John W. Vogel: Monarch Among Mastodons

Brief mention this morning of John W. Vogel (1863-1951).

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio just months after the Emancipation Proclamation, Vogel was to succeed J.H. Haverly as America’s pre-eminent white presenter of all-black minstrel companies, inheriting the mantle of “Minstrel King”. Never a performer himself, Vogel got into the business by working for Sells Brothers’ Millionaire Confederation of Stupendous Shows (a circus) when he was not yet 20 years of age (1882). Over the decades he managed companies for Primrose and West, McIntyre and Heath, and Al G. Fields among others.

Vogel’s claim to fame came from his own shows, with names like Vogel’s Afro-American Mastodon Minstrels, John W. Vogel’s Big City Minstrels, and John W. Vogel’s Concert Company, once dubbed “the greatest band of colored musicians in America”. He presented his shows well into the 20th century, long after other minstrelsy impresarios had faded from the scene, and made a fortune in the doing. In time though the black vaudeville circuits made black minstrelsy seem hopelessly retrograde, and Vogel’s chapter of show biz history was closed.

For more on the history of vaudeville, minstrelsy, and the variety arts please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.