This post is one of a series honoring Black History Month.
The Crackerjacks (seometimes billed as 4, later as 5 and 6 when others joined the act) was an acrobatic African American dance team first led by Lulu Coates, its founder, and later by Archie Ware, its most energetic member. Coates and her husband Sherman had been one half of Sherman and Grundy’s Watermelon Trust. When that act broke up in 1914, she formed Lulu Coates and her Crackerjacks, consisting of her, Ware, Clifford Carter, Harry Irons, and Raymond Thomas. Coates retired in 1922, handing the reins over to Ware, who had started out with Cozy Smith and her Pickaninnies (along with Willie Covan, Maxie McCree and others) in 1908. He danced with them and several other black vaudeville troupes until being hired by Coates.
The fast-moving act emphasized acrobatics (flips, leaps, twirls) as much as dance, and featured a number of costumes and props. (In one number, the team came out dressed as elderly Civil War veterans with canes, before demonstrating how spry they could be!) They were booked at all the top black and white nightclubs of the ’20s, and performed in many all black revues, including Plantation Days (1925), Heebie Jeebies (1927), and Hot Chocolates (1929). In one form or another, with ever-changing personnel, the act kept going until 1952.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.