Today is the birthday of J. Homer Tutt (1882-1951). Along with his brother (or half-brother) Salem Tutt Whitney (1869-1934) he formed one half of a concern variously called the Tutt Brothers, Whitney & Tutt, Tutt & Whitney and the Whitney Brothers, a team that performed, but also wrote and produced their own shows for black vaudeville.
The two started out in Indiana. Salem, the elder of the two, had first studied to be a minister and then a journalist before drifting into show business. Initially they sang and danced on the streets of their home town Logansport for change. They traveled with a tent show called Silas Green from New Orleans from 1888 to 1905, which later toured under other producers through the 1940s. Then they appear with S.H. Dudley’s Smart Set Company, before starring with Black Patti’s Troubadors from 1906 through 1909. In the teens they organized their own Smart Set company which produced over 40 musical vaudeville revues and tent shows for black vaudeville (written by Salem) between 1910 and 1925. Among their famous alumnae was the great blues singer Mamie Smith.
In the 20s they tried to bring their shows Oh Joy and Deep Harlem without much success. They were also hired guns as actors. They were in Marc Connelly’s long-running 1930 Broadway play Green Pastures and were featured in numerous films between 1924 and 1930, including Oscar Micheaux’s A Daughter of the Congo (1930). Salem died in 1934; Homer in 1951.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous