Reg D Hunter investigates blackface | New series for BBC Two

Reg D Hunter investigates blackface

New series for BBC Two

Reginald D Hunter is to investigate blackface and minstrel shows for a BBC Two documentary about the music of the American South.

The Georgia-born comic, who routinely explores race in his stand-up, visited a plantation in Kentucky for Reginald D Hunter's Songs of the South, where he found that the racism of traditional tunes still permeates modern culture.

Minstrel shows emerged in the US in the 19th century, featuring songs and dances alongside sketches with such stock characters as the mammy, the 'old darky' and the 'provocative mulatto wench'. They were performed by both white and black people in blackface.

Though deeply racist, minstrel shows contributed to the rise of the American music industry and afforded many whites their first awareness of African-American music.

In the UK, the Black And White Minstrel Show, which ran on the BBC between 1958 and 1978, was a variety show featuring traditional American songs, music hall and show numbers, invariably performed by 'blacked-up' white singers.

Hunter's three-part series, which airs in February, follows the comedian as he drives 1,000 miles from North Carolina to New Orleans to explore 150 years of American popular song, encountering such musicians as Dr John, Eddie Floyd, Clarence Carter, Seasick Steve and The Handsome Family.

He experiences square dancing in Paducah, a Lynard Skynyrd festival in Alabama, soul food in Georgia and investigates the rise of southern hip-hop in Atlanta.

In his home state, he immerses himself in gospel, listens to cotton field spirituals and meets Rainy Night In Georgia writer Tony Joe White, before travelling to the juke joints of Mississippi and receiving a send-off performance from New Orleans' musical royalty.

Hunter, who begins a new UK stand-up tour in April with The Man Who Attempted To Do As Much As Such, is not the only comic to have an American road trip airing on BBC Two early next year.

Dara and Ed's Great Big Adventure will follow Dara O'Briain and Ed Byrne as they drive a section of the Pan-American Highway from Arizona to Panama.

By Jay Richardson

Published: 8 Dec 2014

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