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Charles Haywood

(b Flushing, NY, Oct 22, 1854; d Philadelphia, May 5, 1911). American minstrel performer and songwriter. He was educated in Washington, DC, where he enrolled in the law department of Howard University and was deeply moved by the spirituals and the rhythm and harmony of the work songs of labourers on the university campus. He learnt to play the banjo, taught himself the rudiments of harmony and began composing songs. He organized musical groups and performed at various social functions, where he soon became known as a versatile entertainer. He found the perfect outlet for his musical and theatrical talents in the minstrel show and joined the Original Black Diamonds of Boston as a leading performer in 1875.

In 1876 Bland joined the Bohee Minstrels then Sprague s Georgia Minstrels who as Haverly s Genuine Colored Minstrels opened at Her Majesty s ...

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William Lichtenwanger

minstrel performer and composer, was born in Flushing, Long Island, New York, the son of Allen M. Bland, an incipient lawyer, and Lidia Ann Cromwell of Brandywine, Delaware, of an emancipated family. Bland's father, whose family had been free for several generations, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and in 1867 became the first black to be appointed an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office.

James Bland entered Howard University as a prelaw student in 1870 at the urging of his father but the subject and the life associated with it did not appeal to him Instead he was attracted to the minstrel show that was approaching its peak during the 1870s He played the guitar danced the steps sang the minstrel songs and most important composed songs for the shows A free black man who attended college for two years Bland had to learn ...

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William Lichtenwanger

James Allen Bland was born in Flushing, Long Island, New York, the son of Allen M. Bland, an incipient lawyer, and Lidia Ann Cromwell of Brandywine, Delaware, of an emancipated family. Bland's father, whose family had been free for several generations, attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and in 1867 became the first black to be appointed an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office.

James Bland entered Howard University as a prelaw student in 1870 at the urging of his father, but the subject and the life associated with it did not appeal to him. He was attracted instead to the minstrel show that was approaching its peak during the 1870s. He played the guitar, danced the steps, sang the minstrel songs, and, most importantly, composed songs for the shows.

A free black man who attended college for two years Bland did not have ...

Article

Elton C. Fax

Born in Texas, Sherman H. Dudley, like many Southern blacks who resented being addressed by their first names by whites, used only his initials in an effort to ward off the insult. In the tradition of most black performers of his day he worked the medicine-show circuit. Talented singers and dancers often began their professional careers as performers hired by itinerant street salesmen of patent medicines. The performances were designed to attract prospective buyers to the hucksters' medicinal wares. Most such entertainers of the South were blacks, many of them mere boys.

While still in his twenties, Dudley joined the McCabe and Young Minstrels, working as a comic end man who called himself Hapsy. He followed that stint by teaming with singer and dancer Dude Kelly and performing as a substitute for Sam Lucas at Broadway s Star Theater So successful was the pair of substitutes that they ...

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Kevin Byrne

vaudeville entertainer and theatrical entrepreneur, was born in Dallas, Texas. The names of his parents are unknown. Though in later interviews Dudley frequently changed the story of how he broke into show business, his earliest stage work was most likely in Texas and Louisiana as part of a medicine show. This job, in which he played music and told jokes to draw a crowd to the pitchman and his wares, was an appropriate beginning for a man who always sought to be the center of attention. Dudley eventually became an artist and businessman who, as demonstrated by both his actions and writings, was passionately concerned with cultivating the rights and strengthening the dignity of African American performers during an era when what it meant to be a black entertainer was greatly in flux.

Dudley s apprenticeship in the professional theatrical world took place during the last decade of the ...

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Theresa Vara-Dannen

banjoist, actor, minstrel comedian, was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Sampson Easton and his wife, Louisa (maiden name unknown). Although there has been some confusion among scholars about his date of birth, the 1850 Federal Census indicates that a male child named “Hoser” (sic) was one year old, living with his Massachusetts-born father, a laborer and later “hackman” (a carriage driver for hire), and his Connecticut-born mother. His paternal grandfather, after whom he was named, was Hosea Easton, the minister of the Talcott Street Congregational Church in Hartford. The first Hosea Easton earned great respect for his groundbreaking work, A Treatise On the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States; And the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them (1837 The family was also descended directly from James ...

Article

comedian, was born Jodie Edwards in Marietta, Georgia. Little is known about his early life, including his exact birth date, which has been listed as both 1898 and 1895. It is believed that Edwards began performing professionally in carnivals at age twelve with the Moss Brothers Carnival doing minstrel routines.

In 1915 Edwards met Susie Hawthorne, who later became his wife, while they were both working for the Smart Set variety show, which was run by Ma Rainey and performed out of a tent. In 1916 the pair left the show and set off on their own, originally as a dance act. Soon they added comic banter in between their dances. In 1917 they left Smart Set for good and went off on their own as a musical comedy team.

In May 1917 Edwards and Hawthorne were married on stage as a publicity stunt in either ...

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Marva Griffin Carter

entertainer, was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, the son of Luther Fletcher, a steamboat fireman, and Mary Eliza Cox, a cook. A stage performance sometime before 1888 of Harriet Beecher Stowe'sUncle Tom's Cabin that featured a cadre of African American actors and in which he played a small part initially inspired Tom Fletcher to pursue a career in entertainment. Later Fletcher became the first black actor to play the role of Uncle Tom.

Fletcher spent more than sixty years on the stage or performing in various venues As a boy soprano he sang in local talent shows and played in the Portsmouth fife corps His professional theatrical career began at age fifteen when he appeared with such groups as Howard s Novelty Colored Minstrels the Old Kentucky show Ed Winn s minstrel company and Richard and Pringle s Georgia Minstrels At the turn of the twentieth century ...

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Rainer E. Lotz

singer, musician, and theatrical entertainer, was born in Keokuk, Lee County, Iowa. As a juvenile comedian and singer he was a member of the Ponce de Leon Comedy Four with the Mahara Minstrels. In Mahara's brass band, then directed by the composer W. C. Handy, he worked in Cuba as a tuba player from 1899 to 1900, and Handy recalled him in his autobiography, Father of the Blues (1941). Garland and his trombone playing girl friend, Nettie Geoff, toured with Craine & Garland's Big Alabama Minstrels, followed by engagements with G. W. Washburn's Southern Minstrels (1900), Johnson and Stratter's Colored Minstrel Carnival (1901), and A Holiday in Coontown Company (1901). By 1903 Garland was playing the tuba with Richard & Pringle's Georgia Minstrels.

Garland and Nettie Geoff, now Mrs. Garland contributed to the success of ...

Article

David Bradford

show business entrepreneur, minstrel company owner and manager, interlocutor, singer, and comedian, claimed to have been born a slave in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parents.

The minstrel show was, by some measures, the most popular form of public entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century. For African Americans pursuing careers in show business, there were few alternatives to blackface minstrelsy, leading to the perplexing situation of black performers perpetuating white caricatures of blacks. Some African Americans were disdainful of minstrel shows in general and especially those staged by performers of their own race (since they gave “aid and comfort to the enemy,” according to James Monroe Trotter a chronicler of black musical achievement in the 1870s Nevertheless the best black minstrel companies were enormously popular with black as well as white audiences After attending a performance of the Georgia Minstrels even the erudite ...

Article

Paul Devlin

singer, composer, minstrel performer, street musician, and one of the world's first recording stars and the first African American to make any recording, was born in Wheatland, Loudon County, Virginia, though possibly in Fluvanna County, Virginia. It is unclear as to whether he was born free or as a slave. His father, Samuel Johnson, was listed as free soon after George's birth. His mother was known as Druanna, or “Ann Pretty.” While still a small child Johnson was hired as the “bodyservant” for a young white boy his same age, Samuel Moore. Johnson grew up in the prosperous Moore household and was taught to read and write. He is thought to have spent the Civil War working as a laborer for one or both armies.

Johnson moved to New York sometime around 1873 and began performing on ferry boats. In 1890 ...

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(b Portsmouth, VA, Jan 5, 1868/9; d Providence, RI, June 24, 1933). American soprano. From the age of 15 she studied singing in Providence, Rhode Island, and later studied privately in Boston at the New England Conservatory, and with Louise Capianni and Mme Scongia in London. On 5 April 1888 she made her début at Steinway Hall, New York, in a Bergen Star Concert. From 1888 to 1895 she toured the USA, Canada, Europe and the West Indies as a soloist, attracting national attention with her well-publicized appearances at the Grand Negro Jubilee at Madison Square Garden and the White House in 1892, and at the Pittsburgh Exposition and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. From 1896 to 1915 she was the leading soloist of Black Patti s Troubadours a vaudeville company managed by Rudolf Voelckel and ...

Article

Sissieretta Jones came early to music. Her father was the pastor and choir director of their Portsmouth, Virginia, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and her mother a soprano in the choir. She married at the age of fourteen, and began voice training the next year in Providence, Rhode Island. Jones continued her studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston, making her performance debut in that city in 1887. She acquired the nickname “Black Patti” from a newspaper review that praised her as an African American match for the renowned Italian soprano Adelina Patti.

National fame arrived with Jones's performance at the 1892 Grand Negro Jubilee at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before an audience of 75,000, she sang selections from the opera La Traviata as well as the song Swanee River This combination of high opera and a popular repertoire continued throughout Jones s ...

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Marta J. Effinger-Crichlow

classical prima donna and musical comedy performer, was born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner in Portsmouth, Virginia, less than four years after the abolition of slavery. Jones was the only surviving child of Jeremiah Malachi Joyner, a former slave and pastor of the Afro-Methodist Church in Portsmouth, and Henrietta B. Joyner, a singer in the church choir. Thus, she was exposed to music during her formative years. When she was six years old her family moved to Rhode Island, where Jones began singing in the church choir, which her father directed. Her school classmates were mesmerized by her sweet, melodic, soprano voice and nicknamed her “Sissy.”

She began studying voice as a teenager at the prestigious Providence Academy of Music with Ada, Baroness Lacombe, an Italian prima donna. Not long afterward, in 1883, when she was only fourteen, Sissieretta met and married David Richard Jones a newspaperman ...

Article

Diane Epstein

Discovering Sissieretta Jones is like uncovering a buried treasure. In the twenty-first century, her name may not be a household word, but she was a well-known and respected performer in her time.

Jones was born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner in 1869 in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a middle-class environment. Her father, Malachi Joyner, was a Baptist minister. Her mother, Henrietta Beale Joyner sang in the church choir and is said to have had a wonderful soprano voice This appears to be where young Sissieretta inherited her own naturally beautiful voice It was obvious by the time she was five years old that she had a gift and her family was instrumental in promoting her talent To give her a chance for formal music study the family moved from Virginia to Providence Rhode Island She now could study classical voice at Providence Academy of Music From the Providence Academy Jones ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

who developed most of his career as an entertainer in Australia, was born in New York State. Information on his parents is not well established. Some sources give his father’s name as Ebenezer Keenan, some as Samuel. Keenan’s death certificate gives the name Ebenezer. His mother is generally held to have been Mary Ann Davis Keenan. It is likely that he had both Irish and African ancestry, and it is possible that one or both of his parents were also of mixed descent, or one may have been themselves an immigrant from Ireland, or the child of immigrants. His professional performances, perhaps constrained by the cultural expression of the notorious “one drop rule,” expressed “Negro” caricatures.

Keenan’s career began in the United States, and while little is documented, he registered to vote in San Francisco, California in 1876 listing his occupation as musician and his address at the International ...

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Kevin Byrne

minstrel entertainer, was born in New Orleans and at an early age moved with his family to New York City. Scant biographical information exists regarding his upbringing before theatrical manager Charles Hicks discovered him in a small Bowery music hall and placed him in his minstrel show, but it has been suggested that he had little formal education and even into his adult life had to be taught the comedic songs and routines for which he became internationally renowned.

Kersands began his career in minstrelsy as a performer in Hicks's Georgia Minstrels in 1870 or 1871 At the time the popularity of minstrelsy was unrivaled in the United States and Hicks s organization is notable for being one of the first African American minstrel companies to achieve national fame This troupe adopted the standard tripartite format of the minstrel show as established by white performers in the 1840s ...

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David Bradford

singer, dancer, comedian, and songwriter, was born Samuel Milady in Washington Court House, Ohio. Nothing is known of his parents except, according to some sources, that they were ex-slaves. Known as the “dean of the Negro stage,” Lucas was a multifaceted entertainer who was featured in many of the leading minstrel companies and musical plays of his age including Callender's Original Georgia Minstrels, The Hyers Sisters' Out of Bondage, Sam T. Jack's The Creole Show, and Cole and Johnson's A Trip to Coontown. He also was the first black actor to play the title role in a major stage production of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the first African American to have a leading role in a motion picture.

When he was nineteen Lucas moved to Cincinnati where he worked as a barber He sang and played the guitar and soon began ...

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Barry Kernfeld

blues singer, was born Elizabeth Mary Landreaux Miles in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of J.-C. Miles, whose occupation is unknown. Her mother was a singer, whose name is unknown (Landreaux, presumably). Lizzie's stepbrothers were the trumpeter Herb Morand, who at some point during the 1920s played in New York in a band accompanying Lizzie, and the drummer Maurice Morand. Lizzie first sang in church at age five. She also sang in school before dropping out to perform at parties and dances. From 1909 to 1911 she sang with the cornetist King Oliver, the trombonist Kid Ory, the trumpeter Bunk Johnson, and the violinist Armand John Piron at numerous venues in New Orleans. Around this time she married; no other details are known. Her second marriage was to August Pajaud; again, details are unknown.

Miles toured southern theaters as a member ...

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Barry Kernfeld

jazz trumpeter and cornetist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. His widowed mother, whose name is unknown, worked as a maid. Nothing is known of his father. When Mitchell was about twelve years old he became interested in music through a friend, Leonard Fields, who had a cornet (or, by another account, an alto horn). Mitchell began taking lessons from Fields's father, a member of the Louisville Musical Club Brass Band, the leading African American ensemble in the city. A year later his mother bought him a trumpet. By 1912 or 1913 Mitchell was a member of the congregational marching brass band of St. Augustine Church, and soon thereafter he joined the Louisville Music Club Brass Band, playing concert band music and ragtime. He learned to improvise while working with this ensemble and with dance and theater orchestras drawn from within the club's ranks and led by Wilbur Winstead ...