This post is one of a series honoring Black History Month.
Ida Forsyne was a largely self-taught dancer who started out performing for pennies on Chicago street corners. She joined up with a traveling tab musical as a teenager, and from there landed a job with legendary Black Patti’s Troubadors. She came to New York just before the turn of the century, working in night clubs and in high profile shows with the likes of Ernest Hogan, Will Marion Cook and Eddie Leonard. After this, she toured Europe, where she remained for the better part of a decade, returning in 1914 as the drums were beating for War. Jobs were hard to come by when she returned. In the meantime, jazz has been invented, and Forsyne’s earlier styles, mixed now with Russian dances she had learned abroad, no longer spoke to audiences who wanted to see black women shake and shimmy. For awhile she worked as Sophie Tucker’s maid and would sometimes appear in her act. As the twenties rolled on she toured black vaudeville with stars like Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and Dusty Fletcher. Apart from one film appearance, the Depression killed even that sort of work for the formerly prominent performer. She spent her last few decades working as an elevator operator and a domestic.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.