Minstrelsy began a long tradition of White performers in music and stage taking from Black performance and presenting it to White audiences. While the names of the various people who were heavy influences on the minstrel show were lost to history, there are a few that pop up. One of them was a New Orleans street vendor and performer known only as Old Corn Meal.
The Performances of Old Corn Meal
He had been around for decades, walking through the marketplace and major commerce spots in New Orleans selling his goods. Old Corn Meal had a cart, a horse, and simply sold corn meal. The song he used to lure people to his cart was one he made up himself called ” Fresh Corn Meal.”
To keep potential customers and his audience, he also performed tunes that were popular in minstrel shows. Vocally he said to be a baritone and could do a strong falsetto depending on the song.
He came to the attention of stage performers—particularly those who did blackface—during the 1830s. Most notably was Thomas D. Rice. Going by the stage name Daddy Rice, he is responsible for bringing the character “Jim Crow” to 19th century pop culture. He also had an act called “Corn Meal” which is believed to be based on the New Orleans performer.
Old Corn Meal would develop something of a following and was eventually brought to the St. Charles Theatre to do a solo act in 1837 and again in 1840. In the second performance his old horse—which had performed with him so many times at the marketplace—fell from the stage and died.
Two years after that performance, Old Corn Meal died. His death was announced in the New Orleans Bee though no indication of his age was ever given.