Willie Bryant: Pee Wee and the Palace

Legendary dancer/ emcee/ bandleader Willie Bryant was born on this day in New Orleans in 1908. He was still a teenager when he was hired for a Whitman Sisters revue, not only dancing with the sisters themselves, but, notoriously with the midget dancer Princess Pee Wee. A year later, he teamed up with Leonard Reed, and the two scaled the heights of vaudeville, getting as far as the Palace, before racism brought them down. (Both light-skinned, they had been able to “pass” until it was noticed that they were playing black vaudeville in their downtime). In 1934 he was with Bessie Smith in a show called the Chocolate Revue. From there, he went on to lead big bands in the 30s and 40s, to host radio shows, and to even host TV’s first all-black variety show Uptown Jubilee in CBS in 1949. During the 50s he was a frequent emcee at the Apollo Theater. He passed away in 1964.

To learn more about 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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