Wrong Then. Wrong Now.

It seems like you can’t go anywhere on the internet today without finding a new scandal surrounding someone wearing blackface. Politicians, entertainers, fashion designers and even law enforcement officials are being identified every day for wearing blackface makeup for a variety of reasons. All of them wore blackface in the past and didn’t think it was offensive. Now they are being identified using photographs they never thought would backfire on them. Obviously they are asking for forgiveness. It’s not difficult to acknowledge that this is deplorable behavior and has no place in a society that prides itself on equality. Blackface was a racist practice prior to the Civil Rights era and was used to dehumanize African-Americans and entertain white society. Minstrel shows were the main promoter of the practice which was performed on stages around the world. It is still practiced in some countries.

Many musicians wore blackface and performed music on stage and in parades. Many of their performances were captured on film and they were played in theaters for predominantly white audiences. Drummers were included among the blackface musicians although it is difficult to find any photographic evidence singling out a drummer. I was able to find this autographed photo. The autograph appears to say “Jack Russell.” You will notice that he plays a kit consisting of a snare, bass drum and two cymbals. He also uses a regular chair to sit in. I cannot tell if he has a bass drum pedal or if he used the “double-drumming” approach in which he played both the snare and bass drum with sticks. It is difficult to determine the exact year of the photograph but based upon the set-up I would venture to say it was taken in the early 1900s.

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Filed under Drums and Drumming

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