George Primrose: Major Minstrel

Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

Born this day in 1852, George Primrose was one of the top minstrel men of his day and one of the top minstrel show entrepreneurs, building his operation into one of the biggest, and longest-running in the country. He is also credited by some as being the originator of the soft-shoe. Throughout his career, critics and contemporaries alike raved about the graceful poeticism of his movement. Primrose not only danced, but sang, and played a blackface character that was marked for its dignity (as opposed to the usual demeaning comic stereotype). He began performing in his mid-teens, billing himself as “Master Georgie, the Infant Clog Dancer”. He founded his major minstrel troupe with partner Billy West in 1879. The troupe was together until 1898, when Primrose partnered with Lew Dockstader, with whom he did business until 1903. He operated on his own, with steadily declining fortunes, until 1908, until he took his act on the vaudeville stage. He was a familiar face in big time vaudeville until 1918, the year before he died.

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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