John T. Kelly: Mockingbird Serenader


Today is the birthday of John T. Kelly (1852-1922). A Boston native, Kelly got his start at age 12 as a jig and clog dancer with a touring vaudeville/ minstrel** company run by M.B. Leavitt. He then toured as a whiteface clown and then joined a singing act called the Mockingbird Serenaders which became popular at Tony Pastor’s Bowery saloon. From here it was on to a series of comedy two acts. First he partnered with Thomas J. Ryan from 1871 to 1885 in an Irish knockabout act. From 1885 to 1896 he was in comedy Dutch, or German acts, first with Dan Mason, then with Gus Williams.

Next, he became a regular company member of Weber and Fields Music Hall, where he was to remain as a star through 1904. From 1906 on, he was back in vaudeville performing in comedy sketches. For much more dope on John T. Kelly, I highly recommend the book Vaudeville: Old and New, the source of most of the facts for this post.

To find out more about  the whole history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available 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. 


  1. Hi Judy My email is I was on Ancestry for a while but signed off now. I had seen your “West” sight, but is it closed off to the major public? Annies letters are what my mother received from one of my dad’s other wives. There is nothing in them regarding her life other than she had cancer and was afraid of her then husband Asher Cohick and inquiring about the grandchildren. I too had so hoped they would have given more information about her years growing up. He did not want her trying to contact her children. He inherited all when she died. He then married Blanche Ruesch aka Trixie LaMonte the exotic dancer. I did find Annie and Asher’s gravesite in CT and John T. is buried in Brooklyn at Greenwood Cemetery. Which is beautiful by the way. Many famous people buried there. If I come across anything vital to finding more on Alice I will pass it on. I would love to look at your family tree! Many thanks Dorothy


  2. I, have been searching for over 10 years also on the WEST Tree, and to date, have not found an exact death date for Alice DAVIS. I would also love to see the letters. I was a Unit Clerk in the hospital ifor 20 years, and this has helped me immensely with reading writing and picking out info and clues. Would love to help you and Peggy also ( which we have been corresponding with each other for a number of years also), and then get my Tree up to date too.


  3. My husband has a connection to one of John T. Kelly’s wives. Alice Davis ( Alicia Lewers). Alice Davis was born in Canada and supposedly had also been an actress in the Met, as Alice Lewers, which I believe was her grandmother’s maiden name.
    I know another family member has been researching this family also, and would love to hear more. I do have a family Tree on Ancestry, under the West Family Tree.
    He also married an Amanda Lavina Valdran who was born in Manhattan in 1850 and died April 19, 1912.
    I believe she went by the name Flora Zanfretti.


    • Judy, I would like to know more about Alice Davis as she would have been my great-grandmother. The daughter she and John T. had, known as Annie Kelly was my fathers mother. I have John T.’s traveling trunk now and some personal papers. I want to know what happened to Alice after the divorce, where she died and how. I have come to a dead end on facts about her. Thank you!


      • Hi Dorothy,
        Annie Davis, sister of Alice Davis ( Kelly/Hotchkiss), is my husband’s GGGrandmother. I have a WEST Tree on that I am working on. Perhaps a few errors, but always working on it to correct it. If you are interested in looking at my husband’s WEST Tree, my home email address is If you want to send my your email address, I will invite you.


  4. I own John T. Kelly’s personal scrapbook of his career, several handwritten and typed comedy skits, contracts, even his traveling trunk. I am wondering if you have any additional information on him?


    • Good heavens, no, I had a job of work pulling together THAT much information! it sounds like what you’ve got there is mighty valuable though from a historical perspective


    • Bob, I am John T. Kelly’s great grandaughter. I have just moved to NYC and would love the opportunity to see his scrapbook etc. I have letters written by his daughter (my grandmother)Annie. My father was Archibald Benham Annie’s third child. I look forwad to hearing from you!
      Dorothy Benham


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