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Christy's Minstrels, sometimes referred to as the Christy Minstrels, were a blackface group formed by Edwin Pearce Christy, a well-known ballad singer, in 1843, in Buffalo, New York. They were instrumental in the solidification of the minstrel show into a fixed three-act form. The troupe also invented or popularized "the line", the structured grouping that constituted the first act of the standardized 3-act minstrel show, with the Interlocutor in the middle and "Mr. Tambo" and "Mr. Bones" on the ends.
In 1846 they first performed in Polmer's Opera House in New York City. From March 1847, they ran for a seven-year stint at New York City's Mechanics' Hall (until July 1854).
After performing at a benefit performance for Stephen Foster in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 25, 1847, the group specialized in performances of Foster's works. Foster sold his song, Old Folks at Home, to Christy for his exclusive use. The troupe's commercial success was phenomenal: Christy paid Foster $15,000 for the exclusive rights to the song.
Besides Christy himself, the troupe originally included Christy's stepson George Christy, often considered the greatest blackface comic of the era. Christy then retired from the group in 1855, and the company soon disbanded. Christy was emotionally affected by the Civil War, and committed suicide in 1862.
Christy Minstrels in Britain
J. W. Raynor and Earl Pierce formed a new troupe, using many of the former Christy Minstrel members. It opened in London, England as "Raynor & Pierce's Christy Minstrels" at the St. James's Theatre on 3 August 1857. They then performed at the Surrey Theatre and later the "Polygraphic Hall" on King William Street, where they appeared for ten months. "Nellie Grey" by Michael Balfe, as sung by Raynor, became popular. In 1859, the troupe moved to the St. James's Hall (Liverpool), performing for another four months and then touring the British provinces. It then returned to Polygraphic Hall, disbanding in August 1860. The success of this troupe led to the phrase "Christy Minstrels" coming to mean any blackface minstrel show. Soon, four new companies were formed, each claiming to be the "original" Christy Minstrels, because they each boasted one or two former members of the old troupe. One group played in Dublin at the Chester Theatre in 1864, moving to London at the Standard Theatre in Shoreditch in 1865. Three months later, it moved to St. James's Hall, where it began a run of 35 years until 1904. Eventually, the original members of that troupe retired or died, leaving only “Pony” Moore and Frederic Burgess surviving into the 1870s. Therefore, the troupe changed its name to the "Moore & Burgess's Minstrels". Other groups continued to use the title "Christy", but historian Frank Andrews describes their quality as poor. Some of them continued to perform into the twentieth century.
Note that "Mr. Tambo" was a stock minstrel character. I never really connected Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man with minstrelsy before.