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David N. Gellman

The African Grove Theater, also known as the American Theater and the African Theater, entertained black and white New Yorkers from 1821 to 1823. The theater, founded by the former ship steward William Brown, was the first theater in the United States owned and operated by African Americans. The theater company performed a wide array of material in a series of Manhattan locations, attracting an interracial audience while drawing ire from contemporary white commentators and competitors. The theater gave scope to the ambitions of New York's emerging free African American community, while the hostility it attracted was indicative of the refusal of many whites to accept free blacks as social or political equals. The theater also provided a stage for two pioneering African American performers, James Hewlett, who was one of the first American one-man show artists, and Ira Aldridge who went on to fame in ...

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Juan Carlos Estenssoro

was born in 1788 to Rosa Rudesinda Retuerto, a free mulatto woman. On his certificate of baptism, he is documented as a son without a father; however, on his marriage certificate, his father is identified as the surgeon and pharmacist José Isidoro Alcedo. He began his studies in the Augustine music academy in Lima, which was run by the friar Cipriano Aguilar; he later moved to the Santo Domingo convent, where he received his true musical education under the direction of Friar Pascual Nieves. In 1807 he took simple vows as a third-order Dominican for three years, having worn the friar’s habit the year before. At that time he began to teach music at the convent. In 1821 he was among the signatories of Peru s Declaration of Independence and he presented two compositions to the competition led by General José de San Martín to select a national march ...

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David Dabydeen

African‐Americantragedian and Shakespearean actor who emigrated to England and performed extensively in Europe. Aldridge was born to Daniel and Lurona Aldridge on 24 July 1807 in West Broadway, New York. There has been some confusion concerning his genealogy. One suggestion of his lineage was that he was a descendant of a princely line of the Fulah tribe in Senegal. This version is probably a romantic tale fabricated to accentuate an exoticism that would have boosted his dramatic persona. What is known, however, is that Daniel Aldridge was a straw‐vendor and a pastor, who might have been a slave. There are no records to verify that Daniel was indeed a slave, but the name Aldridge was most probably that of a slave master.

Although Daniel had intended his son to join the ministry the young Aldridge was already passionate about the theatre After his education at the African Free School ...

Article

André Willis

Aldridge earned international recognition as one of his era's finest actors for his moving theatrical performances throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, and the United States. Although born free in New York City, he was the son of a slave turned Calvinist preacher. Aldridge saw limited theatrical opportunities in the United States and, after training at the African Free School in New York City, left the United States for Europe in 1824. Intent on pursuing an acting career, he studied drama at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for more than a year.

Debuting onstage at the Royal Coburg in London, England, in 1825 Aldridge won widespread praise for his portrayal of Shakespeare s Othello a role that became his trademark as well as for his renditions of other leading characters during the six week theatrical run After this success he performed in the Theatre Royal in Brighton England ...

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

actor, was born Ira Frederick Aldridge, the son of Daniel Aldridge, a minister, and Lurona (maiden name unknown). Although certain historical accounts record that Aldridge was born in Senegal, Africa, and was the grandson of the Fulah tribal chieftain, modern biographical scholarship has established that he was born in New York City. It is possible that he could claim Fulah ancestry, but his lineal descent from tribal royalty is unconfirmed. Extant evidence concerning Aldridge's life is sketchy, conflicting, or exaggerated, possibly owing in part to the aggrandizements of theatrical publicity.

As a young boy, Aldridge attended the African Free School in New York City. Although Aldridge's father intended for him to join the clergy, Aldridge showed an early attraction to the stage, excelling at debate and declamation. Around 1821 Aldridge tried to perform at Brown s Theatre also known as the African Theatre but his father ...

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Graham Russell Hodges

Ira Frederick Aldridge was the son of Daniel Aldridge, a minister, and Lurona (maiden name unknown). Born in New York City, Aldridge was educated at the African Free School. Although his father wanted him to become a minister, Aldridge turned to the stage when he became fascinated by the fledgling African Grove Theater, run by William Brown and starring the pioneering black actor James Hewlett. The theater closed in 1823 after the New York City government, under pressure from racist mobs, refused to grant it a license. Recognizing that his career as a serious actor was limited in the United States because of prevalent prejudice against blacks, Aldridge immigrated to England in 1824 and became an attendant to the famed thespian Henry Wallack whom he met through Wallack s brother James Aldridge and Henry Wallack would clash when the latter identified the young black man as his ...

Article

(b Philadelphia, PA, Feb 14, 1760; d Philadelphia, March 26, 1831). American tunebook compiler. A former slave, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1794 and was elected its first bishop on the incorporation of the church in 1816. He compiled a hymnbook of 54 hymns, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, for use by his congregation, the Bethel AME Church, in 1801. Later that year an enlarged version was published as A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs. It was the first hymnbook published by an African American for use by African Americans, and many of the hymns later became sources for black spirituals. With Daniel Coker and James Champion, Allen also compiled the first official hymnbook of the AME Church in 1818.

Article

Roberto Ramos-Perea

was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Born with a handicap in his legs that made him resemble a dwarf, he was the first son of Nicolás Alonso Marini, a carpenter, and Matilde Pizarro, a woman of African, Amerindian, and European descent. Both were descendants of freed slaves.

Alongside his training in cobbling and carpentry, Manuel soon acquired a thorough literary education under the tutelage of his private teacher Fabriciano Cuevas Sotillo, also from Guayama. Even though he distinguished himself as an excellent student, the circumstances of poverty in which his family lived required Alonso Pizarro to focus his efforts on the family’s cobbling business.

In 1884 he moved to Mayagüez, where he joined the Sociedad de Artesanos Unión Borinqueña, which commissioned Alonso Pizarro’s first play Me saqué la lotería (I Won the Lottery) in 1886. A playful one-act comedy, Me saqué la lotería was set among the jíbaro ...

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Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

Article

Doris Evans McGinty

(b Philadelphia, c1808; d New York State, after 1871). American composer, horn player and conductor One of the earliest black American composers he worked in New York as teacher and performer and Philadelphia where he played with the Walnut Street Theater Orchestra ...

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Antoinette Broussard Farmer

classical pianist, civil rights activist, and social worker, was born Nettie Craig in Leavenworth, Kansas, the daughter of William P. Wallingford, an immigrant farmer from England, and Viola, his former slave. In 1837, prior to Nettie's birth, Wallingford moved his family from Kentucky and settled on the Platte purchase in Missouri. He was married three times and fathered seventeen children including six by Viola. Nettie, the youngest of these, was the only one born free. Information is scarce about Viola. After she was emancipated she rejected Wallingford's name and adopted Craig as her surname, likely because she was born on the Craig plantation in Kentucky. She took her children to Leavenworth, Kansas, where she married Taylor Turner. Her occupation was listed as a domestic. She died in Denver, Colorado, on 29 September 1906 at the age of seventy‐six.

Nettie Craig began studying the piano at eight ...

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K. Wise Whitehead

music teacher, violinist, and the first African American woman to earn a degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was born free in Philadelphia to David Bustill Bowser, an ornamental painter, and Elizabeth (Liz) Harriet Stevens Gray Bowser, a seamstress. David Bowser's grandfather was the educator, abolitionist, and baker Cyrus Bustill. Cyrus was both the son and the slave of the white attorney Samuel Bustill and was later freed by Thomas Prior, a Quaker member of the Society of Friends, in Burlington, New Jersey. He was also the grandfather of the abolitionist Sarah Mapps Douglass. In 1787 Cyrus was one of the founders of Philadelphia's Free African Society. Elizabeth Bowser was the daughter of Satterthwait, a Delaware Indian, and Richard Morey, the son of Humphrey Morrey, a white Quaker who was the first mayor of Philadelphia appointed by William Penn in 1691.

Ida s parents were ...

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John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

Article

Marcus B. Christian

The names of Barès's parents are unknown. When very young, he began work at the large music store of J. A. Périer on Royal Street in New Orleans. Whether or not he was related to this white merchant, the New Orleans Tribune—a noted periodical of free blacks—frequently referred to him as “Basile Pérrier.” Basile Barès is often referred to as a self-made musician and composer because, unlike many of his musical contemporaries, he never attended recognized conservatories. Like most of them, however, he studied music under some of the leading white instructors of his day. Basile was clearly a musical prodigy; he began to show evidence of this while still in his teens. He began his musical studies under Eugène Prevost a prominent musician who had formerly directed the orchestras of the Orleans Theater and the famed French Opera of New Orleans He later studied harmony and composition ...

Article

Michael Mizell-Nelson

jazz guitarist and banjoist, vocalist, and author, was born Daniel Moses Barker in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Moses Barker, a drayman, and Rose Barbarin Barker. Barker grew up in New Orleans with a largely absent Baptist father of rural origins and a mother whose familial connections to the Barbarin family, famed in New Orleans music, rooted him in the city's Creole of Color musical community. His childhood experiences immersed him in the cultures of both sides of his family: rural Protestant and urban Roman Catholic.

Barker's uncle, the drummer Paul Barbarin composer of the jazz standard Bourbon Street Parade started Danny on drums after trying the clarinet Danny decided to play multiple string instruments guitar banjo and ukulele A teenaged Barker played in spasm bands children s bands that featured rudimentary instruments often created from discarded objects Playing ukulele Barker led a spasm band named ...

Article

Baptiste Bonnefoy

was born Mariano de la Cruz on 14 September 1749, the illegitimate son of an unknown father and Feliciana Barros, who was described on her son’s baptismal certificate as a parda, a designation commonly applied in eighteenth-century Chile to free men and women of African descent. In 1769, at age 20, he married Josefa Guerrero Morales (1748–1842), a mixed-race slave of Inés Echevarría Portillo.

Barros established his candle making workshop with the financial assistance of someone named José Baeza and with the earnings from this shop he was able to buy his wife s freedom They would ultimately have ten children Barros s status as a master candle maker allowed him to join the black militia a group of free men of African ancestry who were charged with patrolling the city at night and protecting its stores and warehouses He soon became an officer in ...

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Teresa L. Reed

singer, was born in Washington, D.C. Though her father's name is unknown, evidence suggests that he was a Union soldier. After her father died from injuries sustained during the Civil War, Batson moved with her mother, Mary Batson, to Providence, Rhode Island. She attended school and studied music in Providence; by the age of nine she was a featured soloist at Bethel Church as well as at other local churches in the Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts, region.

Batson's professional career began to blossom at a time when several black women were achieving renown as classically trained singers. Nellie Brown Mitchell, Sissieretta Jones, Marie Selika all classical singers and contemporaries of Batson stood in stark contrast to the Jim Crow stereotypes that prevailed in a nation only recently rid of institutionalized slavery In the early 1880s Batson was the featured soloist at People s Church ...

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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 ...

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Geneva H. Southall

(b Columbus, GA, May 25, 1849; d Hoboken, NJ, June 13, 1908). Black American pianist and composer. He was blind from birth and was bought as a slave with his parents in 1850 by James N. Bethune, a journalist, lawyer and politician in Columbus. He demonstrated musical aptitude and exceptional retentive skills by his fourth year and was given musical instruction by Bethune's daughter Mary. He was exhibited throughout the state by his master in 1857 and then hired out to Perry Oliver a planter of Savannah who took him on an extensive concert tour throughout the slave holding states this included a command performance at Willard Hall in Washington DC for visiting Japanese dignitaries His programmes included works by Bach Beethoven Chopin Liszt Thalberg and other European masters improvisations on operatic tunes and popular ballads and several of his own published and ...

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Philip Herbert

Alias of Thomas Wiggins (1849–1908), famous slave pianist, described by Mark Twain as a musical prodigy. He was born in May 1849 in Columbus, Georgia, being blind, and in today's terms an ‘autistic savant’. The renowned lawyer James N. Bethune bought Wiggins's parents as slaves. Recognizing that Wiggins was a musical genius capable of imitating noises, improvising, and composing at 6, Bethune's daughter Mary taught him to play the piano.

In 1857 Bethune paraded Wiggins's talent across Georgia, meeting rapturous responses. Consequently, Bethune had tours organized by Perry Oliver (concert promoter) earning them $100,000 a year. Wiggins would play European classical music, improvisations, popular ballads, and his own compositions, examples of the last being ‘The Rainstorm’ (1865) and ‘Cyclone Gallop’ (1887).

The Bethune family forced him to tour the South performing to raise funds during the Civil War for the confederacy and its army ...