‘Jim Crow’s Tears’: Working through a Terrible Past (preview)

By Madge Slack

Jim Crow is an everyman, and now he plays jazz too.

The character Jim Crow has a long and complex history. He first came into being during the Minstrelsy era, when white actors wore a black face in the Northern United States and joked at the expense of African American culture for entertainment. It began with the performances of Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice in the 1830’s and lasted until around the 1970’s in the south.

“Jump Jim Crow” is one of the only minstrelsy performances that was actually recorded. Watching it, it’s clear this practice was not a particularly enlightened one, depicting heavy accents and all-around “stupid” demeanors.

Most people recognize the name Jim Crow from the list of Southern laws named after the character, promoting segregation and making life harder for newly-freed slaves. The term Jim Crow is now seen as a derisive way of referring to African Americans.

Today, Jim Crow returns to his roots in a new light. “Jim Crow’s Tears” is a jazz musical performed by trumpeter, composer and educator Kris Johnson. Johnson is the current director of jazz studies here at the University of Utah and has appeared on many albums; two of which were Grammy-nominated: Tony Bennett’s “A Swingin’ Christmas” and Karen Clark Sheard’s “All In One.”

“Jim Crow’s Tears” is a show about a tortured soul. It deals with dehumanization, Minstrelsy, degradation and self-discovery in a less-than individualized time for black people in the U.S. “Jim Crow’s Tears” thus promises to be a thought-provoking musical full of beautiful jazz that will elicit, anger, laughter and grief. Mostly, it is meant to make audiences think and to show them a piece of history as a country that, while often ignored, has huge effects in today’s world.

The show is only 90 minutes, with one 10 minute intermission. It premiers and closes on March 10. Ages 8 and up can attend the show at the Rose Wagner Theater, with tickets at $10 for students with uID purchasable through ArtTix either at the box office or at this number, (801)355-2787.

Watch a promotional video of the show and an extra video by Kris Johnson himself at the above links.

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