Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Hunky-Dory Minstrel Show

Have you ever heard the word “hunky-dory” (Superlatively good) used in a sentence and wondered where it came from? I have always wondered. I first heard a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy say it when someone asked how his day was going; he stated that everything was “hunky-dory!” So, from that point I thought it was just something that corny older white men said to describe their day. *giggle*

Well, that was until I read about a man named Thomas Dilward (aka Japanese Tommy). Mr. Dilward was one of the first African American Minstrel performers performing on stage before the Civil War. He performed with a troupe called, the Christy's Minstrels. Thomas Dilward excited and thrilled white audiences with song, dance, and violin (note: I'm going to refrain from expressing my disdain for minstrelity just to keep this a short post). Also, I imagine that audiences were intrigued by size.

Anyway, it turns out that the word is attributed to Thomas Dilward; researchers say that Dilward introduced the word (Hunkidori) in his stage act during early 1860s. It is closely related to the Japanese term, “honcho-dori,” which means “main street” or “easy street.” Who knew that a Minstrel Show could be so hunky-dory?

Note: They referred to Thomas Dilward as “Japanese Tommy” on stage to conceal his identity as an African American and to retain the large white audience base who, ironically, did not want to see a black person performing in black face.

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