The Black Dandy As Depicted in Minstrel Sheet Music in the Late 19th Century

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Nicholas Foulon, Grinnell College
In the 1880’s and 90’s, there was a massive proliferation of minstrel sheet music defining black dandy characters in the homes of white, middle-class Americans. As part of a popular culture phenomenon, White Americans bought an incredible amount of sheet music to play for their friends and family in parlors. The black dandy character itself was an important piece of popular culture in sheet music and was prevalent in pieces found in white households from all over the United States: from North Carolina to Boston to Philadelphia. This poster explores both how the popularization of the black dandy character was constructed in minstrel sheet music, and how these constructions influenced white Americans perspectives on black men, especially the perspectives pertaining to black masculinity in the workplace and interactions between black men and white women. By analyzing sheet music lyrics and cover art, I argue that there are three constructed types of black dandy character: pretty dandy, sexual dandy, and wealthy dandy. I contend that these constructions of dandyism created and reified stereotypes of black masculinity that undercut black men whose sexuality and role in the workplace were beginning to challenge white masculinity. Therefore, this poster also explores how one of the most popular forms of culture in white American homes created emasculating racial stereotypes about black men that put white men at ease. In my research I ask the question, “would consumption of minstrel sheet music depicting the black dandy influence interactions between black men and white Americans?” By viewing the lyrics and cover art of minstrel sheet music depicting the black dandy, this research connects the popular culture surrounding sheet music to the scholarship about representations of black masculinity following the Civil War. The construction of black dandy in minstrel sheet music framed black men’s participation in American society following the Civil War. This project draws on archival research conducted at the Newberry Library and in digital collections from the Library of Congress and Brown University Libraries.
See more of: Undergraduate Poster Session
See more of: AHA Sessions