This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.
Everett Stewart billed himself as “Stuart, the Male Patti”. (After the great opera singer Adelina Patti. Patti became the benchmark for all singers for awhile, so much so that her name became idiomatic. There was also a Black Patti).
According to historian F. Michael Moore, Stewart was spotted working in a Witchita post office by Tom Heath in 1887 and recruited for McIntyre and Heath’s minstrels. (Drag was a staple of minstrelsy**).
Stewart’s ability to sing in a soprano was much prized by audiences. Perhaps eluding to his post office past, one of his numbers was “The Letter That Never Came”, and it was sometimes joked in print that he was “the Mail Patti”. Having portrayed Queen Isabella in a quadracentennial stage extravaganza called 1492, Stewart took his operatic voice and lavish gowns throughout the music halls of Europe from 1899 to 1908.
To find out 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. And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
**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.