Harry Kennedy, The Irish Ventriloquist

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Erin Go Bragh! Sure and ’tis another St. Patty’s Day post!

William Henry “Harry” Kennedy (1855-1894) was a songwriter and ventriloquist of Irish extraction and English birth. Born in Manchester, he’d taken up the art of throwing his voice when still a boy. For a time he went to sea as a merchant seaman, winding up in Montreal in 1871. Here he met and teamed up with a magician, launching his career as a professional. Three years later he was in New York, where is to perform for Tony Pastor, P.T. Barnum, Haverly’s Minstrels** and others, his dummies usually stereotyped Irish and African American characters. By 1886 he was also operating his own saloon in Brooklyn; a Brooklyn Eagle story from that year relates a sordid and drunken altercation with one of his patrons from that year. In 1890 he opened Harry Kennedy’s Theatre near Cooper Union, but after one season he sold it and opened the Alhambra in Coney Island. He also wrote over 200 songs, including “When Peggy and I are Wed” and “Patsy Brannigan”. He wrote the book pictured above in 1891. He was not quite 40 when he died of Bright’s Disease in 1894.

To find out more about vaudeville and the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

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