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date: 21 November 2017

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how Sam Lucas (1840–1916), one of the most popular black performers of the late 1870s and 1880s, was able to transcend the restrictions imposed on black entertainers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, mainly through his songs that deploy ideologically laden codes to signify social constructions of race. Renowned for his songs, comic ingenuity, pleasing tenor voice, nimble dance steps, and dramatic intensity, Lucas holds the distinction of being the only African American to perform in the genres of blackface minstrelsy, variety and vaudeville, turn-of-the-century black musical comedy, and film (as a lead character). This chapter considers Lucas’s “black-coded” and “white-coded” songs and relates them to his deliberate attempt to manage his ambiguous position between sociocultural groups. To illuminate Lucas’s strategy of code-switching, a selective biography of Lucas based on primary sources and his own narratives is presented.

Keywords: Sam Lucas, black entertainers, spirituals, race, blackface minstrelsy, vaudeville, musical comedy, code-switching, biography

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