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Music

Minstrel shows of the 19th century attempted to imitate the music and dance of Southern slaves, yet scholars continue to debate if these white performers and songwriters were actually influenced by black music. Some have argued that these minstrels made genuine efforts to imitate the sort of music they heard in the slave quarters or in northern taverns frequented by free blacks. A few scholars have even suggested that some famous minstrel tunes were actually stolen from African American performers. For example, some music historians argue that “Dixie,” most often attributed to Daniel Decatur Emmett, was actually written by the Snowdens, a family of black musicians living near Emmett in Ohio. <***NOTE THAT THE MODULE FOR DIXIE HAS BEEN WRITTEN AND CAN BE LINKED TO HERE>***>

Others have argued that, mirroring the performers themselves, minstrel music was just white music in black face. These say that Irish and Scottish ballads were the primary influence shaping minstrel show music. Even these, however, concede that African-derived instruments were used in the shows. For example, both the tambourine and the banjo, which were featured instruments in minstrelsy, trace their origins to Africa.