Andrew Tribble: Drag Star of “Darktown”

The story of African American vaudeville performer Andrew Tribble (1876-1935) is crazy/rewarding all sorts of ways.

Hailing from Richmond, Kentucky, he was the descendent and namesake of (white) frontier preacher Rev. Andrew Tribble (1741-1822), one of the earliest Baptist converts in his area and a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. His log cabin parsonage still stands and even has a website. Logically, the vaudeville Tribble, being African American, was the eventual result of a long-ago union between the Reverend and one of the enslaved members of his household.

It is also recorded that Andrew Tribble the vaudevillian had a performing brother named Amos, leading some to speculate that they were the basis of the names if not the characters of Amos ‘n’ Andy. As comedy performers in the same region they could well have crossed paths with Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, the show’s creators. Later, Tim Moore, who’d performed with Tribble, became a regular on the TV version of Amos ‘n’ Andy as Kingfish.

As for Tribble, he was a staple of the black vaudeville circuits starting in the 1890s. He sang, dance, performed comedy monologues, and was best known for performing several female characters, with names like Ophelia Snow, Lily White, and Sis Hopkins (presumably his comical take on the traditional melodrama character). Early in his career he is said to have been affiliated with the Pekin Theatre in Chicago. Some have said he was in Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along; if he was, he’s not listed in the Broadway credits, though he may have joined the show on tour or played in a regional theatre center like Chicago. He did appear on Broadway at least a half dozen times, in the Cole and Johnson shows Shoo-Fly Regiment (1907) and The Red Moon (1909); as well as His Honor: the Barber (1911) with Aida Overton Walker; How Come? (1923); Brown Buddies (1930) with Shelton Brooks, Bill Robinson and Adelaide Hall; and Brain Sweat (1934). He’s also in one film, a 1931 Oscar Micheaux short called The Darktown Revue. 

According to legend, Tribble died while performing on stage in Baltimore in 1935.

For a much more in-depth post on this fascinating performer, the last word, in fact, on all things Tribble, see this 2013 post on the Hard Honesty blog. And read more about a local preacher’s efforts to preserve his memory here.

And to learn more about vaudeville in general please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.