Sam Hague (1828-1901), was one of the first impresarios to present African American performers onstage in the United States. A native of Sheffield, England, Hague started out as a clog dancer. He embarked on his first tour of the U.S. with his performing brothers Thomas and William in 1850. Tim Hayes was one of the people he performed with early in his career. He first toured the U.S. with conventional (whites in blackface**) minstrel companies under the Hague banner. In 1866 he premiered his revolutionary creation, Sam Hague’s Slave Troupe of Georgia Minstrels, featuring actual African American performers (and a somewhat unfortunate name). He brought the troupe to England to build up its reputation and to prove the efficacy of the proposition before bringing the company before American audiences. His black and racially mixed casts did prove successful and were emulated by later competitors like George Primrose and Billy West. Hague’s company was bought by Charles Callender.
To learn more about old school show biz including minstrelsy, consult 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.