Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Minstrel Songs
Minstrel troupes often performed spirituals and jubilee songs that were written during the era of slavery. By presenting these works alongside contemporary pieces, minstrels transferred the songs from the plantation to the stage. Students can compare the differences between stock comic characters of the minstrel show, who nostalgically look back on the past, and voices from jubilee songs and spirituals, looking toward a better future. By identifying the author of the documents (even in terms of distinguishing between a song written by a popular African-American songwriter such as James A. Bland and an anonymous spiritual), students can assess the credibility of these historical documents and differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations.
Questions to consider include:
- Who wrote songs that were nostalgic for slavery?
- Why were they popular?
- How do they differ from songs written during the era of slavery?
- Would the audience be able to distinguish between the two?
- What is the effect of presenting these two types of songs in a single program?