[1995:] The minstrel show suddenly appeared in the 1840s, and was the first entirely American musical form to become internationally popular. [...] minstrelsy was essentially black music, while the most successful acts were white, so that songs and dances of black origin were imitated by white performers and then taken up by black performers, who thus to some extent ended up imitating themselves. [...] The affectionate, patronizing vision of plantation life conveyed by minstrelsy was similar to the simplistic and idealized depiction of family life in the television sitcoms of a hundred years later.
The phenomenon of black culture was widely and often sympathetically discussed. Blacks sang the watered-down songs of minstrelsy, as well as their own, and critics noticed the difference: there was a flavour of sadness in their own songs that was absent from the 'Ethiopian' songs that were all the rage. [...]
Much of minstrelsy's material was copied from the songs and dances of slavery and many minstrels visited plantations in search of ideas. In 1829 Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice struck it rich with his Jim Crow song and dance, copied from a crippled stable-hand named Jim who worked for a white Crow family. [...] "Jim Crow" later became the stock plantation slave [...].
The word 'minstrel' had applied to any professional entertainer since the twelfth century in Europe, but the Virginia Minstrels, who toured for only a few months before breaking up, tied the word for ever to black-face [entertainment]. The shows were in three parts. For the songs and jokes in the first part the performers stood in a semicircle; the comic endmen 'Tambo' and 'Bones' were distinguished by their tambourine and bone clackers [...]. Another principal was a singer of sentimental ballads. The similar but less formal second part was made up of a string of speciality acts and novelties, called the olio. [...] Last came a walk-around finale, with dances, which became more and more of a spectacle. The 'Ethiopian' dances [...] and instrumentation (especially the banjo) were more or less authentic, and profoundly influential. The ancestors of the banjo are thought to have been the stringed instruments of the Wolof, of what are now Senegal and Gambia in West Africa, and may be as ancient as Mesopotamia. (Clarke, Rise 21ff)