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Shennette Garrett-Scott

cabaret and vaudeville singer and performer, was born Eliza May (or Mae) Alix in Chicago, Illinois, to Rossetta (or Rasetta) Hayes and Ernest Alix; her parents’ occupations are not known. When Alix was a teenager, her mother remarried; it is not known if Alix's father died or if her parents divorced. Alix lived with her mother; stepfather, Arthur Davis; older sister, Josephine Alix; and younger stepsister, Ellen Davis, in Chicago.

Alix probably began her career singing and performing in chorus lines and local shows. By the early 1920s, she had already established a modest local name for herself when jazz clarinetist and bandleader Jimmie Noone took notice of her in 1921 She continued her collaboration with Noone s Apex Club Orchestra for a series of recordings for Vocalion Records in the late 1920s and early 1930s including recordings of My Daddy Rocks Me and Birmingham Bertha a song ...


Jim Haskins

entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron's Exclusive Club in Prohibition-era Harlem.

Bricktop's father died when she was four, and her mother moved with the children to Chicago to be near relatives. Hattie Smith worked as a domestic in Chicago, and her children attended school. Bricktop showed early musical talent and interest in performing. She made her stage debut as a preschooler, playing the part of Eliza's son Harry in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin at ...


Freda Scott Giles

dancer, singer, entertainer, and actor, was born John William Sublett in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents’ names are not known. His early childhood was spent in Indianapolis, Indiana, where his family was part of a touring carnival; by the age of seven, John was performing on the stage, participating in amateur contests as a singer. Accounts differ as to when he returned to Louisville and when he met his vaudeville team partner, Ford Lee “Buck” Washington. Some sources list their ages as ten and six, respectively, while others list them as thirteen and nine. The team began working professionally by 1915 as “Buck and Bubbles,” an act combining music and comedy.

They would remain together for nearly forty years originally combining Washington s talents as a pianist with Sublett s as a singer when his voice changed Sublett turned to tap dancing as his primary talent As they developed their act ...


Jane Goldberg

Nicknamed “Bubber,” Bubbles is best known for his original portrayal of Sportin' Life in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935) and as one half of the famous singing-and-dancing comedy act of Buck and Bubbles. The act, which began when the ten-year-old Bubbles teamed with six-year-old Ford Lee (“Buck”) Washington, lasted almost fifty years. The two were featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of1931 and were the first black artists to appear at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Known as the father of rhythm Bubbles influenced an entire generation of dancers during tap dancing s innovative period of the 1920s and 1930s He made tap a jazz form when he created new accents by the drop of his heels introducing gradations of tone and complex syncopations Tap dancers previously had tended to stay on their toes when Bubbles experimented with turns and heel drops he changed the ...


Jane Goldberg

Coles started to dance as a teenager, performing on street corners in Philadelphia, and then he began to enter amateur talent shows. In 1931 he joined George and Danny Miller in an act called the Miller Brothers (later the Lucky Seven Trio), doing fast tap routines on giant dice, pedestals, and boards suspended in the air. After an unsuccessful attempt to break into show business in New York City, Coles returned to Philadelphia, where he locked himself in a room and practiced eight hours a day for a year. When he returned to New York in 1933, Coles had the fastest feet in show business. Ironically, it was his celebrated slow soft-shoe, co-choreographed with his partner, Charles (“Cholly”) Atkins, some years later, and performed to a slow tempo rendition of “Taking a Chance on Love,” that made Coles and Atkins one of the great class acts.

Coles s self ...


Constance Valis Hill

tap dancer, raconteur, and stage, vaudeville, and television performer, was born Charles Coles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Coles and Isabel (maiden name unknown). He learned to tap-dance on the streets of Philadelphia, where dancers challenged each other in time-step “cutting” contests, and he made his New York debut at the Lafayette Theater in 1931 as one of the Three Millers, a group that performed over-the-tops, barrel turns, and wings on six-foot-high pedestals. After discovering that his partners had hired another dancer to replace him, Coles retreated to Philadelphia, determined to perfect his technique. He returned to New York City in 1934 confident and skilled in his ability to cram several steps into a bar of music Performing at the Harlem Opera House and at the Apollo Theater Coles was reputed to have the fastest feet in show business And at the Hoofer s Club where only ...


Elton C. Fax

John W(alcott) Cooper was a native of Brooklyn, New York. Little is known of his parents except that his father, John Cooper, came from Beaufort, South Carolina, and his mother, Annie, from Georgia. Both died while their son was still a small boy. The child received his formal schooling at Professor Dorsey's Institute in downtown Brooklyn. Because of his small stature, young Cooper became an exercise boy at the nearby Sheepshead Bay racetrack. There his attention was drawn to ventriloquism by a white practitioner who liked to visit the stables. The ventriloquist, hoping to frighten the exercise boy into believing the horses “talked,” would slyly practice his craft around the animals' stalls. But young Cooper, wise to the pranks of track regulars, listened with no fear and with more than casual amusement.

With his keen intelligence good singing voice and a flair for showmanship Cooper soon joined a ...


Gregory Adamo

entertainer. One of the first African American superstars, Samuel George Davis Jr. was a tap dancer; film, theater, and television actor; singer; impressionist; and multi-instrument musician. From the 1940s until his death, Davis was a recognizable American entertainer. Truly a child of show business, he was born to vaudevillian parents in Harlem in 1925. He began performing at age three, eventually joining his father in the Will Mastin Trio, a tap dance troupe. He traveled on the vaudeville circuit in its waning days, and his hard work and talent made him the star of the act, eventually leading the trio to appearances on television and in major nightclubs. In 1954 Davis suffered a serious car accident while driving from a gig in Las Vegas to a recording session in Los Angeles He lost an eye as a result After his recovery Davis returned to performing and was ...


Carolyn L. Quin

Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland, a vaudeville troupe. He lived with his paternal grandmother, Rosa B. Davis, whom he called “Mamma.” After his sister was born in 1927, his parents separated.

Davis went on the road at age three with his father, performing with a Will Mastin vaudeville show, known then as an all-colored revue. The group came on between the main acts and served as just another anonymous comedy group to liven up the audience. Davis affectionately referred to Mastin as his uncle. The first show Mastin developed that included Davis was Struttin’ Hannah from Savannah When he was seven he got the billing Silent Sam ...


Sammy Davis Jr., was born in New York City, the son of vaudeville performers Elvera Sanchez Davis and Sammy Davis Sr. He began a life-long career of entertaining at the age of three, appearing in the vaudeville group in which his parents danced, Will Mastin's Holiday in Dixieland. Two years later, after his parents' divorce, he stayed with his father and officially joined the group. Davis made his movie debut with Ethel Waters in Rufus Jones for President (1933). Throughout the 1930s he toured with the Will Mastin Trio, becoming the central figure in the group, singing, dancing, and playing several instruments.

In 1943 Davis joined the United States Army and served for two years directing shows and touring military installations. After leaving the army he returned to the Will Mastin Trio, which became an established part of the club circuit, playing bills with American entertainers Jack ...


Sholomo B. Levy

singer, dancer, and actor, was born in Harlem, New York, the first of two children of Sammy Davis Sr., an African American vaudeville entertainer, and Elvera Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus dancer. Sammy's paternal grandmother, “Mama Rosa,” raised him until he was three years old, when his father, who had separated from Elvera, took his son with him on the road. Within a few years, the child's role grew from that of a silent prop to that of a show-stealing singer and dancer, the youngest member of the Will Mastin Trio, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.

Fellow performers were the only family Sammy knew and the world of the theater was the only school he ever attended He was billed as Silent Sam the Dancing Midget to hide him from truant officers and child labor investigators After a period during which the group could not find work or shelter ...


JoAnna Wool

dancer and vaudevillian was born in Covington, Kentucky, in 1872. According to her husband, Charles E. Johnson, Dean was born Dora Babbige, and her brother, Clarence Babbige, served as a judge in Kentucky during the Reconstruction period. By the mid-1880s her family moved to Indiana, and Dean found employment as a nursemaid in nearby Ohio.

Dean entered show business as a “statue girl” in The Creole Show, a popular touring production staged by Sam T. Jack. Dean possessed a striking figure, a pleasing smile, and a quality of warmth and personal charm that she was able to project from the stage; billed as “The Black Venus,” she struck dramatic poses during musical numbers and made a hit with the audience. Paired with talented soft-shoe dancer Charles E. Johnson Dean also became known for her performance of the cakewalk a dance developed by blacks ...


Caryn E. Neumann

vaudeville comedian best known for his signature phrase “Open the Door, Richard!,” was born in El Dorado, Arkansas. (Some sources also give an 1897 date of birth in Des Moines, Iowa.) There is little information available about his early life.

By the mid-1920s, Fletcher emerged as a top comedic talent, albeit one known chiefly to African American audiences. A physical comedian, Fletcher had a good voice and excellent timing. His humor derived from the time-honored formula of making fun of a drunk. He appeared on stage in sketches and monologues, often opening with, “Yeah, it's me, and I’m drunk again!,” before launching into a tall tale. One of the most popular black comics, he also received some criticism from African Americans for portraying a ne’er-do-well. Fletcher made his first, and apparently only, appearance on Broadway as himself in Bomboola the story of a black girl from the South who ...


Sara Dale

vaudeville dancer and jazz club owner, was born in Asheville, North Carolina to Jessie White and Rufus Greenlee. He had seven siblings: Percy, Nello, Premular Avery, Gustarena, Jenny Mae, Josephine, and Adrian. He moved several times in his life. First he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and later resided in New York City. As a young man he worked at a saloon on Coney Island in 1909, as well as working with traveling minstrel acts.

Greenlee learned dance at Miss Hattie Anderson's Dance School in New York City. Even at the age of twelve many people wanted to dance with him, especially a white performer known as Gertie LeClair. When he gained experience Greenlee transformed ballroom dancing, Russian dancing, and acrobatics. At the time he was one of few to tap dance to jazz music. He paired with Thaddeus (Teddy) Drayton in 1909 and partnered with Charles Johnson ...


Leila Kamali

African‐American jazz vocalist and vaudeville star. Born on 20 October 1901 in Brooklyn, New York, Hall made her debut with the 1921 Broadway musical Shuffle Along. She went on to perform at Harlem's famous Cotton Club, alongside great bandleaders and musicians including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway, and introduced her signature wordless phrase on the recording of ‘Creole Love Call’ in 1927.

From 1928 to 1929 Hall starred in the musical Blackbirds, the show that featured her notable hits ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby’ and ‘I Must Have That Man’. Her solo concert tour brought her to London in 1931, and she visited again in 1938, appearing in The Sun Never Sets at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and this time settling in Britain.

Hall hosted her own radio series making her the first black star to be given a ...


Barry Kernfeld

vaudeville, musical theater, and jazz singer and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of William Hall, a white man of Pennsylvania German roots who worked as a music teacher at the Pratt Institute, and Elizabeth Gerrard, an African American. She made many jokes about her birth year; on her birthday in 1991 she declared that she was ninety years old, hence the conjectural 1901.

Hall and her sister sang at school concerts. After her father's death she began her stage career. From its debut in 1921 and into 1922 she appeared in the pioneering African American musical revue Shuffle Along as one of the Jazz Jasmines chorus girls; she also sang a duet with Arthur Porter, “Bandana Days.” In the revue Runnin' Wild (1923) she introduced the song “Old Fashioned Love.” At some point in 1925 she ...


Gayle Murchison

musician, singer, and educator, was born Ravella Eudosia Hughes in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father's. She attended Huntington's segregated public schools. Disturbed when she was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in Piano from Howard's Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with the conservatory director Lulu Vere Childers Hughes then taught violin ...


Charles L. Hughes

singer, songwriter, and pianist, was born in Kirbyville, Texas, in 1914. It is not known whether “Ivory Joe” was his given name or simply an early nickname; it was the name by which he was always called. One of fourteen children, Hunter developed musical interests early in-life, influenced by his parents: his father David Hunter—a preacher—also played guitar, and his mother, whose name is not known, sang gospel. In addition, Hunter's siblings all displayed musical talent, so it is not surprising that Ivory Joe learned to play piano at an early age. He soon found himself traveling a circuit of vaudeville, tent, and club shows around the Texas countryside, playing a popular brand of post–Fats Waller boogie-woogie blues. He was good enough at nineteen to make his first recording (in 1933 a version of the timeless blues classic Stagolee as part ...


Jack Sohmer

jazz bassist and banjoist, was born William Manuel Johnson in Talladega, Alabama. Nothing is known of his parents, but he had five brothers, one of whom, Dink Johnson, played drums, piano, and clarinet, and a sister, Anita Gonzalez, who was an early paramour of the pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton. At some point in the 1870s or 1880s the family moved to New Orleans, where Johnson started playing guitar at age fifteen. In 1900 he began doubling on bass and worked in a string trio at Tom Anderson's Annex in Storyville. Between 1901 and 1908 he played bass with the Peerless Orchestra and the trombonist Frankie Dusen's Eagle Band, doubling on tuba for work with the Excelsior and other marching bands.

After touring the Southwest with a trio in 1908, Johnson, the cornetist Ernest “Nenny” Coycault, and their trombonist, one H. Pattio ...


Charles Rosenberg

vaudeville, radio, movie, and TV performer, controversial for accepting a lead role in the television version of Amos ’n’ Andy, was born in Rock Island, Illinois, the son of Harry and Cynthia Wilson Moore, born respectively in Massachusetts and Kentucky. Records from earlier in his life support an 1881 date of birth, including some given by Moore himself, as well as the census, while later life references, from Moore himself and public records, support an 1887 year of birth. Absent discovery of a birth certificate, the truth may never be known for sure. His father was a day laborer, who owned the family home, and older brother Charles worked at a blast furnace. Harry, by 1900, had developed skills as a blacksmith. Younger siblings included Lilburn, Arthur, Irving, William, Hazel, Jeanette, and Essie.

Around 1898 Moore joined Cora Miskel and Her Gold Dust ...