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Rainer E. Lotz

dancer, singer, choreographer, and director, is a person whose origins are the subject of some question. According to the English-born black entertainer Gordon Stretton, Belle Davis “was a mezzo-soprano; tall black girl, native from New Orleans, very beautiful,” but on a 1938 ship passenger list Davis signed in as a Chicagoan born in 1874. On a 1904 emergency passport issued in London she swore, “I was born at Houston, in the State of Texas” in 1872. (Besides this confusion in geography, over the years Davis apparently became younger, on other documents indicating her year of birth as 1873.) Her father was George Davis; the name of her mother is unknown. After an apprenticeship in American minstrelsy, she spent most of her professional career touring Europe from 1901 until 1938 Not only had she performed in front of a movie camera ...

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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 ...