Cover for MAHAR: Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture

Behind the Burnt Cork Mask

Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture
Awards and Recognition:

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2000

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. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask not only explores the racist practices of these entertainers but considers their performances as troubled representations of ethnicity, class, gender, and culture in the nineteenth century.

William J. Mahar's unprecedented archival study of playbills, newspapers, sketches, monologues, and music engages new sources previously not considered in twentieth-century scholarship. More than any other study of its kind, Behind the Burnt Cork Mask 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.

By locating minstrel performances within their complex sites of production, Mahar offers a significant reassessment of the historiography of the field. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask promises to redefine the study of blackface minstrelsy, charting new directions for future inquiries by scholars in American studies, popular culture, and musicology.


"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

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