Stars of Vaudeville #291: The Whitman Sisters
Often called “The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville” (there is a book about them by that name), no one knows exactly when the various Whitman Sisters were born. We do know however that their ACT was born around the turn of the last century, after the girls had been singing gospel for years at church functions (their father was an important minister) and performing in small time vaudeville as children. Mabel, Essie and Alberta were the original three; Alice joined around 1909. They sang, danced, and even played the banjo. They were to become the highest paid act in black vaudeville during their day (and they even, because of their fair skin and blond hair, also played white vaudeville). The heyday of the act was the 1920s, when they toured entire elaborate tab revues around the country, featuring dozens of performers. They disbanded around 1942.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and numerous other fine establishments