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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 ...

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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

George A. Thompson

Brown, William Alexander (fl. 1817–1823), theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on St. Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown’s early life. He worked for some years as 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 a middle-aged free black man, living on Thomas Street with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind the house in which he lived on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. This was a sort of 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 ...

Article

Todd Steven Burroughs

In the late nineteenth century, black comedy was about to burst out of the shadows of minstrelsy that it had been forced into by whites. Born in Africa via folktales and verbal contests and raised in America, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American humor was created by several tensions: the relationship between the master and the slave, the folktales stressing trickery and mental skill, the stories that showed the superiority of the slave over the master, and the parodies of slave life. The creation of the minstrel shows had resulted in a struggle between whites attempting to control black humor and black minstrels attempting to subvert the degrading black stereotype, performing instead a pantomime that mocked the white audience by playing exaggeratedly to its expectations while at the same time injecting a strain of human dignity into the parts they played.

Bert Williams, who appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies ...

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

John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

R. J. Fehrenbach

playwright, journalist, and political activist, was born in New York City to Charles F. Easton, a barber, and Marie Antoinette Leggett-Easton. Ancestors on his father's side participated in the Revolutionary War: his great-grandfather was a captain of Indian scouts, and James Easton, his great-uncle, drew the fortification plans for Breeds Hill (Bunker Hill) (Crisis 37 [1930]: 276). Ancestors of his mother, a Louisiana native, had fought in Haiti's war of independence. By 1870 the family had moved to Saint Louis Missouri where Easton s mother died after which his father relocated the family to New Bedford Massachusetts At thirteen Easton was entrusted to the care of a Catholic priest by his godmother a Baroness de Hoffman Beasley 258 Easton initially attended the Seminary de Trois Rivières Canada but he left after students objected to his presence on the grounds of race ...

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

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

JoAnna Wool

vaudeville comedian and songwriter, was born Reuben Crowder (or Crowders) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He left home as a child to join a traveling production of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Assigned the standard role for a young African American performer, Crowder appeared as an unnamed “pickaninny,” singing and dancing in company numbers. He spent his teens and early twenties touring with minstrel shows. By 1891, inspired by the success of Irish comedians, he had taken on his stage name and co-founded Hogan and Eden's Minstrels, a Chicago-based company that toured the Midwest.

In the mid 1890s Hogan left the relative obscurity of the minstrel stage moved to New York City and secured his first vaudeville bookings billing himself as The Unbleached American A compact handsome man Hogan was a tremendously animated stage presence noted for his strong voice mobile facial expressions and a flawless sense of comic timing ...

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

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

Marian Aguiar

Contemporary theater in the Caribbean has been shaped by the different cultures—Native American, European, African, East Indian, Madeiran, and Chinese—that have brought forms of performance from around the world to the Caribbean basin. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Caribbean, the elements of stage and street performance, including written plays, storytelling, festivals, music, and dance, combined to create new types of theater. During colonial times stage performance was often sponsored by the wealthy and evolved separately from African culture. More recently, however, performers and directors have begun to explore the African roots of a Caribbean theater through the incorporation of Afro-Caribbean religious practices and social rituals (such as dance, storytelling, and singing) which date to the period of slavery or before their arrival.

Article

David Dabydeen

Actor, fiddler, and beggar who acted and busked around London in the 1780s. Waters was a common sight outside the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand. Apart from busking, he also acted, appearing as himself in a dramatized version of Pierce Egan'sLife in London (1821) at the Adelphi and at the Caledonian Theatre in Edinburgh in 1822. He would also play his fiddle, becoming a street musician outside the Drury Lane Theatre. His wooden leg as well as his outfit, which resembled that of a military uniform, made him a unique and distinct character. The well‐known cartoonist George Cruikshank caricatured him. Waters ended up penniless on the streets of London in the St Giles area, where the black poor congregated. In 1823 he became ill and died at St Giles s workhouse Just before his death he was elected King of the Beggars by fellow beggars ...