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Louise Harlow takes a look at the original “Jim Crow,” Thomas Darmouth Rice. Lot 105. Jim Crow Song Book

The originator of the “Jim Crow” persona was an actor named Thomas Dartmouth Rice, professionally knows as “Daddy Rice.”  (May 20, 1808- September 19, 1860)  He was an American performer and playwright who performed in black face.  His song and dance act became one of the most popular minstrel show entertainers of his time.  He was considered the “father of American minstrelsy.”

He began as a traveling actor and stock player in performances from New York to the coastal south.  He frequently told stories about George Washington, who he claimed was a friend of his fathers.

Rice made his Jim Crow character his signature act.  He claimed that he was inspired by a crippled black stable groom who sang and danced while he worked.   He expanded his repertoire with his most famous routine carrying a sack slung over his shoulder, singing “Me and My Shadow.”  As he began his dance, a child actor, also in blackface, crawled out of his sack, and copied each of Rice’s dance.

At least initially, blackface could also give voice to an oppositional dynamic that was prohibited by society. As early as 1832, Rice was singing, “An’ I caution all white dandies not to come in my way, / For if dey insult me, dey’ll in de gutter lay.” It also on occasion equated lower-class white and lower-class black audiences; while parodying Shakespeare, Rice sang, “Aldough I’m a black man, de white is call’d my broder.”

Rice enjoyed displaying his wealth, and on his return from London wore a blue dress coat with gold guineas for buttons, and a vest on which each gold button bore a solitaire diamond.[4]

As early as 1840 Rice suffered from a type of paralysis which began to limit his speech and movements, and eventually led to his death on September 19, 1860. He is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn  in what is now an unmarked grave. A reminiscence of him in the New York Times suggests his death was alcohol-related, and states that although he had made a considerable fortune in his time, his later years were spent in a liquor saloon and his burial was paid for by public subscription.

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