Eva Shirley: Prima Donna of Vaudeville


Today is the birthday of Eva Shirley (Eva Schainbaum, 1891-1982). Shirley began her singing career on the Lower East Side where she was born, built her own orchestra which played everything from jazz to grand opera, and took her act all the way to the Palace. Her heyday was the teens and twenties. A  Variety piece from 1915 says she stopped the show twice at Hammerstein’s that week, and called her “one of the best prima donnas in vaudeville”. In 1919 she played the Palace with “Her Jazz Band” (a five piece outfit); by 1924 it had swelled to the “Ten Famous Players of Rhythm.” The California Ramblers (the band that was to give the world Red Nichols and the Dorsey Brothers) also backed her up during the 1920s (one of their first engagements). In 1924 she appeared in Ed Wynn’s Grab Bag, singing the Paul Whiteman song “When the One You Love Loves You”. After the twenties, the trail grows cold though; I have found no reference to live performing, radio, film or television — or marriage, the usual reason for not doing all of the above. And yet she lived another 50+ years!

To find out more about  vaudevilleconsult 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 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



  1. I am the great niece of Eva Shirley. She had five husbands; one of her husbands was the original Charles Atlas. She was a headliner at the Ziegfeld follies when Fanny Brice was a star.She travelled the world as a popular singer in her day and made a great deal of money before income tax.I remember visiting her when she was in her eighties. She sat down at her piano and played and sang beautifully.She remained trim, and beautiful all her life.


    • How nice to hear from you. She sounds like an amazing woman, how lucky for you to have gotten to know her!


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