Ethiopian Serenaders

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Sheet music cover featuring the Ethiopian Serenaders (here billed as "The Boston Minstrels"), New York, 1843.

The Ethiopian Serenaders was a blackface minstrel troupe from the 1840s. Their first major performance was for John Tyler at the White House in 1844 as part of the "Especial Amusement of the President of the United States, His Family and Friends".[1] After this success, the troupe altered its act to make it more "refined" and to appeal to a higher-class audience than had traditionally patronized blackface entertainment. They billed their shows as blackface "concerts" and added songs of a sentimental, romantic nature, even going so far as to perform pieces from popular operas. In exchange, they cut bawdy, humorous material like that used by the Virginia Minstrels and other troupes.

The Serenaders saw great success with this formula and left for a tour in England beginning in 1846, often performing at the St. James's Theatre for their London seasons.[2] In England, they were frequently mistaken for real black men, a misconception they always denied, asserting that they had not the "least drop of black blood in their veins"; accordingly, "they lost no time in published portraits of themselves with the white faces bestowed upon them by nature."[3] In their absence, rivals such as the Christy Minstrels had gained a following in the United States. Upon their return from England in 1847, the Spirit of the Times wrote that the Serenaders formal style in music and dress was too refined for audiences accustomed to the ribald humor of the Christys. Of a Serenaders performance, the article said, ". . . we listen and are pleased but leave with little desire to return." At Christys, "we listen and laugh and desire to go again and again."[4] The Serenaders eventually returned to London, this time with the addition of William Henry Lane, a black man known as "Master Juba". The minstrel show remained popular in England through the end of the 19th century.


  1. ^ 12 September 1844. Ethiopian Serenaders Booklet, London. Quoted in Toll 31.
  2. ^ The Times of Friday, Jan 16, 1846 (pg. 1; Issue 19135; col A) carried an advertisement for the first concert to be held at the Hanover Square Rooms on January 21, 1846: the performers were identified as "The original Ethiopian Serenaders, Messrs. German, Stanwood, Harrington, Pell and White"
  3. ^ 12 February 1862. "Nigger Minstrelsy", Living Age, p. 398. Quoted in Toll 40.
  4. ^ 16 October 1847. Spirit of the Times. Quoted in Odell, George C. D. (1927-59), Annals of the New York Stage, vol. V, pp. 131, 223, 307., New York; and in turn in Toll 39-40.


  • Toll, Robert C. (1974). Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Watkins, Mel (1994). On the Real Side: Laughing, Lying, and Signifying—The Underground Tradition of African-American Humor that Transformed American Culture, from Slavery to Richard Pryor. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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