. He is loaning a Banza he made along with a Boucher banjo I made for the Exhibition.
Comment by Rhiannon Giddens on January 13, 2015 at 6:06am

I will be there with my Levi Brown too

!

Comment by Rhiannon Giddens on January 13, 2015 at 5:18pm

I must say that while I agree with presenting the complete story of Minstrely's impact on American Popular Culture, (I don't however really agree with the "far beyond" statement) I must also say that you cannot speak for everyone who are involved with minstrel performance today - the racial aspects of this music ain't really avoidable for folks like myself.  And I'm fine with that - i like getting my hands dirty.

Comment by Strumelia on January 13, 2015 at 5:32pm

I would expect they will presenting and exploring the exhibits and topics they have described in full detail above.

Comment by Rhiannon Giddens on January 14, 2015 at 4:46am

By folks like myself I mean people interested in the racial aspects - there's plenty of "white dudes" into that as well. The negative aspects shouldn't be avoided by anybody, no matter the race or creed, as all that plays into how American culture was affected by it.  Minstrely is certainly an enormous topic.  I'm just glad it's getting some play.  God bless.

Comment by Paul Sedgwick on January 14, 2015 at 8:38am

Clever pun, Rhiannon ("I'm just glad it's getting some play."). Surprised Greg didn't pick that out!

Comment by Greg Adams on January 14, 2015 at 8:45am

I didn't want you to think I was stringing anybody on.

Comment by Rhiannon Giddens on January 14, 2015 at 9:45am

Don't leave the kid gloves on, for god's sake.

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