The History of the Minstrel Show
As little George Washington prepared to chop down the cherry tree, he got an idea. What if he were seen chopping down the tree? So he blackened his face with a burnt cork. Now if he were seen, it would be blamed on one of the slave children. Little George was seen that day, but only by the slave children, who thought this looked like fun. Sneaking into the kitchen, they dipped their faces and hands in flour. Back in the yard, they played at being white people. They stood tall; they spoke slowly, gave each other commands, and danced their version of a minuet. The children were seen by their parents, and by the overseers, and by little George's father. What fun, they all thought, and thus began the tradition, that one day a year the slaves would paint their faces white and become like the masters. The masters would paint their faces black and become like the slaves. They would take commands from the slaves, slap their knees, tell jokes, dance, and have a good time. And so on through history --- Pat Boone became Little Richard and sang a song he thought might be about ice cream. Even across the ocean, Mick Jagger, an accounting student listening to the blues in his dorm, lost his English accent and learned to talk just like Muddy Waters. Oh Mississippi Delta, Oh Africa, Oh harp and fiddle and banjo. Oh young Elvis, visited in a dream by the ghost of his twin, Jesse. In the dream Jesse was black, whispering, Brother, when you sing, sing like a black man, dance like a black man. Elvis quit his job at the trucking company that day, and began to sing as no white man had sung before.
--- From The Chair
Richard Garcia
© 2014 BOA Editions
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