Today is the birthday of Lew Leslie (actually Lessinsky, 1888-1963), known, despite his Russian extraction, as the “Black Ziegfeld“. Born in Orangeburg, NY, he got his start with a patter act in vaudeville (Belle Baker was his first wife), but after managing the Cafe de Paris in NYC, he started producing revues showcasing African American talent. Leslie’s shows were a major element of the distinctive spirit of the 1920s; nearly every major African American star of the era starred in his productions. Some he produced at night spots like the Plantation Club and the Cotton Club, some in London, some on Broadway. Leslie shows included The Plantation Revue (1922), Dixie to Broadway (1924), and the famous Blackbirds series (1926-1939). And now here’s the Blackbirds orchestra, planing “Bandana Babies” from the 1928 edition:
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.