The North Star
Frederick Douglass
Rochester: 29 June 1849

Gavitt's Original Ethiopian Serenaders.

  Partly from a love of music, and partly from curiosity to see persons of color exaggerating the peculiarities of their race, we were induced last evening to hear these Serenaders. The Company is said to be composed entirely of colored people, and it may be so. We observed, however, that they too had recourse to the burnt cork and lamp black, the better to express their characters and to produce uniformity of complexion. Their lips, too, were evidently painted, and otherwise exaggerated. Their singing generally was but an imitation of white performers, and not even a tolerable representation of the character of colored people. Their attempts at wit showed them to possess a plentiful lack of it, and gave their audience a very low idea of the shrewdness and sharpness of the race to which they belong. With two or three exceptions, they were a poor set, and will make themselves ridiculous wherever they go. We heard but one really fine voice among the whole, and that was Cooper's, who is truly an excellent singer; and a company possessing equal ability with himself, would no doubt, be very successful in commanding the respect and patronage of the public generally. Davis (the Bones) too, is certainly a master player; but the Tambourine was an utter failure. B. Richardson is an extraordinary character. His Virginia Breakdown excelled anything which we have ever seen of that description of dancing. He is certainly far before the dancer in the Company of the Campbells. We are not sure that our readers will approve of our mention of those persons, so strong must be their dislike of everything that seems to feed the flame of American prejudice against colored people; and in this they may be right, but we think otherwise. It is something gained when the colored man in any form can appear before a white audience; and we think that even this company, with industry, application, and a proper cultivation of their taste, may yet be instrumental in removing the prejudice against our race. But they must cease to exaggerate the exaggerations of our enemies; and represent the colored man rather as he is, than as Ethiopian Minstrels usually represent him to be. They will then command the respect of both races; whereas now they only shock the taste of the one, and provoke the disgust of the other. Let Cooper, Davis and Richardson bring around themselves persons of equal skill, and seek to improve, relying more upon the refinement of the public, than its vulgarity; let them strive to conform to it, rather than to cater to the lower elements of the baser sort, and they may do much to elevate themselves and their race in popular estimation.—F. D.