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William Lichtenwanger

minstrel performer and composer, was born in Flushing, Long Island, New York, the son of Allen M. Bland, an incipient lawyer, and Lidia Ann Cromwell of Brandywine, Delaware, of an emancipated family. Bland's father, whose family had been free for several generations, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and in 1867 became the first black to be appointed an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office.

James Bland entered Howard University as a prelaw student in 1870 at the urging of his father but the subject and the life associated with it did not appeal to him Instead he was attracted to the minstrel show that was approaching its peak during the 1870s He played the guitar danced the steps sang the minstrel songs and most important composed songs for the shows A free black man who attended college for two years Bland had to learn ...


Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Originated by enslaved Africans living on Caribbean and North American plantations, the cakewalk was a festive dance for which the best executor received a cake as the prize. Dances were witnessed and judged by plantation owners, and slaves were taken from plantation to plantation to compete in the contests. The dance consisted of “a kind of shuffling movement which evolved into a smooth walking step with the body held erect. The backward sway was added, and as the dance became more of a satire on the dance of the white plantation owners, the movement became a prancing strut” (Emery, 1972).

Because of its theatricality, the cakewalk lent itself to the stage. As an all-male, noncouple dance, it was a regular feature in the minstrel show finale and remained a staple of the popular stage thereafter. By the 1890s it was introduced into productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin to enliven ...


A syncopated strutting male dance of African American origin popular in the US during the 19th century It was widely performed by slaves for the entertainment of their owners and derived its name from the fact that a piece of cake would be given as a reward to the dancer ...


Peter Gammond

A 19th-century African-American dance. It originated among plantation slaves (c.1850 reputedly to parody the promenades that opened the plantation owners formal balls In the 1890s it became commercial entertainment and it was used for social dancing at the turn of the 20th century The music is a ...


Eric Bennett

As a product of black folk culture, the cakewalk remains obscure in origin. Perhaps of African origin, it developed on plantations sometime before the American Civil War (1861–1865), as slaves imitated the Grand March that concluded the cotillions and fancy balls given by whites. Although plantation owners often mistook the dance for childlike play, the cakewalk in fact had a satirical purpose. Promenading in pairs, dancers crossed their arms, arched their backs, threw back their heads, and strutted with exaggerated kicks. The cakewalk took its name from the cake that was awarded—by the judgment of a boisterous audience—to the couple with the most flair.

In the 1880s and 1890s, white black-faced minstrels often ended stage shows with the cakewalk, or “peregrination for the pastry.” Thus whites imitated blacks imitating whites—a cultural curiosity that only grew more complex when African Americans began imitating white Minstrelsy.

With the advent ...


Jan Michael Hanvik

The vivid and diverse dances of the Caribbean are both influential and popular in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Caribbean countries and island territories sustaining strong, viable dance in the twentieth century include Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Martinique, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, as well as the coastal regions of such Caribbeanrim nations as Colombia, Venezuela, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States.

The study of dance in the region is inseparable from the issue of migration European colonizers entered the Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century at that time Native American peoples had lived on the islands and along the coasts for thousands of years After missionizing colonizing and losing most of them to overwork and epidemics African slaves were forcibly transported to the Caribbean by European slave traders until the nineteenth century Slaves escaping island conditions immigrated to the coastal mainland ...



Robert H. Gudmestad and Kathleen Thompson

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with dance from the early eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century The first article discusses the transmission of African dance traditions to North America by slaves and the new expressions that arose while the second article discusses the movement of ...



Henry Frank

In the West Indies, the Republic of Haiti occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which was discovered by the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern side, and both were originally part of the Spanish colonial empire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when sugar plantations were established and slaves transported from Africa as laborers. France took the island from Spain in 1697, transporting additional slaves from Africa to work the sugar and coffee plantations. In the 1780s rebellions and an ensuing class war among blacks, mulattos, and Haitians resulted in invasions by French and British troops. In 1801, the former slave Toussaint L'Ouvature conquered the entire island and abolished slavery; Haiti became the second independent nation in the Americas in 1804 (after the United States). Ruled by self-styled presidents and emperors until 1859 it lost eastern ...


Rainer E. Lotz

song and dance entertainer, musician, and variety actor, was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the son of Ambrose Hampton, a carpenter, and Lou (Luann) Hampton. The family lived on a property which Luann had bought seven years after the end of Civil War with 100 percent financing, payable by work to be performed by Ambrose and an obligation of the seller (W. Cook) to find enough work for them in order to pay for their home. The stage singer and comedian Ernest Hogan, seven years Pete's senior, lived in the neighborhood. Nothing is known of Hampton's childhood, education, or musical training, but by age eighteen he was earning his first money in a quartet of singing banjo players, performing for a “medicine doctor” at Columbus, Ohio. By 1896 Hampton was working with a partner under the name of Hampton and Johnson ...


Adele N. Nichols

singer, dancer, ventriloquist, and junk merchant, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on the eve of the Civil War. To date, questions remain about Harmon's real name, parents, siblings, if any, and childhood. In addition, there appears to be no documentation about his years as a performer. The available information indicates that he worked in show business as a singer, dancer, and ventriloquist. Essentially, he was a well-rounded entertainer who had many talents and a knack for the stage. Harmon was married and had two children; however, the names of his wife and children are not readily available. When Harmon was around 38 and 39, his wife and children died from influenza in 1898–1899, during the Spanish American War. Harmon then moved to Harlem and lived in a two-room apartment.

Around 1910 Harmon having left the stage began a new career with a small cart and a ...


David Bradford

show business entrepreneur, minstrel company owner and manager, interlocutor, singer, and comedian, claimed to have been born a slave in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parents.

The minstrel show was, by some measures, the most popular form of public entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century. For African Americans pursuing careers in show business, there were few alternatives to blackface minstrelsy, leading to the perplexing situation of black performers perpetuating white caricatures of blacks. Some African Americans were disdainful of minstrel shows in general and especially those staged by performers of their own race (since they gave “aid and comfort to the enemy,” according to James Monroe Trotter a chronicler of black musical achievement in the 1870s Nevertheless the best black minstrel companies were enormously popular with black as well as white audiences After attending a performance of the Georgia Minstrels even the erudite ...


JoAnna Wool

vaudeville comedian and songwriter, was born Reuben Crowder (or Crowders) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He left home as a child to join a traveling production of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Assigned the standard role for a young African American performer, Crowder appeared as an unnamed “pickaninny,” singing and dancing in company numbers. He spent his teens and early twenties touring with minstrel shows. By 1891, inspired by the success of Irish comedians, he had taken on his stage name and co-founded Hogan and Eden's Minstrels, a Chicago-based company that toured the Midwest.

In the mid 1890s Hogan left the relative obscurity of the minstrel stage moved to New York City and secured his first vaudeville bookings billing himself as The Unbleached American A compact handsome man Hogan was a tremendously animated stage presence noted for his strong voice mobile facial expressions and a flawless sense of comic timing ...



Rex Nettleford

A West Indies island republic of some 3 million people lying south of Cuba and west of Haiti in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica has a traditional economy based on sugar plantations and mining. Sighted by the 1494 expedition of Christopher Columbus, it was settled by the Spanish in 1509. The Arawak people, who had lived there for thousands of years, fought the Spanish, fled, and died in great numbers from epidemics. Britain captured the island in 1655, and it became a part of the British Empire in 1670. In the 1700s, slaves from Africa were transported as laborers. After Jamaica's 1838 abolition of slavery, the sugar market declined, leading to economic harship, civil unrest, and British government suppression of local autonomy. Rebellions by Jamaican blacks then occurred periodically because of their poverty and Britain's racial policies. In 1944 the vote was granted to all adults ...


theatrical artist, tap and cakewalk dancer, and comedian, was born in St. Charles, Missouri (names and occupations of his parents are unknown). Johnson first appeared on stage in 1889 during an amateur performance at Brown's Theatre in Minneapolis. In St. Louis, Missouri, he joined Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show, where he met his wife and partner, Dora Dean (maiden name Babbige; 1872–1949). After the couple had learned their routines, they left the show for vaudeville bookings and were an almost immediate success; in 1893 they were married and their son, Herman, was born in 1899 (up to 1914 he traveled with his parents on the same passport). Johnson and Dean claimed to have introduced the cakewalk on Broadway (Indianapolis Freeman, 23 April 1910 p 6 Known as Johnson Dean King Queen of Colored Aristocracy the couple were one of the ...


Graeme Boone and James Sellman

The roots of the jook joint—a distinctly African American place for music, dancing, and socializing—reach back well before the Civil War (1861–1865) to the era of slavery. For slaves, free time and free space were transitory, rare, and surrounded in secrecy. In his autobiography, Tom Fletcher, an entertainer born in the late nineteenth century, recalled stories of such gatherings that he had heard when he was a boy: “[T]he slaves couldn't just come right out and say they were going to have a party or even a religious gathering. … [They] would use some kind of a signal … and one of the main code songs was the spiritual ‘Steal Away’. … The steal away gatherings sometimes were religious services. … Other times they were … good time parties.”

In such an environment to steal away and dance make music or pray together meant more than ...


Sally R. Sommer

Although juba was an honorary title awarded to fine minstrel dancers, in tap dance history the name “Master Juba” refers specifically to this extraordinary black artist, whose early contributions to tap dance were seminal in the development of the form. Born a freeman, Lane spent his young adolescence in Manhattan's Five Points neighborhood, where he mastered traditional Irish jig and clog dancing and then developed his own legendary style. Some historians believe that Lane was the young dancer described by Charles Dickens in his Travels in America (1841).

A renowned champion of important minstrel dance contests, Lane performed with four prominent, early minstrel companies, a potent testament to his artistic brilliance, as blacks were not normally allowed to perform with whites on the stage. In 1848 he traveled with Pell s Ethiopian Serenaders to England where he took London by storm English critics well versed in traditional ...


Kevin Byrne

minstrel entertainer, was born in New Orleans and at an early age moved with his family to New York City. Scant biographical information exists regarding his upbringing before theatrical manager Charles Hicks discovered him in a small Bowery music hall and placed him in his minstrel show, but it has been suggested that he had little formal education and even into his adult life had to be taught the comedic songs and routines for which he became internationally renowned.

Kersands began his career in minstrelsy as a performer in Hicks's Georgia Minstrels in 1870 or 1871 At the time the popularity of minstrelsy was unrivaled in the United States and Hicks s organization is notable for being one of the first African American minstrel companies to achieve national fame This troupe adopted the standard tripartite format of the minstrel show as established by white performers in the 1840s ...


Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz wrote that the word bamba means “a lucky move,” and “success obtained without working,” tracing its origins to a similar word— mbamba—from the Congo, meaning “play”. Bamba has also been traced to the Gabonese word bumbua, which means “to do something with improvisation, without preparing to do it.” African elements were introduced into the dance by enslaved Africans who worked the haciendas (large estates) in Mexico. African influence was particularly high in the urban areas, such as Mexico City, Puebla, and the port city of Veracruz, where Afro-Mexicans taught music and dancing, and where the dance reportedly originated.

“La Bamba” is also the name of a popular song, performed in a traditional Mexican musical genre called huapango—a complex mix of Spanish melodic influences that integrates Amerindian and African cross-rhythms. As for its etymological origins, huapango may have derived from a ...


Shivani Sivagurunathan

The first African‐American dancer to perform in Britain. Lane was born on Rhode Island and began performing at a young age, mainly at the dance halls and saloons in the Five Points neighbourhood in Manhattan. Lane first danced in Britain in 1848, where he performed in various minstrel shows in London's Vauxhall Gardens and later in Liverpool. Also known as ‘Master Juba’, he impressed his audiences with his moves, which were unusual to British crowds. His style was phenomenal owing to his flexibility, and contemporary accounts of Lane's performances describe his movements as unique. Various American and British writers commented on his style and labelled him as the greatest dancer ever known. Charles Dickens wrote about him in his American Notes (1842 describing him as a lively young negro who is the wit of the assembly and the greatest dancer known He never leaves off making queer ...


Eric Gardner

also known as “Millie-Christine,” entertainers, were conjoined twins born to an enslaved couple named Jacob and Monemia, who were owned by Jabez McKay, a Columbus County, North Carolina, blacksmith. The twins quickly became a local sensation in the wake of the success of the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker (conjoined twins made famous by showman and entrepreneur P. T. Barnum) and the growth of the national circus movement. Before the McKoy twins were a year old, McKay and his partner John C. Pervis arranged for them to be exhibited throughout the area; soon after, their career was taken over by a manager named Brower, and they were sold to North Carolina businessman Joseph Pearson Smith. By this point, though, Brower, who was in possession of the young girls, had been swindled and the girls were stolen away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, in 1854 ...