Utah History to Go
Minstrel Shows Proved Very Popular in 19th Century Utah
Change and Creativity
Struggle for Statehood
Struggle for Statehood Chronology
In 1895 Utahns Wondered When Statehood Would Come
A State is Born
Party Politics and Utah Statehood
The Constitutional Convention is Called
Constitution Was Framed in City and County Building
African American Community and Politics, 1890-1910
The Broad Ax and the Plain Dealer Kept Utah's African Americans Informed
Clarence E. Allen Was Utah's First Congressman
How Utah Lost One of Its U.S. Senate Seats in 1899
Salt Lake Native Was Interred in the Kremlin Wall
The Shooting of Arthur Brown, Ex-Senator From Utah
Convict Labor Helped to Build Utah's Road
Strawberry Valley, 1st Federal Reclamation Project
Women's Suffrage in Utah
Woman Suffrage Dominated Politics in Utah
Kanab Residents Chose Women to Run Their Town, 1912
Ruth May Fox, Forgotten Suffragist
Soren Hanson's "House That Eggs Built"
Utah Arts Council
Utah State Historical Society
The Beginning of Public Support For Libraries
The Pasta King of the Mountain West
Celebrating the New Year in Salt Lake's Chinatown
Electrifying Utah-Engineer Lucien L. Nunn
A Brewer-Sportsman's Prairie Style Home in Ogden
Saltair Village Was a Unique Place to Live
Boxing Fans Take the Plunge at Saltair
Castilla Hot Springs Attracted Many Visitors
Minstrel Shows
Utah State Capitol
Utah in the Spanish American War
Captain Richard W. Young and Spanish-American War
A Soldier's Life at Fort Douglas in the Early 1900's
Methodist Women Missionaries Worked Hard in Utah
Flour Mills
Guano Sifters on Gunnison Island
The Lehi Beet Sugar Factory
The Salt Industry Was One of the First Enterprises
From Free Salt to a Major Industry
Hospitals and Health Crazes in the Late 1800's
The Myths and Legends of Butch Cassidy
Butch Cassidy
Would the New State of Utah Go Metric?
A Look at Working Women in the Early 20th Century
Jobs in 1900
Explosion of Pleasant Valley Coal Company
The Lucin Cutoff
Southern Utah's First High School
Life Was Precarious in Turn-of-the-Century Utah
Salt Lake City Had Its Typhoid Mary
Vaccinations in Wasatch County
Promoting Physical Fitness
Woman's Home Association Tried to Help the "Fallen"
Juvenile Delinquency Posed Problems For Utahns
Traveling Gypsies Brought an Exotic Lifestyle to Utah
The First Large Factory in Utah
The Rise and Fall of Ogden's Packing Industry
Newsboys Claimed Their Street Corners in Downtown
The Bamberger Electric Railway
The First Cars in Two Small Towns
A Bicyclist Challenges the Great Salt Lake Desert
Daredevils of the Sky-Early Aeronauts in Utah
Ogden Defeats Salt Lake City in a War of the Wheels
Utah's Immigrants at the Turn of the Century
Boys' Potato Growing Clubs
Joe Hill and the I.W.W.
Socialist Women and Joe Hill
A Bit of Polynesia Remains
Justice Zane and Antipolygamy
The Salt Lake Valley Smelter War

Jeffrey D. Nichols
History Blazer, May 1995

From the 1840s until the turn of the century, blackface minstrelsy was arguably the most popular form of entertainment in America. Traveling minstrel shows made Salt Lake City, Ogden, and other major Utah towns part of their regular circuit, while local residents formed amateur troupes. Minstrel shows, whether featuring whites in blackface or "real" African-Americans, drew large and enthusiastic audiences of blacks and whites in Utah.

The Mormon pioneers valued dramatic entertainment; Brigham Young promoted the establishment of the Salt Lake Theatre in 1862, requesting that only performances of high literary and moral value be presented. From the start, however, minstrel shows were a favorite feature. These shows featured a variety of songs and skits, the most characteristic of which featured an "interlocutor" and two "endmen", Tambo and Bones, who provided comic commentary on the proceedings. Minstrel performances were highly ritualized and predictable; audiences sometimes knew and called out the punchlines to jokes before the performers did. The songs and skits featured and perpetuated negative stereotypes about African-Americans, slavery, and the south: the lazy, slow-witted, shuffling "Sambo" who longed for the old plantation, and the strutting, razor-wielding, outlandishly dressed, lady-killing "Zip Coon" were common stock characters.

Most of the early troupes which passed through Utah featured white performers in blackface, who generally advertised their shows as "negro" or "Ethiopian".  The first "real" African-American performers (who generally billed themselves as "colored") to visit Utah were apparently the Original Georgia Minstrels in 1876. In 1868, some local residents formed the "Salt Lake Minstrels" and put on an act of their own. Minstrelsy remained popular through the 1890s; a traveling promoter put together a minstrel show in 1895 which included "60 Salt Lake Society Ladies." The Utah National Guard formed a blackface troupe as well. The 24th Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit which garrisoned Fort Douglas from 1896 to 1900, performed a benefit show for the Semicentennial Pioneer Day Jubilee in 1897, and later formed a permanent troupe.

Minstrel shows often attracted members of the small African-American local population as performers and audiences. Some Utah African-Americans, however, objected to their content.  Julius Taylor, the African-American editor and publisher of the Broad Ax, fumed that . . . under no consideration would we permit ourselves to witness such degrading and demoralizing performances . . . they are both degenerating and they unmistakably tend to lower every negro in the estimation of the opposite race.

While the shows often seem insulting to modern audiences as well, minstrelsy held attractions for African-Americans. These performances may have provided Utah blacks with a rare opportunity for local fame, recognition, and demonstration of talent. Within the strict limits of the stereotyped stock characters, minstrelsy offered African-Americans an avenue into show business.

Sources: Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America; Michael Hicks, "Ministering Minstrels: Blackface Entertainment in Pioneer Utah," Utah Historical Quarterly, 58, no. 1 (Winter 1990); various Salt Lake City newspapers; Broad Ax, 2 April 1898, p. 1.


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