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July 2017

Before It Goes Away: Performance and Reclamation of Songs from Blackface Minstrelsy

Sheryl Kaskowitz (Providence, Rhode Island)

Blackface minstrelsy was a popular and pervasive form of entertainment in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1920s, and its legacy continues to haunt American popular culture. Whether or not songs have roots in minstrelsy can be difficult to determine; their lyrics have often been changed and their original performance contexts have become lost to history. Remnants of this slippery history can be found in well-known children’s songs such as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me,” “Turkey in the Straw,” and many others.

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