Archive for the African American Interest Category
African American Interest, Broadway, Dance, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags African American, Aida Overton Walker, Bert Williams, Broadway, cakewalk, dancer, first, George Alfred Cook, vaudeville, Walker and Williams on February 14, 2017 by travsd
Today is the birthday of Aida Overton Walker (1880-1914). singer, dancer, actor, choreographer, comedienne and “Queen of the Cakewalk”.
Born Ada Overton (she later embellished the spelling for professional reasons) in Greenwich Village, Overton was the daughter of a waiter and a seamstress. Her dancing talent was so evident from a young age that her parents provided her with formal training. She was only 15 when she joined John Isham’s Octoroons, an all-black minstrel show in 1895. In 1896-97 she was a member of the legendary Black Patti’s Troubadours. In 1898, the comely chorine answered a call to model for an advertisement for Walker and Williams vaudeville revue at Koster and Bial’s. This led to her joining the show in the chorus, which then led to her being a featured performer with her partner Grace Halliday. Overton and Halliday performed as the Honolulu Belles in the first of the Walker and Williams musicals The Policy Players (1899).
That year, she also married George Walker and attained star status in the company, essentially becoming a third partner in the most celebrated African American act of the era. Overton was to choreograph all the Walker and Williams shows, as well as Cole and Johnson’s 1911 show Red Moon. The Walkers became the most celebrated cakewalking couple in the country. Overton was to gain inroads into white society by teaching the dance at private functions. Meanwhile, she was in the process of becoming the top female African American stage performer of her day. In The Sons of Ham (1900) she made a hit with “Miss Hannah from Savanna”. In Dahomey (1902) was the show that turned the decades-old cakewalk into a dance craze with whites as well; it toured as far as London, where the company gave a Command Performance for King Edward VII. Next came Abyssinia (1905) and Bandanna Land (1907). The latter show featured Overton’s tasteful, refined take on the Salome dance craze then sweeping the nation.
In 1909 George Walker collapsed while they were still performing Bandanna Land, incapacitated by late-stage syphilis. Overton took over his role in the show in addition to her own, an indication of the scope of her talents. Walker passed away in 1911,but Overton remained in the limelight. She appeared in and choreographed Cole and Johnson’s Red Moon (1909), co-starred with J.S. Dudley in the Smart Set Company’s production of His Honor the Barber (1910). And she toured Big Time Vaudeville. In 1912 she performed her Salome dance at the Victoria Theatre. The following she returned at the head of an entire troupe. She also donated her time organizing benefit shows charities.
When she died suddenly and mysteriously of kidney failure in 1914 it was mourned as a great loss throughout the African American community. She was only 34. Bert Williams would pass away only 8 years later.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS, Hollywood (History), Movies, Movies (Contemporary), PLUGS, Silent Film, Television with tags Birth of a Movement, D.W. Griffith, Independent Lens, PBS, The Birth of a Nation, William Monroe Trotter on February 8, 2017 by travsd
Today is the anniversary of the Los Angeles premiere of D.W. Griffith’s landmark film The Birth of a Nation (1914), which like America itself, is epic in scale, unprecedented, innovative — and troubled by a perverse, pathological racism. As it is so emblematic, I return to the subject of this film periodically, as in these previous posts:
Today there is something new to add to the dialogue. This past Monday, the PBS show Independent Lens premiered the new documentary Birth of a Movement, the story of how William Monroe Trotter, editor of an African American newspaper in Boston, helped launch a nationwide movement to get the film banned. It’s a perfect topic to talk about at the moment. Just as in Griffith’s time, when his film inspired a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, the repercussions of hateful and irresponsible speech are all around us — including, unthinkably, a President who is endorsed by the Klan. Sometimes history not only repeats itself, it gets worse. That’s why it’s a good idea to study it. The film is streaming online at the PBS web site through March 8. Watch it here.
African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, ME, My Family History with tags articles, Black History Month, essays, topics on February 1, 2017 by travsd
February is Black History Month.
This year it arrives at a time of deep sadness. The Black Lives Matter movement was picking up momentum last year, but with the election of X%$FR#@ to the Presidency, as always seems to happen, that movement has been overtaken by a tsunami of “greater priorities”, becoming just one of a seeming thousand fronts people of conscience need to do battle on. Justice for the black community ought to remain a priority even as injustice for all becomes the general law.
I have done close to 450 posts on subjects relating to African Americans, beginning with profiles on scores of black vaudeville performers, jazz and blues musicians, the problematic issue of blackface minstrelsy, numerous black writers and more. Over the last couple of years, I have done an increasing number of pieces on race relations and pieces on African American history, spurred on by revelations by my own family’s past…and present. I have black nieces and nephews; they deserve every opportunity and advantage I’ve had, and frankly more.
The African American Interest section of Travalanche is here. Also, there is a search function in the right hand section of this blog; enter keywords like names or “black” + “vaudeville” to narrow in on specific subjects. And below are some links to past posts I thought might be of special interest today. We’ll be adding several new pieces as the month goes on:
African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags Barack Obama, last day in office, tribute on January 19, 2017 by travsd
Today is the last day in office of the best President I will probably ever see in my lifetime — certainly the finest man to serve as President.
The Right has a weird tendency to speak disparagingly of Obama’s inspirational rhetoric as if that were somehow nothing, as though trying to connect profoundly disconnected people back to whatever meaning still remains in what has become a cold, materialistic, violent nation was some kind of fool’s errand. But a leader needs to get people on board before he can take them anywhere. Obama tried very hard to do that. He tried to include people. He had no shady agenda of trying to enrich his cronies like, well, just about every other President of my lifetime. It’s hard for me to think of the Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, or Johnson without sense memories of corruption; the Oval Office as pig sty. Like the archetype of the Holy Fool, like the Quixotic hero in a Frank Capra movie, Obama just tried to do the job, tried to make people’s lives better, and for that he was vilified, slandered, blocked and thwarted at every turn. At times, that was actually his opponents’ only agenda — they literally said so. They literally had nothing better to do than stop him from succeeding, even if his efforts would have helped the country.
I’ve often wished Obama were a good deal nastier, less a gentleman, so he could put these petty, beady-eyed pink weasels in their place. Even now, he’s doing more to be civil than a good many of us would do. Would you have a decent word for this oozing cyst whom America’s troglodytes have selected as his successor? Shake Trump’s hand? Give him advice? Attend his inauguration? Be diplomatic when referring to his dangerous inadequacies? After he waged an entire campaign to cast doubt on your American citizenship? And promises not only to undo everything you just did, but everything EVERY President EVER did? I sure as hell wouldn’t. I’d change all the passwords, glue all the desk drawers shut, saw the legs on all the chairs, then move two blocks away from the White House and start a Think Tank called BREAK TRUMP INTO LITTLE PIECES, with a neon sign out front blinking that name. But if Obama acted that way, he wouldn’t be the man we admire. In the age of going low, as the First Lady put it, the Obamas believe in going high.
The only thing that makes me happy about the fact that this is last day is that, in my hero worship, I’ve always seen him as a kind of love child of Lincoln, King and Kennedy, and that particular combination has always made me constantly fear for his safety, lest someone who hates him and those three martyred leaders see the same thing. I pray for him all the time, and I’ll still do it after he leaves office. Because, for a people that goes around spouting noble words on patriotic holidays, there’s an awful lot of dark hatred in this land. To such an extent that on the rare occasion when someone of real character makes it to the highest office in the land, his skin color makes people go berzerk. Something tells me that very shortly some of the very people who rejected him will be fervently wishing for his return.