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

Minstrelsy's many meanings in antebellum America

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.


"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


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

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