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Robert B. Winans

(b 1808; d New Orleans, 1861). American minstrel performer. He was most famous for his entr’acte performances of Coal Black Rose, the first blackface comic lovesong, and Long Tailed Blue, the first song of the black dandy; both of these song types later became standard in the minstrel show, and both songs are in a simple musical style that was thought (mistakenly) to represent African American music. Dixon claimed authorship of these songs (and, less credibly, of Zip Coon), and is credited as the first to perform them; he presented Coal Black Rose as early as 1827 in Albany and in 1828 brought it to New York, where he became highly popular. Capitalizing on this success, in 1829 he expanded the song into two comic skits (an interlude and an afterpiece), The Lottery Ticket and Love in a Cloud; the latter has been cited as the first ‘negro play’. Dixon performed throughout the 1830s, but by the 1840s he had been eclipsed by other minstrel performers; he went on to gain notoriety as a filibuster in Yucatán and as the editor of a New York scandal sheet. ...

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Robert B. Winans

[Rice, Thomas Dartmouth]

(b New York, May 20, 1808; d New York, Sept 19, 1860). American minstrel performer. He trained to be a woodcarver, and occasionally performed small parts at the Park Theatre in New York. He then became an itinerant player, and it was probably in Louisville in 1828 that he created his famous ‘Jim Crow’ act, the first solo act by a blackface performer (see illustration). His first performance as Jim Crow was an instant sensation, and Rice rose from obscurity to ever increasing success in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York (in 1832) and even London (1836). Rice’s popularity was unprecedented, and Jim Crow was the first American song to become an international hit. The tune resembles Irish and English tunes, but the lyrics are purely American; many verses are crude attempts at satirical and topical humour. Jim Crow was the first example of what became a stock character in minstrelsy, that of the southern plantation field hand, who was not only naive and fun-loving, but also boastful, like the frontiersman or river boatman. Dance was an essential part of the act, and it has been claimed to be the first clear use of African American dance on the popular stage. Rice also added other blackface songs to his repertory, such as ...