Today is the birthday of Sam Lucas (1839-1916), actor, comedian, singer and songwriter, known as “the Grand Old Man of the Negro Theatre”. Born to free black parents in Ohio, he was one of the first generation of African American minstrels, playing theatres and riverboats in shows with the Hyer Sisters, and with the likes of James A. Bland and Billy Kersands in Sprague’s Georgia Minstrels. In 1878 he became the first African American ever to play the role of Uncle Tom in a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a production by the Frohmans. (In 1914 he would also become the first African American to play Uncle Tom on film). In the 1880s he was back to minstrelsy, and in the 90s he performed in seminal shows such as Sam T. Jack’s Creole Show, A Trip to Coontown, Shoo Fly Regiment and Red Moon, and he was a regular trouper in vaudeville from those years until he passed away in 1916.
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.
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