Behind the Burnt Cork Mask

Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture
Author: William J. Mahar
Minstrelsy's many meanings in antebellum America
Paper – $34
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/1999
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About the Book

The songs, dances, jokes, parodies, spoofs, and skits of blackface groups such as the Virginia Minstrels and Buckley's Serenaders became wildly popular in antebellum America. Drawing on an unprecedented archival study of playbills, newspapers, sketches, monologues, and music, William J. Mahar explores the racist practices of minstrel entertainers and considers their performances as troubled representations of ethnicity, class, gender, and culture in the nineteenth century.

Mahar investigates the relationships between blackface comedy and other Western genres and traditions; between the music of minstrel shows and its European sources; and between "popular" and "elite" constructions of culture. Locating minstrel performances within their complex sites of production, Mahar reassesses the historiography of the field.

About the Author

William J. Mahar (d. 2018) was a professor of music at Penn State Harrisburg.


"Make[s] available much valuable and fascinating material found nowhere else in the literature on blackface minstrelsy, so much so that Behind the Burnt Cork Mask can itself serve as a primary source for further research." --Charles Hamm, Journal of the American Musicological Society


A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2000