Jazz - Then and Now (Chapter 4, page 1 of 11)


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Chapter 4

In the early 1800s, the white man noticed the popularity of the Negro's songs, dances and manner of speech. During his visit to the United States in 1822, Charles Mathews, England's theatrical entertainer, observed that the Negro had a natural talent for rhythm and an unequaled ability to improvise the spirituals, plantation songs, work songs and the chain-gang songs.

When Charles Mathews returned to England, he introduced the black man's culture into his own skits and sketches, and mimicked the Negro's manner of speech.

In the United States, white theatrical entertainers began to imitate the Negro slaves in song. This imitation was the birth of the minstrel show. As the minstrel show grew in popularity, it became the favorite form of entertainment in America from 1845 to 1900. However, it did linger on until about the beginning of World War I in 1914. Minstrels were professional white singers or musicians in blackface make-up. They would sing, dance, play music and tell jokes.

About 1842, the prominent American showman Edwin P. Christy, a performer and organizer, formed a trio with Thomas Vaughn and George Harrington to sing blackface songs. Following their success, the trio expanded to a six man troupe.

The troupe toured throughout New York State and on into Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chicago and Brooklyn. They became so much in demand that Christy had to retire from performing and assume a managerial position. He booked the troupe into St. James Theatre in London, as Christy's Minstrels. They were tremendously successful.

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