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Thomas D. Rice

AKA Thomas Dartmouth Rice

Born: 20-May-1808
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 19-Sep-1860
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Stroke
Remains: Buried, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Gender: Male
Religion: Protestant
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Comic, Playwright, Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Played "Jim Crow"

Comedian, actor, and playwright Thomas D. Rice was best known for his popular stage show which mined the unlikely humor in slavery. He usually worked in blackface, portraying a hapless and presumably fictional slave named "Jim Crow" in his song-and-dance act, which spawned popular minstrel shows of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was not the first American comic to perform in blackface, but he was by far the most popular of his time, touring both America and England to great acclaim.

His "Jim Crow" character, first performed by Rice in Louisville in 1828, was a stable slave who sang a "negro ditty" titled "Jump Jim Crow". The song, always performed with a heavy black accent, included the lyrics, "Turn about and wheel about, and do just so / and every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow." As a result of the popularity of Rice's performances, "Jim Crow" became a generic term for many other white comedians' blackface portrayals of slaves, and the namesake of laws mandating racial segregation long after Rice's death.

While virtually everything about Rice's career would be deemed wildly offensive by present-day audiences, his humor was considered somewhat progressive for its time, and he performed as Crow for paying audiences both white and black. As written by Rice, the character of the slave Crow sometimes offered witticisms and profundity that turned the tables on his white overlords, and much of his comedy was built on ridiculing the (all white, of course) authority figures of his time.

Rice also starred at Purdy's New National Theater on New York's Broadway in the title role in Uncle Tom's Cabin, a play based on Harriet Beecher Stowe's best-selling abolitionist novel. In the late 1850s Rice was beset with progressive paralysis, which soon ended his career and eventually took his life.

Father: John Rice (sailor)
Mother: Eleanor Rice
Wife: Charlotte B. Gladstone (m. 1837, d. 1847)
Son: Edward LeRoy Rice

    Stroke 19-Sep-1860 (fatal)
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Jim Crow's Vagaries, or, Black Flights of Fancy (1840, songbook)

Wrote plays:
Oh, Hush! (1833)
Virginia Mummy (1835)
Bone Squash Diavolo (1835)

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