min·​strel | \ ˈmin(t)-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio) \

Definition of minstrel

1 : one of a class of medieval musical entertainers especially : a singer of verses to the accompaniment of a harp wandering minstrels
b : poet
3a : a member of a type of performance troupe caricaturing black performers that originated in the U.S. in the early 19th century

Note: The acts of minstrels, who typically performed in blackface, featured exaggerated and inaccurate representations of black people in songs, dances, and comic dialogue. The popularity of minstrel shows in their heyday played a significant role in promoting negative racial stereotypes. Professional minstrel shows had fallen out of favor and effectively disappeared by the mid-20th century.

b : a performance by a troupe of minstrels : a minstrel show

Keep scrolling for more

Examples of minstrel in a Sentence

Edna St. Vincent Millay was unofficially the minstrel of Maine, as her poetry celebrates its coast and countryside.
Recent Examples on the Web Fifty crafters, a luncheon, a huge bake sale, take-a-chance table and strolling minstrels will be part of the festivities. courant.com, "Community News For The Windham Edition," 27 Nov. 2019 In both Indian dramas and minstrel shows, which were popular around the same time, the use of redface and blackface were often justified as necessary stage devices, required to make the show more realistic. Jennifer Percy, Harper's magazine, "The Skinning Tree," 20 Jan. 2020 For the ninth year the department of music at Boca Raton’s Florida Atlantic University will stage a Renaissance-themed evening with wandering minstrels, a court jester and a holiday feast. Rod Stafford Hagwood, sun-sentinel.com, "Nutcrackers, Christmas concerts and shows to get into the mistletoe mood," 4 Dec. 2019 The United States has a fraught history of white performers darkening their faces to demean and dehumanize African Americans, including in minstrel shows in the 19th century. Anna Purna Kambhampaty, Time, "Justin Trudeau Says He Didn't Remember Blackface and Brownface Photos and Admits There Could Be More," 19 Sep. 2019 But what is the difference between their portrayal and that of the actors in minstrel shows? Brianna Holt, Quartzy, "Teens on TikTok have no clue they’re perpetuating racist stereotypes," 1 Nov. 2019 Who knows why these yahoos did a minstrel show in 1960? Brian T. Allen, National Review, "The Museums of Vermont," 5 Oct. 2019 Blackface dates to nearly 200 years, when white performers darkened their faces with polish to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows. Faith Karimi And Doug Criss, CNN, "Justin Trudeau isn't the only one. Here's a list of politicians who got in trouble over blackface," 20 Sep. 2019 Media also exacerbated minstrel images of black people with chicken and watermelon. Lateshia Beachum, Washington Post, "Which came first: The fried chicken or the racist trope?," 24 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'minstrel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of minstrel

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for minstrel

Middle English menestral, menstral, mynstral, borrowed from Anglo-French menestral, menestrel "servant, attendant, official, workman, musical entertainer," borrowed from Medieval Latin ministeriālis "servant, functionary in a lord's household, official," going back to Late Latin, "imperial official," noun derivative of ministeriālis "serving, performing a duty" — more at ministerial

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about minstrel

Time Traveler for minstrel

Time Traveler

The first known use of minstrel was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for minstrel

Last Updated

11 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Minstrel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minstrel. Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for minstrel


How to pronounce minstrel (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of minstrel

: a musical entertainer in the Middle Ages
US : a member of a group of entertainers who performed black American songs and jokes usually with blackened faces


min·​strel | \ ˈmin-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio) \

Kids Definition of minstrel

1 : a musical entertainer in the Middle Ages
2 : a member of a group of entertainers who performed black American melodies and jokes with blackened faces in the 19th and early 20th centuries

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on minstrel

What made you want to look up minstrel? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!