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Article

Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...

Article

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 ...

Article

George A. Thompson

theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on Saint Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown's early life. He worked for some years as a steward on passenger ships, then left the sea and settled in New York City, where he worked as a tailor. The 1820 census shows him as middle-aged and free, living with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind his house on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. An open-air cabaret offering light refreshments and music, the African Grove, as he called it, served the city's African American population, which was excluded from the other larger public gardens in the city.

The African Grove presumably opened in the spring of 1821, but the only knowledge of it comes from a story in the National Advocate of ...

Article

Dance  

Robert H. Gudmestad and Kathleen Thompson

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with dance from the early eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century The first article discusses the transmission of African dance traditions to North America by slaves and the new expressions that arose while the second article discusses the movement of ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

singer, dancer, ventriloquist, and junk merchant, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, on the eve of the Civil War. To date, questions remain about Harmon's real name, parents, siblings, if any, and childhood. In addition, there appears to be no documentation about his years as a performer. The available information indicates that he worked in show business as a singer, dancer, and ventriloquist. Essentially, he was a well-rounded entertainer who had many talents and a knack for the stage. Harmon was married and had two children; however, the names of his wife and children are not readily available. When Harmon was around 38 and 39, his wife and children died from influenza in 1898–1899, during the Spanish American War. Harmon then moved to Harlem and lived in a two-room apartment.

Around 1910 Harmon having left the stage began a new career with a small cart and a ...

Article

George A. Thompson

actor and singer, is a person about whom little early information is known. He told an interviewer in 1825 that he had been born in Rockaway, Long Island, New York, but James McCune Smith who had known the Hewlett boy suggested that he might have been born in the West Indies. The 1830 census indicated that he was older than thirty-six, and the 1825 interviewer states that he had been a servant to a well-known actor who died in 1812. This all suggests that he was born in the early- or mid-1790s. It also is not known whether he was born slave or free. A number of his ancestors were Euro-Americans, however, as his light skin tone was frequently remarked upon.

As a young man Hewlett worked on boats as a steward acting as servant to the officers and passengers probably out of New York City He also ...

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 ...

Article

Jeffrey Green

choir leader, was born in Portage County, Ohio, the son of a farmer whose name is now unknown and whose financial contributions to a nearby college neither overcame the local prejudice nor secured a place for his son among the student body. Educated in Ravenna, Ohio, Loudin went on to train as a printer, only to find his opportunities restricted by white printers who refused to work with him. Even his Methodist church rejected his application to join its choir. For all its positive associations for their kinfolk in the slavery states, mid-nineteenth century Ohio was a hard place for the Loudins, as it had been for Frederick Douglass who was mobbed in Columbus, Ohio, when Frederick Loudin was a boy. He was to recall that the “ostracism was even more complete and unchristian in the free than in the slave States” (Marsh, 106).

After the Civil War Loudin ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Elliott S. Hurwitt

songwriter, was born Richard C. McPherson in Norfolk, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents or his early life. He studied at the Norfolk Mission College and at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and set his sights on the study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. At first music was merely an avocation, but he gradually found his musical interests crowding out his medical ones; he began serious music studies in New York with the eminent Melville Charlton, the organist at some of New York's leading churches and synagogues for several decades. His activities during the years around 1900 were manifold evincing a considerable degree of energy In addition to his musical activities he was an enthusiastic member of the New York Guard rising to the rank of lieutenant He was also later active in the African American entertainment brotherhood known as the Frogs together with the ...

Article

Masques  

Jonathan Morley

Pre‐dramatic pageant entertainments, increasing in popularity through the Tudor period, which the poet Ben Jonson developed during the reign of King James I into courtly plays. The masques for Queen Anne's annual festivities cost James up to £3,000 each and lasted for several hours, utilizing the lavish costumes and Italian mechanical stages of Inigo Jones. Traditionally, the masque's transition was from discord to order, though Jonson brought a more complex literary sensibility to his, including many of them in his published Works of 1619, together with notes on the staging. Disagreement with Jones over the relative importance of staging and literary effect would eventually sour relations between the two men.

Their first collaboration, The Masque of Blackness, was performed on Twelfth Night 1605. Jonson would not develop his innovation of the ‘anti‐masque’—chaotic, digressive, and grotesque—until later in his career; instead, Blackness seems to have been an ...

Article

Mungo  

John Gilmore

Black character in the comic opera The Padlock, written by Isaac Bickerstaff (1733–1808?), with music by Charles Dibdin (1745–1814). The Padlock, first performed in 1768, was not an opera in the modern sense, but a play interspersed with songs.

In a plot adapted from a novel by the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616 Mungo helps Leander a student to woo the beautiful young Leonora even though she is kept locked up by her old guardian Mungo s master Diego who plans to marry her himself Even more than Ursula the elderly white woman employed by Diego to guard Leonora Mungo is the type of servant who is expected to be loyal in spite of being overworked beaten and generally mistreated by his master At the end of the play Diego reconciles himself to the marriage of Leander and Leonora to ...

Article

Othello  

Jonathan Morley

The first recorded performance of The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice was in 1604. Shakespeare took the bones of the story from Geraldi Cinthio's 16th‐century collection Hecatommithi, which would have been available in its original Italian or in Gabriel Chappuys's French translation. Taking this cautionary tale of the credulousness and barbarity of Moors, where Othello's and Iago's prototypes plot to kill Desdemona, mutilating her body before they are tortured and executed, Shakespeare expands the cast, using a character of his own invention, the jealous suitor Roderigo, to useful effect, to turn it into a psychological study of the central characters: the black Venetian general Othello and his embittered ‘ensign’ Iago.

The play is set in an outpost of the Venetian empire Cyprus under attack by Turks Othello a Blackamoor who once unflinchingly watched his brother s arm blown off by a cannonball is vital to the ...

Article

Charlie T. Tomlinson

ventriloquist and magician, was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the son of Dinah Swain (often called Black Dinah), a slave. Potter's mother was kidnapped by Dutch slave traders during her childhood, sold at an auction, and taken to Boston as a slave by Sir Charles Henry Frankland, a tax collector for the Port of Boston. She had five children while serving in Frankland's household. The identity of Potter's biological father remains a mystery. According to speculation, Potter's father was Frankland. Early church records indicate that Potter's father was a white man by the name of George Simpson. The origin of Potter's name is another mystery.

Potter spent his early years on the Frankland estate in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. At the age of ten, in 1793 he took work on a ship as a cabin boy His travels took him to England where he came across a Scottish ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Elizabethan and Jacobean drama saw the proliferation of African images, contexts, and characters. Contact between Britain and Africa, which began as early as the 14th century, became more prevalent in the 16th century and led to an interest in travel, discovery, and the dramatic representations of ‘Moors’. Before the publication of contemporary travel accounts by sailors and travellers, writers often used Scripture and philosophy to construct ideas of Africa and its people. In the 13th century Roger Bacon utilized this blend to fashion geographical knowledge of Africa. Similarly, Geoffrey Chaucer's interpretation of African contexts was an amalgamation of fact and fantasy. Writers of the 16th century, besides deriving knowledge from travellers' accounts, maintained travel tales of the ancients as one of their prime sources of notions about Africa.

In the second half of the 16th century numerous publications on Africa which ranged from histories to travelogues contributed to the escalating ...

Article

The Golden Age in Spain is generally believed by scholars to have lasted about two centuries, from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century. During this period, the Iberian Peninsula, which covers what is today Spain and Portugal, experienced an artistic and literary renaissance. Throughout the literature and drama of this era blacks were portrayed negatively, due to their slave status in Spanish society. Spain had recently emerged from a period of Islamic rule by the Moors that had lasted almost 800 years. The Moors, a people from the northern regions of Africa, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in the early eighth century to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors remained in control of Spain until the late fifteenth century.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella reclaimed Spain in the name of Christianity Their victory concluded the reconquest the battle between the Catholic and Islamic faiths of ...

Article

Nadine D. Pederson

playwright, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Juan François Louis Victor Séjour Marcou, owner of a small business, and Eloisa Philippe Ferrand. His father was a black native of the West Indies, and his mother a Creole from New Orleans. Séjour attended an academy in New Orleans for the children of free men of color. As a young man he was an active member of the Artisans, a middle-class Creole society. In 1836 Séjour was sent to Paris to finish his studies. In that same year his short story “Le Mulâtre” was published in La Revue des Colonies (Paris). Another early literary success was a poem, “Le Retour de Napoléon,” first published in Paris (Dauvain et Fontaine, 1841), then in New Orleans (H. Lauve et Compagnie, 1845).

Séjour made his playwriting debut at the Théâtre-Français on 23 July 1844 with Dégarias ...

Article

Jonathan Morley

William Shakespeare's late romance, first produced at the Court of King James I in 1611, and performed for the wedding of the King's daughter Elizabeth with Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, in the winter of 1612.

The play is a charming tale of feud and reconciliation, set on a magical island, and conforming to the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. A fractious Italian royal wedding party, on its way back to Naples from Tunisia, is shipwrecked on the island fiefdom of a wizard, Prospero, who was usurped as Duke of Milan by two of the party twelve years earlier and cast out to sea. Through magic, Prospero works his revenge, causing confusion and despair among his enemies until, revealing himself, he is able to forgive them, abjure his magic, win back his dukedom, and marry his daughter to the heir of Naples.

Shakespeare modelled ...

Article

Jonathan Morley

Early play by William Shakespeare. Authoritative dating is impossible, but it is widely thought to be among his juvenile work, perhaps adapted from an earlier text in collaboration with George Peele. The first recorded performances were in 1593.

Set in a declining Rome, the play dramatizes conflict between two families, between different forms of imperial power, and, in the central figures of Titus, an ageing soldier, and Aaron, a Moor, psychological conflict between social obedience and anarchy, expressed in images of carnivalesque horror. In the bloodthirsty manner of early contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, throats are slit, hands are severed, and tongues are cut, two rapists are baked in a pie and served to their mother, and fourteen people are murdered or executed. Revulsion at the play's atrocities provoked outrage in later audiences and it was abandoned between 1734 and 1839 It ...