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Port Gibson in Claiborne County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
 

Rabbit Foot Minstrels

 
 
Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker (front) image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 7, 2010
1. Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker (front)
Inscription.
[front:] Rabbit Foot Minstrels. During the first half of the 20th century, the African American Rabbit Foot Minstrels entertainers played a major role in spreading the blues via tours across the South. Founded in 1900, the “Foots” were headquartered in Port Gibson between 1918 and 1950 under owner F.S. Wolcott. Notable members included Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Ida Cox, Louis Jordan, and Rufus Thomas.
[logo:] Mississippi Blues Commission, est. 2003.

[reverse:] Rabbit Foot Minstrels. By the mid-1910s entertainers in tent shows were spreading the blues across the South, and one of most popular groups was the Port Gibson-based Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Minstrel shows presented a wide range of comedy routines, skits, and song-and-dance numbers, and always featured a marching band. In the 1910s they added blues to their existing repertoire of classical, ragtime, and popular music, playing it both instrumentally and in support of vaudeville-style female singers. Many performers later known for other styles of blues also spent time in minstrel troupes, including rhythm and blues pioneer Louis Jordan and Rufus Thomas, who worked as a comedian.

White performers including Dan Emmett and T.D. Rice pioneered blackface minstrelsy, the first distinctively American theatrical
Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker (reverse) image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 6, 2010
2. Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker (reverse)
format, in the 1830s and 1840s. African Americans soon followed them, particularly following the Civil War, and like their White counterparts, they “blacked up” with makeup and enacted caricatures of black life that many whites believed to be authentic. The shows, all initially operated by white managers, were enjoyed by both black and white audiences, and in the South seating was segregated. By the beginning of the 20th century, African Americans had begun organizing their own companies. Minstrel shows were often staged at large urban theaters, and, in tandem with the growth of the railway system, troupes began traveling to rural areas as well, staging their shows under canvas tents.

In 1900, Patrick Henry Chappelle, an African American from Florida, produced a musical comedy called “A Rabbit’s Foot,” and by 1902 his Rabbit’s Foot Company was touring as a tent show, though the popular attraction was billed as “too good for a tent.” Following Chappelle’s death in 1911, the company attraction was taken over by F. S. (Fred Swift) Wolcott, a white entrepreneur from Michigan who had been running a small minstrel company. In the spring of 1918 Wolcott moved the company’s headquarters to Port Gibson, where troupe members stayed in the winter, either in train cars or in the homes of locals, and rehearsed on a covered stage in Wolcott’s home.
Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 6, 2010
3. Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker
by the car in front of the overhang.
The show remained popular through the 1940s, and records suggest that its final performances were in 1959.

Among the ranks of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels were many blues singers and musicians who at some point lived in Mississippi, including Big Joe Williams, Sid Hemphill, Willie Nix, Maxwell Street Jimmy, Jim Jackson, Bogus Ben Covington, Dwight “Gatemouth” Moore, Johnny “Daddy Stovepipe” Watson, and trombonist Leon “Pee Wee” Whittaker.
 
Erected 2007 by the Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 21.)
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
 
Location. 31° 57.555′ N, 90° 59.1′ W. Marker is in Port Gibson, Mississippi, in Claiborne County. Marker is at the intersection of Carroll Street /Rodney Road and Main/Market Street, on the right when traveling east on Carroll Street /Rodney Road. Touch for map. Marker is on the southeast corner of the intersection in front of an old, two-story building (formerly a filling station) two blocks west of Church Street (US Hwy. 61). Marker is in this post office area: Port Gibson MS 39150, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Battle of Port Gibson (within shouting distance of this marker);
Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker - close up of photos and captions on reverse image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 7, 2010
4. Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker - close up of photos and captions on reverse
The Bernheimer Complex (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Federals Occupy Port Gibson (about 500 feet away); Bruinsburg (about 700 feet away); Temple Gemiluth Chassed (about 700 feet away); St. James Episcopal Church (about 800 feet away); Englesing Home (about 800 feet away); Guthrie Home (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Port Gibson.
 
Also see . . .  Mississippi Blues Trail. (Submitted on September 10, 2010, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.)
 
Categories. African AmericansArts, Letters, MusicEntertainmentNotable Persons
 
Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker - close up of photos and captions on reverse image. Click for full size.
By Richard E. Miller, August 7, 2010
5. Rabbit Foot Minstrels Marker - close up of photos and captions on reverse
"Photos and ephemera courtesy David Crosby and Woody Sistrunk."
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 30, 2017. This page originally submitted on September 10, 2010, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,561 times since then and 74 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on September 10, 2010, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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