From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Gee, Charlotte "Lottie"

(born: 1886  -  died: 1973) Much has been written about the career of vaudeville entertainer Lottie Gee, but not much is known about her family life, or her sister, Marion Gee's vaudeville career. A clarification should be noted that Lottie Gee was not born in Kentucky, but rather, was born August 17, 1886, in Millborough, VA, and grew up in Newport, KY. the daughter of William and Ida L. Washington Gee [sources: 1900 U.S. Census; and U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index (Ancestry)].

In the 1900 U.S. Census, there was only one family with the last name Gee in Newport, KY: William, Ida, and their children Mary L. (Marion), Lottie O., William H., Sarah A., Thomas E., Alice F., Marie A., and Florence. When the 1910 U.S. Census was completed, there were two more children: Margeret and Vivian. The couple had had 11 children and 10 were living in 1910. The family lived in the house they owned, mortgage free, at 124 Southgate Alley East, according to the census record. The parents and the first three children were born in Virginia, and the remaining children were born in Kentucky. In 1900, Lottie's father was the janitor at the L & N train depot, and her mother was a laundress. The Gee Family was a literate family with everyone of school age or older able to read and write. Those out of school worked; in 1910, Mary and Sara were cherry pitters at the preserve company, William Jr. did odd jobs, and Lottie was an actress.

Lottie may have entered show business with her older sister, Mary Gee, whose stage name was Marion Gee. Marion was the wife of J. W. Jeffries, and the couple retired from the stage in 1915 after touring with the Billy King Players in Washington and Baltimore [source: "News of the Nation's Capitol," Freeman, 05/29/1915, p.1, bottom of second column of article]. J. W. Jeffries' stage name was "Little Jeff" and he had been a teammate of Frank Delyon. Jeff and Marion had planned to live in Washington, D.C. Their retirement from the stage occurred right before several members of Marion's family passed away.
  • Her sister, Alice Gee Coleman, born in 1896, died in 1918 in Newport, KY, from tuberculosis [source: Kentucky Death Certificate Registered No.9402].
  • Her grandfather, George Washington, died December 16, 1920 in Newport, KY [source: Kentucky Death Certificate File No.29076]. He had come to Newport from Virginia to live with his daughter, Ida L. Washington Gee, and her family at 614 Roberts Street [source: 1920 U.S Census].
  • Marion's father, William Gee, born in 1858 in Virginia, died in 1922 in Newport, KY [source: Kentucky Death Certificate File No.10610].
  • Her sister, Eudora F. Gee Neblett, born in 1900, died in 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio [source: Ohio Deaths Index (Ancestry)].
Lottie Gee's family members died during two of the high points in her stage career. She is remembered for her performance in "The Chocolate Dandies" (Oxford Reference) in 1924. The play was previously known by the title "In Bamville." Lottie Gee played the role of Angeline Brown. Lottie Gee is even better known for her singing in "Shuffle Along" (Oxford Reference) in 1921, and she played the roles of Jessie Williams and His Daughter [source: Blacks in Blackface by H. T. Sampson, pp.911 & 1060].

Lottie Gee had started her career when she was a teenager. She was a dancer with Aida Overton Walker (Library of Congress), and in 1904 became a chorus girl in Cole and Johnson's Red Moon Company [sources: Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era, edited by J. C. Smith and L. L. Bracks, p.87; Blacks in Blackface by H. T. Sampson, pp.1393-1394; and Jass.com]. The company performed in Louisville, KY in 1908, at the Avenue Theater [source: "Cole and Johnson at Avenue Theater, Louisville," Freeman, 11/28/1908, p.5]. In 1910, Lottie Gee was back home in Newport, KY, perhaps for a visit, and according to the census record, she was married and employed as an actress with a music company. There is no mention of her husband's name.

Lottie Gee had joined the Smart Set Company led by Sherman H. Dudley (Dartmouth Collection), and she later moved on to the Ford Dabney Theater in Washington, D.C. where she formed a trio with Effie King and Lillian Gillian. In 1911, the trio resolved down into the sisters act with Lottie Gee and Effie King [image source: New York Age, 06/12/1913, p.6]. The two women were named the "Ginger Girls," at the Ford Dabney Theater, and in 1912, they performed at the Fairyland Theatre in Washington, D.C. [source: Blacks in Blackface by H. T. Sampson, pp.242 & 275-276]. In 1914, Gee and King were one of the first African American acts to tour the Lowe Circuit [p.15]. . 

The year before the tour, in December of 1913, Lottie Gee married piano player Wilson H. Kyer. She and Kyer performed together in New York in 1916 [source: Ragged But Right by L. Abbott, p.118]. Wilson Kyer and Lottie Gee separated in 1919 and divorced in 1924 [source: William Harrison ("Peaches") Kyer in An Encyclopedia of South Carolina Jazz and Blues Musicians by B. Franklin].

Lottie Gee next became a soloist with the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, and the next big break came in the play "Shuffle Along." Her fame and reputation geatly increased with her singing "I'm Just Wild About Harry," a song written by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. Lottie Gee is said to have been very close to Eubie Blake and the two had a long tem love affair.

Lottie Gee's recognized performance in "Shuffle Along" was followed by her noted role in "Chocolate Dandies" in 1924, and when that play fizzled out, she and 43 others sailed to Berlin, Germany to perform in the play "Chocolate Kiddies" with music by Duke Ellington and Sam Woodling. Throughout her career Lottie Gee toured in the U.S., Europe, and Asia [source: see "Charlotte M. (Lottie) Gee in "Southern Syncopated Orchestra: The Roster" by Howard Rye at Project Muse.

In 1924, she was also in Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds," as was her good friend Florence Mills who died in 1927. In 1928, Lottie Gee teamed up with Edith Spencer and they were billed as "Harlem's Sweethearts." In 1930, Lottie Gee lived in Los Angeles, CA; she was still divorced and rented with her sister Marion Jeffrey [Jeffries] at 857 E. 57th Street [source: 1930 U.S. Census]. Lottie Gee's occupation was given in the census as theatrical singer, and her married sister worked at a hotel.

Meanwhile, back in Newport, KY, Lottie and Mary Gee's mother, Ida, was the owner of the home at 612 Roberts Street, and she shared her home with her daughter Sarah and son-in-law William Brown [source: 1930 U.S. Census]. William Brown, a WWI veteran, was from Washington, D.C. and he was employed as a "Red Cap" at the railroad station. [Red Cap - porter in a red hat and uniform at the railroad station, most were well educated. See Black Metropolis by Drake and Cayton.]

In 1933, Lottie Gee was still going strong with her career, and was off to Shanghai, China with Edith Spencer and Allegretta Anderson [source: "State and Nite Club," Plaindealer, 01/13/1933, p.5]. The three were to have a long engagement at the Hotel Cathay. Black vaudeville had been performing in China for a few decades, as stated by Jacqui Malone in her book titled Steppin' On the Blues" on p.80.
  • Lottie's sister, Sarah A. Gee Brown, born in 1891, died in Newport, KY, January 1, 1934 [source: Kentucky Death Certificate File No.399].
In 1940, Lottie Gee was a singer at the Federal Theater in Los Angeles, CA. She was one of the boarders at the lodging house managed by Mattie Jones at 1340 E. Washington Blvd [source: 1940 U.S. Census]. Back in Kentucky, after her sister Sarah's death, Lottie's mother moved to Covington, KY, where she would remain for the rest of her life. In 1967, Lottie Gee married Joseph B. Moy.
  • Her mother, Ida Levenia Washington Gee, born 1879 in Lexington, VA, died in 1949 in Covington, KY [source: Kentucky Death Certificate State File No.16678]. 
  • Her brother, Thomas E. Gee, a WWI veteran, born in 1895, died in 1959 in Cincinnati, OH, and is buried in Newport, KY [source: Headstone Application for Military Veterans (Ancestry)].  
  • Charlotte O Gee Kyer Moy, born in August of 1886 in Virginia, died January 13, 1973 in Los Angeles, CA [source: California Death Index (Ancestry)].
  • Her sister, Marie Antoinette Gee Anderson, born 1898, died in 1988 in Cincinnati, Ohio [source: Social Security Death Index (Ancestry)].
  • Her sister, Lillian Margaret Gee Combs, born in 1902, died in 2001 in Blue Ash, Ohio [source: Ohio Deaths Index (Ancestry)].
  • Her sister, Eileen Vivian Gee Maddox, born 1906, died in 2004 in Cincinnati, Ohio [source: Ohio Deaths Index (Ancestry)].
For more information see Babylon Girls: Black women performers and the shaping of the modern by J. Brown; I Remember Jazz: six decades among the great jazzmen by A. Rose; Florence Mills: Harlem jazz queen by B. Egan; and Black Metropolis: a study of Negro Life in a Northern City by St. Clair Drake and H. R. Cayton.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Campbell County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Kenton County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Newport, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Covington, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Blacks in blackface: a source book on early Black musical shows
NKAA Source: Ancestry (online)
NKAA Source: Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era
NKAA Source: Indianapolis freeman (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The New York age (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Ragged but right : black traveling shows, "coon songs," and the dark pathway to blues and jazz
NKAA Source: Steppin' on the blues: the visible rhythms of African American dance
NKAA Source: Babylon girls: black women performers and the shaping of the modern
NKAA Source: I Remember Jazz: six decades among the great jazzmen
NKAA Source: Florence Mills: Harlem jazz queen
NKAA Source: Black metropolis: a study of Negro life in a northern city

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“Gee, Charlotte "Lottie",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed November 20, 2018, http://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/300003652.

Last modified: 2018-10-30 17:55:22