The Nineteenth Century Entertainment section of the John Johnson collection is a rich resource for examining the history and cultures of all different kinds of performance in nineteenth-century Britain. One of the types of performance feature in this collection is the minstrel show. These performances, in which white performers blackened their faces and sang British audiences ‘a distorted and appropriated form of black music’, had been popular in Britain since the 1830s. The blackface minstrel appeared on Victorian Christmas cards, and music from minstrel shows was regularly performed in Victorian drawing rooms—examples of both can be found in the John Johnson collection.
Black performers appeared in minstrel shows from the early on—one of the most popular dancers in nineteenth century Britain, a black American named William Henry Lane, performed as ‘Juba’ between 1848 and 1851. Posters for his performances can be found in the collection. As the historian David Olusoga points out, the Victorian stage provided a mix of racism, opportunity, and racial stereotyping to black performers:
Racial stereotypes racial stereotypes about black musicality and physicality had reinforced the notional links between blackness and performance. In the second half of the nineteenth century, when black people were fewer than during the slave-trading seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their rareness made them an exotic draw for audiences, and hundreds of black Britons and black migrants from Africa and the Americas joined the Victorian entertainment industry, a vast and sprawling network of theatres, music halls, and travelling shows that performed to millions of people each week.
The John Jonson Collection can be used to study one pair of black performers made their living in the Victorian entertainment industry: James Douglass Bohee (1844-1897) and his brother George (1857-1930), black Canadians who moved to London and made their living as highly successful banjo teachers, sellers of banjos, composers, musicians, singers, dancers, theatrical managers and promoters. The collection features thirteen pieces of ephemera associate with them, including advertisements for their performances and their teaching studio, the American Banjo Studio. These can be found by using the quick search facility and looking for ‘Bohee Brothers’.
The Bohee Brothers were born in Indiantown, St John’s, New Brunswick; their family later moved to Boston, USA, and their musical careers began in the States. According to in the Saint John’s Daily Telegraph of 1880, they began to love and play string instruments as children: the paper claimed that James had taught himself to play the banjo and could not read printed music.
From 1876, the brothers toured the US as members of minstrel companies, including one which they managed and promoted. They came to for the first time England in 1881 as members of Haverly’s Colored Minstrels. When the rest of the troupe returned to American in 1882, they stayed on in Europe to tour and perform. Their company, various called the Bohee Brothers Coloured Minstrel Company and the Bohee Operatic Minstrels, employed both white and black performers, and it toured regularly from 1889 until James’ death in 1897. The Bohee Operatic Minstrels disbanded in 1898, but George Bohee continued to tour as a solo act and make a living as a musician.
When they weren’t on tour, the Bohees lived in London and ran a successful banjo teaching studio. A notice for their studio from 1883 informs the public that lessons are available between 10am to 6pm weekdays, and 10am to 1pm on Saturdays. Students who did not wish to come to the studio could have their banjo lessons at their own houses. 
We might now think of the banjo as an instrument played primarily by American bluegrass musicians, but in the last two decades nineteenth century it enjoyed a wave of popularity as a drawing-room instrument. While songs from blackface minstrelsy had been popular for public and home entertainment from the 1830s, the acceptance of the banjo among white upper and middle-class Victorians grew more slowly. Lingering doubts about the respectability of an instrument associated with working-class and African-American cultures seem to have finally vanished in the 1880s, when the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII (1841-1910), began to take banjo lessons. His teacher was James Bohee. The Bohee Brothers made the most of their famous student. In an advertisement of a performance from 21 July 1890, the Bohees called themselves ‘Banjoists and Entertainers to the T.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales’.
In addition to their careers as successful musicians, teachers, and entrepreneurs, James and George Bohee are also among the earliest black musicians whose music was recorded. In December 1890, a recording of their playing was advertised by Douglas Archibald, a showman travelling in Australia and promoting a phonographic exhibition. The Bohee brothers probably recorded with Archibald in late 1889 or early 1890. George Bohee is known to have made further recordings after his brother’s death. None of these recordings survive today but records of their performances and teaching live on in the theatre programmes and notices preserved in the John Johnson Collection.
 David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London, 2016), p. 422. For an article on the early days of blackface minstrelsy in Britain, see (available to students and staff via our catalogue) is Tom Scriven, ‘The Jim Crow Craze in London’s Press and Streets, 1836–39’, Journal of Victorian Culture 19:1 (2014), 93–109.
 ‘Juba, The Juba Project. Available from https://minstrels.library.utoronto.ca/node/490614 [accessed 8 October 2018]
 Olusoga, Black and British, 422.
 Rainer E Lotz, Black people: entertainers of African descent in Europe and Germany (Bonn, 1997), 35-6.
 Olusoga, Black and British, 277 and Lotz, Black people, 43-5.
 Lotz, Black People, 48.
 Notice! American Banjo Studio. Notices. [N.p.], . Oxford, Bodleian Library, The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. Bodleian Library, Oxford. The John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera. Available from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk [accessed 8 October 2018]
 Laura Vorachek, ‘Whitewashing Blackface Minstrelsy in Nineteenth-Century England: Female Banjo Players in Punch’, Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature 123 (2013), 31-51 (33-6).
 The Celebrated Royal Bohee Brothers. Theatre Programme. [N.p.], . Minstrels 1 (4). The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. Bodleian Library, Oxford. The John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera. Available from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk [accessed 8 October 2018]
 Tim Brooks and Richard Spottswood, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 (Champaign-Urbana, 2004), 531, n. 7. Available from one of our e-book databases, Proquest Ebook Central.
 Lotz, Black People, 48.
Baranowska, Agnieszka ‘Basic Minstrel Bibliography’, Burned Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy. Available from: https://burntcorkthebook.com/further-research/basic-minstrel-bibliography/
Johnson, Stephen et al, The Juba Project: Early Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain. Available from http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/~w3minstr/
Olusoga, David, Black and British: A Forgotten History (London, 2016)
Scriven, Tom, ‘The Jim Crow Craze in London’s Press and Streets, 1836–39’, Journal of Victorian Culture 19:1 (2014), 93–109.
Vorachek, Laura, ‘Whitewashing Blackface Minstrelsy in Nineteenth-Century England: Female Banjo Players in Punch’, Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature 123 (2013), 31-51