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African American Theater Buildings in Kentucky
Start Year : 1900
End Year : 1955
Of the more than 1,500 theaters listed within the title African American Theater Buildings by Eric L. Smith, a few were located in nine Kentucky cities between 1900-1955. The theaters were managed by both African Americans and whites, and the predominate clientele were African Americans. The theaters in Kentucky were:

  • Frankfort - Kentucky State College Theater, picture house
  • Henderson - Doxy Theater, picture house
  • Lexington - Ada Meade, Lyric Theater, and Orpheum Theater, all picture houses
  • Louisville - Dixie Theater, Grand Theater, and Lyric Theater, picture houses. Lincoln Theater, and Palace Theater, both picture houses and vaudeville. Ruby Theater and Victory Theater were both vaudeville
  • Mayfield - Unique Theater, picture house
  • Owensboro - Plaza Theater, picture house
  • Paducah - Hiawatha Theater, picture house
  • Pikesville - Liberty Theater, picture house [may be Pikeville, KY]
  • Winchester - Lincoln Theater, picture house
Texas, Florida, and North Carolina were the states with the most African American theater buildings. Also included in E. L. Smith's book is a listing of African American drive-in theaters, all were in the South.
See photo image of the Lyric Theater in Lexington, KY, 12/09/1948, at Kentucky Digital Library - Images.
Subjects: Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Theater: Companies, Education, Exhibitions, Performers, and Performances in Kentucky
Geographic Region: Kentucky: Frankfort, Franklin County / Henderson, Henderson County / Lexington, Fayette County / Louisville, Jefferson County / Mayfield, Graves County / Owensboro, Daviess County / Paducah, McCracken County / Pikeville, Pike County / Winchester, Clark C

Barbour, James Bernie
Birth Year : 1881
Death Year : 1936
J. Bernie Barbour was born in Danville, KY, and it was thought that he died in New York. Barbour actually died in Chicago, IL, on April 11, 1936 [his name is misspelled as "Bernie Barfour" on the death certificate ref# rn11543], and his burial is noted with Central Plant Ill. Dem. Assn. Barbour was an 1896 music education graduate of Simmons University (KY), and he graduated from the Schmoll School of Music (Chicago) in 1899. Both he and N. Clark Smith founded a music publishing house in Chicago in 1903; it may have been the first to be owned by African Americans. Barbour also worked with other music publishing companies, including the W. C. Handy Music Company. He was a music director, and he played piano and sang in vaudeville performances and in nightclubs and toured with several groups. He composed operas such as Ethiopia, and spirituals such as Don't Let Satan Git You On De Judgment Day. He assisted in writing music for productions such as I'm Ready To Go and wrote the Broadway production, Arabian Knights Review. Barbour also organized the African American staff of Show Boat. J. Bernie Barbour was the son of Morris and Nicey Snead Barbour. He was the husband of Anna Maria Powers, they married May 29, 1909 in Seattle, WA [source: Washington Marriage Record Return #15629]. According to the marriage record, Anna M. Powers was a white or colored musician from New York. For more see Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816-1960, by B. L. Peterson; Who's Who in Colored America, 1928-1929; and "J. Berni Barbour" in Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern.
Subjects: Businesses, Education and Educators, Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky / New York, New York / Chicago, Illinois

BBC's Kentucky Minstrels
The BBC's Kentucky Minstrels was a popular radio show, a blackface minstrel series produced by Harry S. Pepper and broadcast by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) from 1933-1950. The show was an exaggerated depiction of African Americans in the "good ole days" of plantation life in the U. S. South (Kentucky), accentuated with the use of stereotyped racist and sexist humor. The main characters were played for many years by three African Americans who had left the United States for the entertainment business in England: Isaac "Ike" F. Hatch (c. 1891-1961), Harry Scott (1879-1947), and Eddie Whaley (1886-1961). Hatch was a trained vocalist and songwriter who had been a member of the W. C. Handy Orchestra. He moved to England in 1925. Scott and Whaley had worked together as a comic act touring the United States; they went to England in 1909. In 1934, Scott and Whaley became the first black performers to star in a British film, Kentucky Minstrels, which was directed by John Baxter and written by Harry S. Pepper and C. Denier Warren (who was also an American). A less distorted version of blackface minstrels continued to be broadcast on BBC television during the 1950s and 1960s. A favorite was the Black and White Minstrel Show, which ran from 1958-1978; the show did well in the ratings, drawing an audience of nearly 17 million. For a more detailed analysis and history, see M. Pickering, "The BBC's Kentucky Minstrels, 1933-1950: blackface entertainment on British radio," Historical Journal of Film, Radio, & Television, vol. 16, issue  2 (1996), pp. 161-194; and "Race, Gender and Broadcast Comedy: the case of the BBC's Kentucky Minstrels," European Journal of Communication, vol. 9 (1994), pp. 311-333.

See photo image of Harry Clifford Scott 1915 at the flickr site by puzzlemaster.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: England, Europe

Bell, Spencer
Birth Year : 1887
Death Year : 1935
Spencer Bell, born in Lexington, KY, was one of the first African American actors to receive a movie contract in Hollywood during the era of silent films. Bell was a comedian, he had acted in vaudeville and in minstrel shows. He performed on screen in Larry Semon movies: No Wedding Bells and The Gown Shop in 1923, and Kid Speed in 1924. Bell played the role of the cowardly lion in the 1925 Vitagraph production of Wizard of Oz, and he played in Peacock Fan in 1929. He was assistant casting director in Queen of the Jungles, one of his last assignments prior to his death. Bell was demeaningly billed as G. Howe Black in Semon's movies, and in his role as the cowardly lion, the subtitle read "Snowball." Spencer Bell lived at 1457 1/2 48th Street in Los Angeles. He was a WWI veteran of the U.S. Army, and is buried at the Sawtell Military Cemetery. For more see "Death claims famous actor Spencer Bell," Los Angeles Sentinel, 08/22/1935, p.1; and Joe Gans by C. Aycock and M. Scott. View The Wizard of Oz (Silent - 1925) on YouTube.

Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration West, Military & Veterans, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / Hollywood and Los Angeles, California

Black Herman's Actual Death
Birth Year : 1892
Death Year : 1934
Black Herman was the stage name of Benjamin Rucker, an African American magician, illusionist, root doctor, and medicine man. He was born in Amherst, VA. He claimed his medicines could stamp the devil out of a tortured soul, and during his performance, a tortured soul from the audience (his brother or a friend), would drink the potion and be cured. Black Herman would hold up a snake or some other creature as proof of the devil's exit. Black Herman also performed stage illusions including his own death and resurrection. An audience would witness a supposedly dead Black Herman in a coffin, and when the coffin was being transported for burial, Black Herman would slip out of the coffin and leave town. When the coffin was retrieved from the ground a week or so later, Black Herman would arrange to get back into the coffin, and when the coffin was placed before an audience, he would step out of the coffin looking the picture of health. As he had claimed, some thought Black Herman was beyond death. However, on April 17, 1934, Black Herman was performing in Louisville, KY, when he collasped and died on stage. Some audience members refused to believe that he was actually dead, they expected him to reappear from his coffin in a week or so. According to his death certificate, Benjamin Rucker's body was received at Cooper Undertakers on W. Chestnut Street in Louisville. Once the body was prepared, there were so many viewers that the body was then taken to the train station where spectators could view the body for 10 cents per person before Rucker's body and coffin were taken by train to New York. The burial took place in Woodlawn Cemetery. Benjamin Rucker was the son of Pete and Louise Williams Rucker. For more see Black Herman's Secrets of Magic-mystery and Legerdemain by Black Herman; and the Black Herman entry in Vaudeville Old & New by F. Cullen et al.
Subjects: Hoaxes, Undertakers, Cemeteries, Coroners, & Obituaries, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Amherst, Virginia / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Britt, Allen [Frankie and Johnny]
Birth Year : 1882
Death Year : 1899
Allen Britt was born in Kentucky, according to his death certificate. It is believed that he is the character referred to as Johnny in the popular song Frankie and Johnny. The song, composed by Bill Dooley, was originally titled Frankie and Al (or Albert), until Britt's father became enraged that his son's name was being used in the song, and the name Johnny was used instead. Allen Britt was a piano player, he was shot on October 15, 1899, and died a few days later at the City Hospital in St. Louis, MO. He is buried in an unmarked grave in St. Peter's Cemetery in St. Louis. Britt was shot by his girlfriend, Frankie Baker (1876-1952), after the two got into a fight. Britt's name is also given as Albert in some sources. He was the son and only child of George and Nancy Britt (both from Tennessee), the family had moved to St. Louis in 1891. Frankie Baker, born in St. Louis, was acquitted of shooting Allen Britt and she left St. Louis, eventually settling in Portland, OR, where she shined shoes for a living. She had two unsuccessful law suits, one against Mae West and Paramount Pictures for the use of her name in the film She Done Him Wrong, and in 1938, she sued Republic Pictures for their 1936 film Frankie and Johnny. After Baker lost the suit, Republic Pictures claimed ownership of the story. Frankie Baker became sick later in life and also suffered from mental illness. She was placed in the East Oregon Hospital where she died. Frankie Baker and Allen Britt's family did not benefit from the popularity of the story "Frankie and Johnny." The tale has been song on commercial phonograph recordings and records, presented in plays, minstrels, in literature, newspaper articles, poems, paintings, ballets, movies, and all other mediums. For more see Hoecakes, Hambone, and All that Jazz by R. M. Nolen; Body and Soul by P. Stanfield; and The Devil's Music by G. Oakley.

See photo image of Frankie Baker on p.52 in Jet, 01/24/1952.

Listen to Frankie and Johnnie by Ethel Waters on YouTube.
Subjects: Migration West, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Shoes: Finishers, Makers, Repairers, Shiners, Stores
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Saint Louis, Missouri

Burnt Cork in Kentucky Derby, 1943
Start Year : 1943
Burnt Cork was a thoroughbred racehorse owned by Edmund Lincoln Anderson (1905-1977), aka "Rochester," the Negro comedian and former vaudeville performer who teamed with Jack Benny on radio in The Jack Benny Program and in the television series, The Jack Benny Show. Several newspapers around the country accused Anderson of entering Burnt Cork in the 1943 Kentucky Derby as a publicity stunt, and prior to the race, Anderson was advised not to enter his horse; its odds were 25-1. Anderson would not be swayed, however; he attempted to hire jockey Carroll Bierman, who had won the 1940 Kentucky Derby with longshot Gallahadion. Anderson, his wife, and his valet stayed at the home of Kentucky House Member Mae Street Kidd in Louisville; the hotels in Louisville were segregated. Mae Street Kidd did not care much for Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, but got along well with his wife. Kidd was invited to join the Andersons in their box during the derby. Burnt Cork came in last place. He had come out of the gates fast, but quickly ran out of steam and came in 10th, 38 lengths behind the winner, Count Fleet, owned by Mrs. John D. Hertz. Burnt Cork was ridden by jockey Manual Gonzalez and was trained by A. E. Silver. Edmund Anderson was disappointed in his horse's performance, but the loss became part of the comedy routine with Jack Benny ribbing "Rochester" on air during The Jack Benny Program. The newspapers and other comedians also poked fun at Anderson. During 1943, there were more than 200 newspaper stories in the United States and Canada about Burnt Cork's loss in the Kentucky Derby. Anderson continued to race Burnt Cork until the horse died in July of 1944. For more see Kentucky Derby Stories, by J. Bolus; "Rochester entry in Kentucky Derby has good chance," Corsicana Daily Sun, 04/12/1943, p. 5; "Burnt Cork is long shot," Racine Journal-Times, 04/16/1943, p. 19; "Entry of Burt Cork would end doubts of last place in derby," Salt Lake Tribune, 04/29/1943, p. 19; "Burnt Cork runs in Crete Handicap," New Castle News, 05/22/1943; and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson in Passing for Black, by W. Hall.

*The term "burnt cork" refers to theatrical makeup that was first used by white blackface performers in minstrel shows, beginning in the early 1800s. The actors presented themselves as comical and stereotyped characterizations of African Americans. There were also African American minstrel performers who wore burnt cork, including one of the most famous and highest paid blackface performers, Bert Williams. Originally the makeup consisted of burnt cork that was pulverized then mixed with water, petroleum jelly, or some other substance and smeared on the uncovered areas of skin such as the face, neck, and hands. With the popularity of blackface performances in the U.S. and abroad, soon burnt cork was commercially manufactured, advertised, and sold to performers by mail. A popular item was The "Crest Brand" Burnt Cork, billed as a healthier alternative to the original mix. It was sold by the Crest Trading Company in New York for 50 cents, plus 7 cents for postage. Other burnt cork alternatives were grease paint and shoe polish. Today, there are blackface performers around the world. For more see The Witmark's Amateur Minstrel Guide and Burnt Cork Encyclopedia, by F. Dumont [available at Google Book Search]; and Behind the Burnt Cork Mask, by W. J. Mahar.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Jockeys, Horsemen, Horse Breeders, Trainers, & The Derby, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Chenault, Lawrence E.
Birth Year : 1877
Lawrence E. Chenault was born in Mt. Sterling, KY, and his family later moved to Cincinnati, OH, where he was a soloist at the Allen Temple Church. Chenault joined Al G. Field's Negro Minstrels in 1895 and two years later was a featured tenor and character, "Golden Hair Neil," with A. G. Field's Darkest American Company. He was also in Black Patti's Troubadours and a number of other groups. He performed with Ernest Hogan in the M. B. Curtis Minstrels, touring America, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hawaii. On the return to the U.S., Chenault spent time performing in San Francisco before rejoining Hogan on the Smart Set. He would become the first leading man with the Lafayette Players Stock Company. In 1928, Chenault collasped and had to take time away from acting to cope with the death of his friend, ventriloquist Johnnie Woods, who was Chenault's roommate and "constant friend, companion, and co-worker" [source: "Chenault stricken by loss of friend," The Afro-American, 09/08/1928, p.2]. He would return to acting and performed in Black films, appearing in more leading roles than any other actor in silent films: 22 films between 1920 and 1934 [filmography]. For more see "Lawrence E. Chenault" in Blacks in Blackface, by S. T. Sampson.

See stills from movies with Lawrence Chenault, available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery site.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Mount Sterling, Montgomery County, Kentucky

Colored Statue Performer
Start Year : 1885
It was reported in the New York Clipper newspaper that Charles "Barney" Hicks, manager of Kersands' Colored Minstrels, introduced the first colored statue performer, Apollo, on the minstrel stage in Louisville, KY. Hicks was the first African American to organize a company of African American minstrels; in 1865 the group of ex-slaves was known as the Georgia Minstrels. For more about the statue performer see the New York Clipper, 6/20/1885. For more on Charles Hicks see The Ghost Walks; a chronological history of blacks in show business, 1865-1910, by H. T. Sampson.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Theater: Companies, Education, Exhibitions, Performers, and Performances in Kentucky
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Conley, Nellie [Madam Sul-Te-Wan]
Birth Year : 1873
Death Year : 1959
Nellie Conley, an actress, was born in Louisville, KY, the daughter of Silas Crawford Wan and Cleo de Londa. In 1983, she was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Conley went by the name Madame Sul-Te-Wan, acting in early films such as Birth of a Nation and later films such as Carmen Jones and Tarzan and the Trappers. Prior to moving to California and acting in films, Conley had moved from Louisville to Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, she formed "The Black Four Hundred," an acting company that employed 16 performers and 12 musicians. The company was successful, as was a minstrel company that Conley established. Conley soon married and eventually moved to California. Two years later, she had just given birth to her third son when her husband left her. Her money was gone, so for a period of time Conley had to rely on charity. Times got better when she was hired by Kentucky native D. W. Griffith for the movie The Clansman; her pay was three dollars a day and increased to five dollars a day. She and D. W. Griffith remained friends for the rest of their lives, and she had bit parts in seven of his films. She also continued to perform in vaudeville, silent films, and talkies [films with sound]. In 1949, Conley married Anton Ebenthur, who was French; the couple married five years before interracial marriages were legal in California. According to writer Victor Walsh, Conley and Ebenthur were active members of Club Miscegenation in Los Angeles. [It has also been written that Conley was the mother of Ruby Dandridge (1900-1987) and the grandmother of Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965).] For more see Biography Index. A cumulative index to biographical material in books and magazines, vol. 18: Sept. 1992-Aug. 1993; Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, 1st ed., by E. Mapp; The Negro Trail Blazers of California, by D. Beasley; and V. Walsh, "Women's History Month: Madame Sul-Te-Wan; Hollywood's first African American actress," Oakland Post, 03/19/1997, p. 8.

See photo image and additional information about Nellie Conley at BlackPast.org.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Businesses, Migration North, Migration West, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Grandparents, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Interracial Marriage and State Laws, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio / California

Craine, W. C. [William C.]
Birth Year : 1867
Death Year : 1919
William C. Craine, born in Harrodsburg, KY, is listed in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as an actor. At the time, Craine was living in Chicago on Evanston Avenue in a boarding house along with other actors and entertainers. Craine, who was also a singer, a tenor, had sung with and managed the Shattuck and Mendelsohn Quartettes [source: "Principal comedians and vocalists engineering fun and song with the Big Minstrel Festival," The Freeman, 12/30/1899, p.9]. Craine was the principal tenor soloist with the Big Minstrel Festival in 1899. The prior year, he was with Harry Martell's Company "South Before the War" [source: "Stage. The Freedman post office," The Freeman, 10/15/1898, p.5, column 3, item 5]. While with the company, Craine was a special representative (writer) with The Freeman newspaper, and one of his articles appeared in the paper on 04/08/1899, p.5, column 3, item 1]. In September of 1899, Craine performed in Rusco and Holland's Big Minstrel Festival that opened in St. Louis, MO [source: "The Stage, edited by J. Harry Jackson. The Freedman post office," The Freeman, 09/16/1899, p.5, column 4, item 3]. Craine was with the Big Minstrel Festival until the winter of 1900 when he stayed in Boston, MA, but did not mention to the media that he was getting married [source: The Freeman, 11/03/1900, p.5]. William C. Craine was the husband of Bertha Simmons, who was an actress, she was born in Virginia; the couple married in Boston, MA on December 26, 1900 [source: Massachusetts, Marriage Register, 1900, p.327]. It was the first marriage for William (33) and the 2nd marriage for Bertha (35). They were married by Henry H. Jones, Minister of the Gospel, 80 Oakland Place, Brockton, MA. In 1901, William C. Craine was performing in Buffalo, NY [source: The Freeman, 07/13/1901, p.5]. He also performed at the Pan American, Toronto Minstrel Exposition and the London Canada Exhibition [source: The Freeman, 09/21/1901, p.5]. In 1904, Craine was director of the show titled "A Trip to Africa," starring John Larkin as the king and Dora Patterson as the queen [source: "The State by Woodbine," The Freeman, 10/29/1904, p.5]. The show did not receive a favorable review in The Freeman. [John Larkin would become the producer of the musical "A Trip to Africa" and in 1910, he and Sissieretta Jones were the stars of this successful show billed under the heading of "Black Patti Musical Comedy Company." John Larkin played the role of King Rastus and Raz Jinkins, and Sissieretta Jones (aka Black Patti) played the role of Princess Lulu. -- source: Blacks in Blackface by H. T. Sampson] And though the show was a success, by 1910, William Craine was no longer singing or performing professionally; he was a waiter and his wife Bertha was the housekeeper at a lodging home they managed on Acton Street in Boston [source: 1910 U.S. Federal Census]. William C. Craine is listed as a waiter in the Boston Directory, 1909, p.469, up to the 1920 directory, p.462; living first on Acton Street, then at 28 Holyoke. William C. Craine died in Winthrop, MA, March 11, 1919 [sources: Massachusetts, Death Index and "Gave home for aged people," Savannah Tribune, 10/30/1920, p.1]. He left the home at 90 West Cottage Street in Boston, MA, for the aged, to be run by the board of William C. Craine, Inc.: Rev. H. Jones, President; Mr. O'Bryant, Vice President; Mrs. Bertha Craine, Treasurer; Mr. A. H. Scales, Superintendent; and Rev. Mrs. S. E. Deveaux, Matron and Secretary. William C. Craine was the son of Phillip (born around 1827) and Susanna Jones Craine (c.1830-1879), according to information William C. Craine provided prior to his marriage. Looking at the 1870 U.S. Census, Susan Craine is listed without a husband, but with the children. At this time, no record has been found in the census of Phillip Craine who was a Civil War veteran and had been the slave of John Bush in Mercer County, KY, when Phillip enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 29, 1864, at Camp Nelson, KY [source: "Records of Musters made by Capt. U. C. Kenney,"  p.371, no. 1751, No. on roll - 18, in the U.S. Descriptive Lists of Colored Volunteer Army Soldiers, 1864]. Phillip Craine served with the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry; he stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, was 37 years old, and was born on a farm in Mercer County, KY. He is listed on various records as the father of William Craine; Belle Craine (1855-1916), a grocer in Louisville, KY [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #1054]; Joseph Craine (1867-1925), a grocer and later a janitor in Louisville [sources: 1910 U.S. Federal Census and Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #4634]; and George E. Craine (1858-1929), a musician and a storekeeper in Louisville, KY [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #4489]. The two other children, Pilandrer Craine and Anna Craine are included in the household in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census [last name spelled Crane]. After the death of their mother Susanna Craine in 1879 [source: Kentucky Death Records], William C. Craine and his brother Joseph were raised by their sister, Belle Craine [source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census - last name spelled Crane]. Both Belle and her mother Susan were laundry women; the family had moved to 4 Green Street in Louisville, KY by 1878 [source: Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1878, pp.176 & 177 - their last name is spelled Crane]. In 1891, Belle Craine served as secretary of Zion Temple No.1 [source: "Society Directory" on p.4, column 4, in the Ohio Falls Express newspaper, 07/11/1891]. Both Joseph and William were grown and on their own. William C. Craine had started working as early as 1882, he was a laborer according to Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1882, p.207. By 1884 he was a waiter at the Sandiford Hotel, then was a waiter at the St. Cloud Hotel, before leaving Louisville around 1889 [sources: Caron's Dirctory of the City of Louisville, 1884, p.209 through 1889, p.260 - the last name is many times spelled Crane or Crain]. 
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Care of the Elderly
Geographic Region: Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Boston, Massachusetts

Crowders, Reuben [Ernest Hogan]
Birth Year : 1860
Death Year : 1909
Born in Bowling Green, KY, in the Shake Rag District, Crowders became known as Ernest Hogan, comedian, actor, dancer, songwriter,and playwright. Crowders composed many songs, including the controversial song All Coons Look Alike to Me. He introduced the pasmala dance in the 1890s and was regarded as an exceptional dancer and the best dancing comedian. He produced Rufus Rastus in 1905, and The Oyster Man in 1907. Crowders was an actor in both productions; he was a leading actor of his time. He became ill during the run of The Oyster Man and later died of tuberculosis; he is buried in Bowling Green, KY. His last name is also spelled Crowder or Crowdus in various sources. A documented chronology of Crowders' career is included in The Ghost Walks, by H. T. Sampson. For more see African Americans in California Sheet Music; The First Rock and Roll Record; Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern; and Dictionary of American Negro Biography, by R. W. Logan & M. R. Winston. View Ernest Hogan - The Father of Ragtime hosted by Andy Stahl, a Kentucky Blues History Corner video by the Kentucky Blues Society on YouTube.


 
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Artists, Fine Arts, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Tuberculosis: Care and Deaths, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky

Dean, Dora [Dora Dean Babbige Johnson]
Birth Year : 1872
Death Year : 1949
Dean, whose birth name was Dora Babbige, was born in Covington, KY. She was known in vaudeville as "The Black Venus." She was married to Charles E. Johnson, and they performed as a couple, often billed as the creators of the Cake Walk dance. Dean and Johnson were a stylish and graceful dance team who perfected the Cake Walk into a high-stepping swank. They also performed soft shoe and wing dancing; they were stars of "The Creole Show," emphasizing couples dancing. Dean and Johnson were the first African American couple to perform on Broadway. They were also the first to perform in evening attire; they were the best dressed couple on stage. Dean was described as possessing a plump, striking figure; she posed for German painter Ernest von Heilmann, and the painting was unveiled in 1902 at the coronation of King Edward VII and exhibited at the Paris Expo. The couple was also the first to use steel taps on their shoes and the first to use strobe lighting. Beginning in 1903, they lived and performed mostly in Europe and some in Australia and the U.S. They returned home in 1913. The couple had divorced in 1910, and once back in the U. S. they continued performing but did not perform together for a long while. In 1930, Dean had an acting role in the film Georgia Rose, an all African American talkie by white director Harry Gant. Dean and Johnson reunited as a team and a couple in 1934, and both retired by 1942. They spent the remainder of their lives in Minneapolis, MN. For more see Tap Roots, by M. Knowles; "Dora Dean" in the Biographical Dictionary of Dance, by B. N. Cohen-Stratyner; and vol. 2 of the African American National Biography, edited by H. L. Gates, Jr. and E. B. Higginbotham.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration West, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky / Europe / Australia / Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dorsey, William Henry "Billy"
Birth Year : 1878
Death Year : 1920
William Henry "Billy" Dorsey was born October 5, 1878 in Louisville, KY, where he received his musical training. He was a bandleader and music arranger in vaudeville performances and was most noted in Chicago. In 1915, Dorsey traveled to England with a troupe that included his wife, Lizzie; they remained there for four years. He returned to the U.S. due to health problems and settled in Arizona. William Henry Dorsey died February 29, 1920 from tuberculosis. He was the son of Daniel and Celia Dorsey [source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census]. For more see William "Billy" Dorsey in Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern.
Subjects: Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Arizona

Duncan, George
Duncan's birth place has been given as Lynchburg, VA, and Louisville, KY. He was an entertainer who partnered with Billy Brooks from Washington, D.C. Known as Brooks & Duncan, they spent much of their careers abroad. Writer Rainer Lotz refers to them as "an African American team of eccentric knockouts." Brooks and Duncan left the United States in 1878 with a minstrel company, and living and performing in various countries for almost 50 years. In 1922, they were in Egypt leading the Devil's Jazz Band with four Greek musicians. For more see R. E. Lotz, "A Musical Clown in Europe," The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 18, issue 1/2 (1990), pp. 116-126 [quotation from p. 116]; and "Lord have a duck" in Some Hustling This!: taking jazz to the world, 1914-1929, by M. Miller.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Europe / Egypt, Africa

Early African American Theaters in Lexington, KY
The Frolic Theater, operated by an African American, opened in 1907 and closed in 1910. In 1910, the Gem Theater opened, closing by 1916; the Gem had films and live entertainment and was part of the vaudeville circuit. The Pekin Theatre at 415 West Main Street, owned by Gray Combs, was also in operation in 1910. Of the six movie theaters in downtown Lexington, four allowed African Americans to sit in the segregated balcony seats. In 1947, the American Theater Corporation in Indianapolis opened the Lyric Theatre at the corner of Third Street and Elm Tree Lane in Lexington. When the theater opened, it was billed as "the nation's finest colored theater." There were movies and live entertainment from greats such as Big Maybelle, the Oreos, Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, and many others. The Lyric Theater closed in 1963, but the building is still standing, though in disrepair. For more see C. T. Dunn's Gaines Fellowship Senior Thesis, Finding Voice for the Lyric Theater: an Oral History; Brazley and Brazley, Inc., the unpublished Research for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Survey and History of the Lyric Theatre; G. A. Waller, Main Street Amusements: movies and commercial entertainment in a Southern city, 1896-1930; articles in the Lexington newspapers: the Herald, the Leader, and the Lexington Herald-Leader; and H. T. Sampson, The Ghost Walks; a chronological history of blacks in show business, 1865-1910.

See photo image of the Lyric Theatre and additional information at the Lyric website.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Theater: Companies, Education, Exhibitions, Performers, and Performances in Kentucky, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Early African American Theaters in Louisville, KY
The first African American moving picture theater in Louisville was opened by Edward Lee in 1908, located at 13th and Walnut Streets. Lee also owned the Taft Theatre at 1314 Cedar Street and The New Odd Fellows Theatre that opened in 1908. The New Tick Houston Theatre on Walnut Street between Ninth and Tenth Streets was opened to African Americans in 1910. This information comes from The Ghost Walks; a chronological history of blacks in show business, 1865-1910, by H. T. Sampson.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Theater: Companies, Education, Exhibitions, Performers, and Performances in Kentucky
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Gordon, Mary Ann Goodlow
Birth Year : 1853
Death Year : 1924
Gordon was born on the Poindexter Plantation in Bourbon County, KY, during slavery. As a free person, Mary Ann Goodlow Gordon and her husband, John Francis Gordon, eventually settled in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. They were the only African American family in the town. John Gordon died in a train wreck around 1895 while on his way to work in the gold fields in Alaska. He died shortly before their sixth and last child was born. The child, [Emmanuel] Taylor Gordon (1893-1971), would become a well-known Negro spiritual singer. Taylor Gordon began his career in vaudeville and later performed with J. Rosamond Johnson in the 1920s and 1930s. For more information see Born to Be, by T. Gordon; and the Emmanuel Taylor Gordon Papers at the Montana Historical Society Research Center.
Subjects: Fathers, Migration West, Mothers, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, 1st African American Families in Town, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Bourbon County, Kentucky / White Sulphur Springs, Montana

Griffin, Mabel and Emma [The Griffin Sisters]
Mabel (born around 1870) and Emma (1873-1918) Griffin were born in Louisville, KY. They were the highly popular vaudeville performers known as the Griffin Sisters who toured throughout the United States, including Alaska, the western tour to California and back, and the southern tour that included Kentucky. They began performing as members of John Isham's Octoroons Company and toured with several other companies before organizing their own theater booking agency in 1913 in Chicago. They had been considered premiere performers and broke theater attendance records while with the Sherman H. Dudley agency, created in 1912 as the first African American operated vaudeville circuit. The Griffin Agency was one of the earliest to be managed by African American women, and they also had a school of vaudeville art. Emma Griffin encourage African American performers to use either the Dudley Agency or the Griffin Agency. The sisters also opened the Alamon Theater in Indianapolis, IN, in April of 1914. They managed the Majestic Theater in Washington, D.C. in June of 1914. The sisters were listed as mulattoes, along with their brother Henry, who was a musician, and their grandmother Mary Montgomery, all in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census when the family lived in Chicago. For more see "The Griffin Sisters" in Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern; A. Knight, "He paved the way for T.O.B.A.," The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 15, issue 2, pp. 153-181; the ad "S. H. Dudley: The Griffin Sisters," Freeman, 03/08/1913, p.5; see the ad "Griffin Sisters Theatrical Agency," Freeman, 12/20/1913, p.6; see ad "Griffin Sisters Theatrical Agency and School of Vaudeville Art," Broad Axe, 02/07/1914, p.3; "Griffin Sisters open the Alamo," Freeman, 04/25/1914, p.1; "Majestic Theater," Washington Bee, 05/30/1914, p.5; and "Emma Griffin dead," Washington Bee, 09/14/1918, p.4.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Businesses, Migration North, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois / Washington, D. C.

Hampton, Pete George
Birth Year : 1871
Death Year : 1916
Born in Bowling Green, KY, Pete G. Hampton was the first African American to be recorded playing a harmonica. According to his 1905 passport application, Hampton was also a variety actor, and he had an artificial right eye. He recorded as a banjo soloist and singer, the recordings were made in Britain and Germany between 1903-1911. He recorded, toured and lived in Europe with his wife, Laura Bradford Bowman. It is said that he recorded more than any other contemporary African American. In 1913 Hampton, his wife, and her father returned to the United States, where Hampton died three years later. For more see Who was the first blues harp player to record? by Pat Missin; the Laura Bowman entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; and a more detailed biography and photo image see K. Mason, "Pete G. Hampton," The Amplifier Online, 04/02/2010. Listen to Pete Hampton performing "Dat Mouth Organ Coon", link from Vintage Harmonica 78s website.
Access Interview
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky / Europe

Harper, Nathaniel R.
Birth Year : 1846
Death Year : 1921
One of the first two African Americans to practice law in the Louisville courts, Nathaniel R. Harper was the first African American judge in Kentucky. He established the Harper Law School in his office. Nathaniel R. Harper was born in Indiana, the son of Hezekiah and Susan Harper who was born in 1828 in Kentucky. The family lived in Centre Township in Indianapolis, IN, and according to the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, they were free and the family was supported by Hezekiah who was a blacksmith. Nathaniel was married to Maria [or Mariah] Harper, born 1851 in Pennsylvania. Kentucky Governor W. O. Bradley appointed Nathaniel Harper a member of the State Industrial Bureau. He was to investigate, organize, and encourage members of his race toward industrial ventures. Harper traveled the state assisting in the establishment of industrial societies. In 1872, Harper was co-founder of the newspaper Louisville Weekly Planet. Harper was owner of the Tallaboo Dramatic Company, and in 1912 the company was touring central Kentucky. For more see Kentucky Encyclopedia 2000; The Owl: The Newsletter for Employees of the University of Louisville, vol. 17, issue 1 (February 2002), p. 2; "Kentucky's Negro Lawyers," New York Times, 11/28/1871, p. 5; The Commercial history of the Southern States by Lipscomb and Johnston; and see the paragraph "Lawyer N. R. Harper's "Tallaboo"..., within the column "At Kentucky's Capital" in Freeman, 06/01/1912, p.4.

See photo image of Nathaniel R. Harper at the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights website.

 
Subjects: Journalists, Newspapers, Magazines, Book Publishers, Music Publishers, Lawyers, Blacksmiths, Migration South, Judges, Appointments by Kentucky Governors, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Indiana / Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Harris, Emma E. "The Mammy of Moscow"
Birth Year : 1875
Death Year : 1937
Harris, an actress and singer, told others that she was from Kentucky, but she gave Augusta, GA as her birth place on her 1901 U.S. Passport Application. She was to return to the U.S. in two years, but Harris lived much of her life in Moscow, Russia. She left the U.S. from Brooklyn, NY, where she had been a church choir director. She left with the "Louisiana Amazon Guards [or Gods]", a six-woman theater troupe, with a seventh woman as a reserve. The group toured Germany. Harris later became a member of the "Six Creole Belles" [which may have been the same group under a different name and management]; they toured Poland and Russia before disbanding, and all but two members returned to the U.S. in 1905 because of the revolutions taking place in Russia. Harris then formed the "Emma Harris Trio," a singing group that continued performing in various European cities. Years later, the trio broke up and Harris was stuck in Siberia, where she taught English for a living before returning to performing as a concert soloist in Russia. Harris had studied voice at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. She also served as a nurse in the Ukraine during the Civil War, worked with the American Relief Association, and later was a speaker for the International Red Aid. Harris remained in Moscow with her husband and manager, Ivanovitch Mizikin. She knew Stalin and was a friend of Maxim Gorky's. She spoke fluent Russian and gave speeches against the Scottsboro Boys case when she was over 60 years old. Harris was also an excellent cook of culturally diverse meals and liked to entertain; she had many connections for getting food during the period when food was rationed in Moscow. Harris returned to the U.S. in 1933 and died in Brooklyn in 1937. For more see "The Mammy of Moscow" in The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, vol. 9: Essays on Art, Race, Politics, and World Affairs, by L. Hughes, et al.; and R. E. Lotz, "The Louisiana Troupes in Europe," The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 11, issue 2 (Autumn 1938), pp. 133-142.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Actors, Actresses, Bakers, Cooks and Chefs, Education and Educators, Migration North, Politicians, Politics, Appointments & Elections, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Nurses, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Augusta, Georgia / Moscow, Russia, Europe / Brooklyn, New York City, New York

Hart, Henry
Birth Year : 1840
Death Year : 1915
Henry Hart was born in Frankfort, KY, the son of Frederick Hart, from Boone County, and Judith Brown, from Frankfort. Henry Hart moved to Cleveland, OH, when he was 14 years old and there learned to play the violin. He later lived in New Orleans, where he was employed as a violin player and where he met his wife, Sarah, a pianist. The couple moved to Evansville, IN, in 1867, where Henry Hart was employed as a barber and also performed as a musician. Hart formed the Alabama Minstrels in 1872; the group included Kentucky native Tom McIntosh. Hart's minstrels performed in blackface by using burnt cork. By 1885, the Hart Family was living in Indianapolis, performing as a family string orchestra. The Harts had five daughters: Estelle, Lillian [who died as an infant], Myrtle, Hazel, and Willie. Myrtle became a concert harpist and toured the United States, billed as the only colored harpist in the world. Hazel, also a musician, was a school principal in Indianapolis. She died in a bus accident in 1935; the Hazel Hart Hendricks School is named in her honor. For more see Henry Hart, a Wikipedia website; and "Henry Hart" in Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern.

See photo image of Henry Hart from the Indianapolis News, 04/06/1901
Subjects: Barbers, Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky / Indianapolis, Indiana

Henderson, Rosa "Rose"
Birth Year : 1896
Death Year : 1968
Born Rosa Deschamps in Henderson, KY, she left home to work in her uncle's carnival show and later joined Douglas "Slim" Henderson on the vaudeville circuit; they married in 1918. Rosa Henderson appeared in musical comedies in New York and England in the 1920s. A vaudeville blues singer, she made recordings from 1923 to 1932 under many different names. For more see Blues Who's Who, by S. Harris. View image and listen to He May Be Your Dog But He's Wearing My Collar by Rosa Henderson on YouTube.

Subjects: Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Henderson, Henderson County, Kentucky / New York / England, Europe

In Old Kentucky
This Litt and Dingwall dramatic production, from the early 1890s, included an almost entirely white cast; it told a story that revolved around Kentucky hillbillies. The African Americans of the cast were the children who played in the Pickaninny Band; their acting, playing, dancing, and comic antics were meant to exemplify the fun life of African Americans in Kentucky. Initially, there was to be a colored band of men in the production who were to go by the name of Woodlawn Whangdoodles. Instead, a street band of boys from Indianapolis, IN, made up the African American members of the production. When the boys got to be too old or too tall, younger and smaller boys from Indianapolis replaced them. The show became a hit; the band and pickaninny brass bands in general were in demand throughout the United States. For more see Out of Sight: the Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, by L. Abbott and D. Seroff. See photos of scenes from In Old Kentucky at the University of Washington Libraries' Digital Collection.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Kentucky Darkies Amateur Minstrel Society
The Kentucky Darkies, a white minstrel company in Liverpool, England, performed benefit Negro minstrels in blackface in the late 1800s. There was no connection to the state of Kentucky in the U.S. other than the entertainment marketing value of the perception of happy, singing and dancing African Americans in Kentucky. In 1897, the Kentucky Darkies performed in the Philharmonic Hall "in aid of the funds of the Liverpool Food Association." The Food Association, formed in 1893, went through several name changes before it became known as the League of Welldoers in 1909. The organization did charitable work to help alleviate social problems. See additional information in "Food Association's Benefit Entertainment," The Liverpool Courier, 05/29/1897, p. 7 (from which the above quotation was taken); "Food Association's Recent Benefit Entertainment," The Liverpool Courier, 06/01/1897, p. 3; and "Kentucky Darkies and Newspaper Criticism," Liverpool Mercury, 08/01/1893, issue 14220.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Liverpool, England, Europe

The Kentucky Four
Start Year : 1890
This dance group performed with Orpheus McAdoo's Minstrel and Vaudeville Company in the late 1890s when the company was located in Australia. Their performances were written about in the Freeman newspaper in the U.S. The dance group members were Katie Carter, a vernacular dance specialist; Muriel Ringold; Amon Davis; and Aaron Taylor (Master Livers). Katie Carter also danced in the South Before the War production. According to J. Malone, author of Steppin on the Blues, p. 60, Carter's buck and wing dancing helped establish the dance form as a major attraction in black shows. For more see Out of Sight: the Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, by L. Abbott and D. Seroff.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Australia

Kersands, William "Billy"
Birth Year : 1842
Death Year : 1915
Billy Kersands was a blackface minstrel performer and a vaudeville performer who was known for his comedy, dancing, singing, musical performances, and acrobatics. Kersands was about six feet tall and weighed near 200 pounds. He had a large mouth, which he filled with various objects during his stage performances. He was one of the most popular African American entertainers of his time. Kersands began as a minstrel performer in the 1860s. His exact birth location is not known, but has been given as Baton Rouge, LA. Though, in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, New York was listed as his birth location when Kersands was living in Louisville, KY, at the home of Carrie Jackson. Kersands was listed as Jackson's son-in-law. According to a newspaper article, Kersands had been a slave in Kentucky and was freed after the Civil War [source: Iowa State Reporter, 12/04/1878, p.8]. In 1895, Billy Kersands married Louisa Strong in Ascension, LA, and the couple would later own a vaudeville company. Billy Kersands performed with a number of groups, the Charles Hicks Minstrels, the Harvey Minstrels, Richards and Pringle's Georgia Minstrels, and others, including his own company Kersands' Minstrels, and Louisa and Billy Kersands' vaudeville company. Billy Kersands performed throughout the United States and in England for Queen Victoria. For more see by F. Cullen and et. al.; The Ghost Walks by H. T. Sampson; and Staging Race by K. Sotiropoulos.
Subjects: Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Martin, Sara [Dunn]
Birth Year : 1884
Death Year : 1955
Born Sara Dunn in Louisville, KY, she began singing in church. At the age of 16 she was married and widowed. Sara took her second husband's last name, Martin. She began as a vaudeville singer in 1915 and later became the highest paid blues singer of the 1920s. She lived for a while in Chicago, then moved to New York. Martin sang with the W. C. Handy Band, sometimes billed as "Moanin' Mama" and sometimes performing under other names. Her first recording was Sugar Blues. She appeared on film with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and in 1930 appeared in the first all African American sound films, Darktown Scandals Revue [produced with The Exile]. Martin returned to Kentucky where she was a gospel singer; she also operated a nursing home in Louisville. For more see All Music Guide to the Blues. The experts' guide to the best blues recordings, ed. by M. Erlewine, et al.; The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd ed., edited by C. Larkin; and Classic Jazz, by S. Yanow. View image and listen to Sara Martin & Her Jug Band - I'm Gonna Be a Lovin' Old Soul on YouTube.

Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Businesses, Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration South, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois / New York

McClain, William C. "Billy"
Birth Year : 1857
Death Year : 1950
Multi-talented William McClain was a minstrel actor and Hollywood motion pictures actor, he was also a dancer, a musician, a playwright, wrote music and lyrics, and was a short story writer. He played cornet in Lou Johnson's Minstrels, and spent many years with the minstrels in Europe and lived in Paris, France from 1906-1913. He was also a member of Orpheus McAdoo's Jubilee Singers and Concert Company in Australia. One of McClain's works was The Smart Set, written in 1901. He wrote several songs including Shake, Rattle, and Roll. McClain had also trained as a boxer, and he managed and trained famous heavyweight boxer Sam McVey. On the screen, McClain played the role of The King in Nagana in 1933, and appeared in more than 20 movies, the last in 1946. He played various restricted roles, such as a servant, butler, footman, cook, and janitor. In 1938, he played the role of Zeke in Kentucky, and in 1939, the role of a horse groomer in Pride of the Bluegrass [aka Steeplechase]. McClain was the husband of Cordelia McClain, and the father of actress Teddy Peters. At the time of his death, his age was estimated to be 93, but his birth year has also been given as 1866, and his birth location has been given as Kentucky and Indianapolis, IN. For more see "Arrangements incomplete for actor's rites," Los Angeles Sentinel, 02/02/1950, p.A4; "Billy McClain" in Who Was Who On Screen, by E. M. Truitt; A History of African American Theater by E. Hill and J. V. Hatch; and The Ghost Walks by H. T. Sampson.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Boxers, Boxing, Migration West, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration Outside the U.S. and Canada, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Indianapolis, Indiana / Paris, France, Europe / Australia / Hollywood and Los Angeles, California

McIntosh, Tom
Birth Year : 1840
Death Year : 1904
McIntosh, born in Lexington, KY, was a comedian who had his greatest success with Callender's Georgia Minstrels. In addition to his great comedic talent, McIntosh was also an exhibition drummer and singer. During his career, he teamed with female impersonator Willis Ganze, performing on some of the leading circuits in the U.S. He then teamed with his wife, Hattie McIntosh, for a short period. McIntosh later took the starring role of Mr. Bullion in "Southern Enchantment" with the Smart Set Company; he replaced Kentucky native Ernest Hogan [Reuben Crowders]. McIntosh died of a stroke while the Smart Set Company was en route to Indianapolis. For more see his career review by Sylvester Russell, "Tribute to Tom M'Intosh," Indianapolis Freeman, 04/09/1904, p. 5; and Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816-1960, by B. L. Peterson, Jr.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Cross Dressing, Dress in Drag
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Moxley, George L.
Birth Year : 1865
Born in Kentucky around 1865, Moxley was a tenor singer, stage manager, interlocutor, and minstrel performer. On occasion he passed for white while working with companies such as the Elk's Minstrels. He began singing in public at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876; by age 70, in 1935, he was telling fortunes in Texas. Moxley was known for getting into precarious situations such as his fine dining without a cent to his name, from which he was able to talk his way out. For more see Out of Sight: the Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, by L. Abbott and D. Seroff; and Father of the Blues, an autobiography, by W. C. Handy.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky

Oliver Scott's Refined Negro Minstrels
Start Year : 1890
End Year : 1904
The company had previously been the A. G. Field's Colored Minstrels; Oliver Scott purchased the company in the 1890s. The company did not originate in Kentucky but disbanded in Middlesboro, KY, in 1904. "While the show was in progress, the manager caught the 9:30 train and left town, owing 22 people two weeks' salary." For more see The Ghost Walks: a chronological history of blacks in show business, 1865-1910, by H. T. Sampson. View a theatrical poster of Oliver Scott's Refined Negro Minstrels at the Library of Congress (image may be enlarged).


Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Businesses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Railroad, Railway, Trains, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Theater: Companies, Education, Exhibitions, Performers, and Performances in Kentucky
Geographic Region: Middlesboro, Bell County, Kentucky

Rainer, Georgia B. Gomez [Madam Gomez]
Birth Year : 1885
Death Year : 1919
Madam Gomez was the stage name for Georgia Beatrice Barkley Gomez Rainer, a famous soprano operatic singer who was born in Lexington, KY. She was the daughter of Louisa Barkley Matthews and the stepdaughter of Courtney Matthews (1868-1940), a hostler and the overseer at Ashland Stud in Lexington, KY. Georgia Barkley was a graduate of Chandler Normal School in Lexington. She lived in Chicago with an aunt and uncle, Robert and Lily Davis, and received musical training in 1900 [source: U.S. Federal Census]. She was a graduate of Fisk University in Tennessee; Barkley had attended Fisk for three years specializing in vocal music and was an honors graduate. She had been giving concerts since 1904. After College, Barkley continued performing, and in 1907 she married Alphonse Frisco Gomez (b. 1884) in Mobile, Alabama. She would return to Lexington for engagements, performing before 22,000 people during the Booker T. Washington Day celebration at the Lexington Colored Fair. She sang at Pleasant Green Baptist Church in November of 1908. That same month, she sang at the Pekin Theater and the Odd Fellow's Hall in Louisville, KY. Gomez performed with the vaudeville team Williams and Walker and later teamed with Will Downs, performing as Gomez and Downs [or Downz]. The team split in 1917, according to an article in Freeman, but according to her death notice in the Lexington Leader newspaper, they were a team at the time of Gomez's death in July 1919. Gomez died in New York, and according to the Lexington Leader article, Gomez's second husband, Irving E. Rainer, brought her body to Lexington, KY, for the funeral and burial. It is not known when Georgia Gomez married Rainer; according to Alphonse F. Gomez's World War I U.S. Army registration (1917-18), Georgia was still his wife and was living at 3 West East Street in Mobile, AL. For more see the following articles in the Lexington Leader: W. Hill, "Madam Gomez," 07/25/1919, p. 3; "Complimentary notice," 07/28/1907, p. 3; "Married in Alabama," 04/14/1907, p. 4; "Colored Notes," 11/15/1908, p. 16. See the following articles in the Freeman: "One of Kentucky's favorite soprano singers...," 11/21/1908, p. 1;  "Chicago Weekly Review: Downz & Gomez at the Grand," by Sylvester Russell, 07/24/1915, p. 5; "Georgia Gomez, late of Williams and Walker...," 05/14/1910, p. 5; "Tallabee returns to the Pekin - Mott's Theatre again crowded," and the sentence that begins "Downs and Gomez sing in the...," 10/14/1911, p. 4. See also "Senora Georgia Gomez...," Washington Bee, 08/18/1917, p. 2.
Subjects: Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Migration South, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky / Mobile, Alabama / New York

Randolph, Amanda E.
Birth Year : 1896
Death Year : 1967
Amanda E. Randolph was born in Louisville, KY. Her married name was Hansberry. She began her career in black vaudeville, appeared in all-black films, was a character actress on radio, and was the first African American star (as a maid) in the television sitcom series, Make Room for Daddy. She was the older sister of actress Lillian Randolph. They were the daughters of Jessie W. Randolph, a clergyman born in Pennsylvania in 1845, and Jane Randolph born 1859 in Kentucky; in 1900, the family of four lived in the 7th Ward of Ponchatoula, LA [source: U.S. Federal Census]. For more see Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America. Theater Arts and Entertainment.

See photo image of Amanda Randolph at BlackPast.org.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Radio, Television, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Shipp, Ellen
Birth Year : 1830
Ellen Shipp was born around 1830 in Kentucky and is listed in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census as a free mulatto who was living in Cincinnati, OH. She was the wife of Thomas Shipp, born around 1821 in South Carolina, who is also listed as free. They were the parents of two boys, Thomas Shipp and Jesse A. Shipp Sr. (1863-1934). Jesse wrote the book for In Dahomey, one of the first successful Negro musicals on Broadway. (His name is sometimes spelled Jessie.) He was a playwright, vaudeville performer, manager, director, and lyricist. His son, Jesse A. (or Jessie) Shipp, Jr., founded Shipp Association, a booking agency in Harlem, NY. For more on Jesse Shipp, Sr., see his entry in the Internet Broadway Database.

[Dahomey was a country located in West Africa that is today southern Benin. The history of Dahomey dates between 1600 and 1900. See Dahomey in Encyclopaedia Britannica online.]
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Authors, Mothers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio / New York

Smith, Henderson
Birth Year : 1858
Death Year : 1923
Smith was born in Frankfort, KY, and his family later moved to Warren, OH, where Smith studied music at the Dana Musical Institute. He performed with a number of groups, including Sprague's Original Georgia Minstrels and Haverly's Genuine Colored Minstrels. Smith was also a bandleader and vaudeville entertainer, sometimes passing for white and performing with groups such as Patrick S. Gilmore's Famous Cornet Band. He also worked with Kentucky native Tom McIntosh and led John W. Vogel's "Darkest Africa" band, which toured Australia with the Orpheus McAdoo Company. Smith, who was sometimes referred to as America's Black Sousa, died in Chicago, where he had settled after retiring from the entertainment business. For more see "Henderson Smith" in the Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians, by E. Southern.
Subjects: Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky / Warren, Ohio / Chicago, Illinois

Sublett, John W.
Birth Year : 1902
Death Year : 1986
Born in Louisville, KY, and also known as John Bubbles, Sublett was a singer and tap dancer who teamed up with Ford Lee Washington; they were known as Buck and Bubbles. Rather than tap-dancing on his toes, Sublett tap-danced by bringing his heels to the floor like a drummer; he also used a number of other techniques. Sublett also played the piano in some of their performances. For more see Who's Who in Hollywood. The largest cast of international film personalities ever assembled, by D. Ragan; and Blacks in Black & White. A source book on Black films by H. T. Sampson. View Buck & Bubbles sing "The Rhythm's OK in Harlem" - 1937 on YouTube.

Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Orphans and Orphanages in Kentucky, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Tribble, Andrew
Birth Year : 1879
Death Year : 1935
Andrew Tribble was born in Richmond, KY, where he also attended school. Andrew and Amos Tribble were the sons of Alice Tribble, and they were all boarding with a family in Union (Madison County) in 1880, according to the U.S. Federal Census. Andrew Tribble is noted as one of the greatest female impersonators in theater, with a career that spanned 40 years. As a child he was a member of the pickaninny band In Old Kentucky. He later moved to Chicago and joined the Pekin Theatre. One night he dressed in drag and did a performance that the audience loved. He was cast in Cole and Johnsons' musical Shoo-Fly Regiment. His most popular character was Lilly White, a washerwoman. For more see A History of African American Theatre, by E. Hilland; and African American Performance and Theater History: a critical reader, ed. by H. J. Elam, Jr. and D. Krasner.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration North, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Cross Dressing, Dress in Drag
Geographic Region: Richmond and Union, Madison County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois

Washington, Ford Lee "Buck"
Birth Year : 1903
Death Year : 1955
Born in Louisville, KY, Washington was a pianist, vaudeville dancer, and occasional singer. As a teen, he teamed with dancer John W. Sublett (both were orphans). Known as "Buck and Bubbles," they broke the color barrier by performing in the white vaudeville circuit. In 1922 the team performed at the New York Palace Theatre, the top venue for vaudeville performers. Washington performed in movies and recorded with Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Coleman Hawkins; he also recorded duets with Sublett. He performed for a short time with Jonah Jones. For more see Buck Washington, dancer extraordinaire! and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed., ed. by B. Kernfeld. View Buck and Bubbles... Variety Show (1937) on YouTube.

Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Orphans and Orphanages in Kentucky, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky / New York

Whitman, Albery A.
Birth Year : 1851
Death Year : 1901
Albery Allson Whitman was born into slavery in Hart County, KY, on the Green River Plantation. Albery was the husband of Caddie Whitman (1857-1909), who was also from Kentucky. Albery was a poet and a Bishop of the Methodist Church. He was a graduate of Wilberforce College [now Wilberforce University] and served as Dean of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. His published works include "Leelah Misled" in 1873, "Not a Man and Yet a Man" in 1877, and "The Rape of Florida" in 1884. His last work was published in 1901: "An Idyll of the South." His talent as a Negro poet has been described as between Phillis Wheatley and Paul L. Dunbar. Albery A. Whitman was also the father of musician Caswell W. Whitman (1875-1936) and the Whitman Sisters, one of the most successful vaudeville troupes in the U.S. Albery taught his older daughters to dance when they were children, and for a brief period they were manged by their mother, Caddie. The Whitman troupe first toured Kentucky in 1904. The Whitman Sisters were Mabel (1880-1962), Essie B. (1882-1963), Alberta (1887-1964), and Alice (1900-1969). Mabel directed the shows, Essie was a comic singer, Alberta was a flash dancer and did male drag, and Alice was an exceptional tap dancer. For more on Albery A. Whitman see Dictionary of American Negro Biography, by R. W. Logan and M. R. Winston; and Albery Allson Whitman (1851-1901), epic poet of African American and Native American self-determination (thesis), by J. R. Hays. For more about the Whitman Sisters see The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville by N. George-Graves; and Jazz Dance, by M. W. Stearns and J. Stearns. For more on Caswell Woodfin Whitman see the following Chicago Defender articles - "The Whitman Sister's kin passes away," 04/04/1936, pp.1 & 10; "Allen Bowers Entertains," 03/06/1932, p.7; and "The Whitmans arrive," 03/16/1918, p.6 - [article citations provided by the Curator of the Chicago Jazz Archive at the University of Chicago].
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Authors, Education and Educators, Fathers, Mothers, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Poets, Religion & Church Work, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Cross Dressing, Dress in Drag
Geographic Region: Hart County, Kentucky / Chicago, Illinois

Wilson, Edith
Birth Year : 1896
Death Year : 1981
Born Edith Goodall in Louisville, KY, she would marry piano player Danny Wilson. She left Kentucky for northern locations to pursue a career of singing and acting. Edith Goodall Wilson became a blues singer who first recorded in 1921. She was the third African American woman to make phonographic records. She acted on radio programs, appeared on stage and in films, and was featured in cookie advertisements as 'Aunt Jemima'. Edith Goodall Wilson was the daughter of Susie A. Goodall. In 1910, the family of six lived on 5th Street in Louisville along with three lodgers [source: U.S. Federal Census]. For more see the Lexington Herald Leader, 09/18/03, p. E2; American National Biography, by J. A. Garraty and M. C. Carnes; and Edith Wilson, a Red Hot Jazz website.

See the image and listen to Edith Wilson - Rules and Regulations by Razor Jim, 1922, on YouTube.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Migration North, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Radio, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers, Movies and Films
Geographic Region: Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Wilson, James Hembray, Sr. (musician/band director)
Birth Year : 1880
Death Year : 1961
Born in Nicholasville, KY, James Hembray Wilson was a noted band director and musician, he played the cornet. He was a faculty member at Alabama A&M College [now Alabama A & M University] 1903-1904, he took over the school band, succeeding W. C. Handy, the former band director. Wilson left the school to tour with Billy Kersands and the Georgia Minstrels. Wilson returned to the school in 1907 to remain there until his retirement in 1951. He had been a musician in Jacob Litt's 'In Old Kentucky' Company in 1896, bandmaster in Al Martin's Uncle Tom's Cabin from 1897-1899, cornetist in Mahara's Minstrels in 1899, and worked with many other groups. He became the first African American treasurer at Alabama A&M in 1947 and served as the first African American postmaster at the school from 1919-1942. The James Hembray Wilson Building, located on the Alabama A&M campus, houses the James Hembray Wilson State Black Archives Research Center and Museum. James Hembray Wilson was the son of Hester and Jacob Wilson, and the husband of Eveline Wilson. He graduated from high school in Cincinnati, OH, and from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He died in Normal, Alabama on October 2, 1961 [source: Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index]. For more see Who's Who in Colored America, 1950; "New Acquisitions" on p.3 in the Newsletter of the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, Fall 2006, no.29 [online .pdf]; and Alabama A&M Wilson Building under the headline "Why is it named that" by D. Nilsson on p.6 in Pen & Brush, February 2003, vol.43, issue 4 (newsletter of the Huntsville/North Alabama Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication and others).
Subjects: Education and Educators, Musicians, Opera, Singers, Song Writers, Postal Service, Migration South, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Nicholasville, Jessamine County, Kentucky / Huntsville and Normal, Alabama

Young, Billy
Birth Year : 1860
Death Year : 1913
Young may have been born in Kentucky, he grew up in Cincinnati. He and D. W. McCabe owned a minstrel company, one of the few owned by African Americans. The duo teamed up in the 1870s. They played to audiences around the country, including the southern states and even Cuba. Young was equally talented at singing, dancing, and comedy and tragedy, and he also wrote the script for a number of performances. In 1892, McCabe ditched the company in Mexico, took off with the money, and was not heard from again until 1894 as head of a new company. McCabe died in 1907. Young, who liked his rye and bourbon, continued to perform until 1913 when he developed lung problems and died a few months later. For more see Out of Sight: the Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, by L. Abbott and D. Seroff; and Father of the Blues, an autobiography, by W. C. Handy.
Subjects: Actors, Actresses, Minstrel and Vaudeville Performers
Geographic Region: Kentucky / Cincinnati, Ohio / Cuba / Mexico

 

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