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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 ...

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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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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 ...

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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 ...

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A performer throughout her childhood, Ada Smith left school at age sixteen to begin her career as a singer and dancer in minstrel and vaudeville shows. Her bright red hair earned her the nickname “Bricktop.” She performed extensively in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In 1924 she began singing at Paris's Le Grand Duc, a nightclub favored by the Parisian elite and community of black expatriates, where she became acquainted with Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Pablo Picasso, among others. In 1927 she bought the club and renamed it Bricktop's; it became one of Paris's most popular nightclubs in the 1930s. Smith left Paris in 1939 because of World War II. A string of nightclubs she opened in the 1940s and 1950s failed, and Smith retired from the business in 1964, except for occasional singing engagements in the 1970s.

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