Posts tagged "theater"
Lena Horne and Josephine Premice in a scene from the 1958 Broadway musical Jamaica. Ms. Premice (1926-2001), a phenomenal Haitian-American singer, dancer and actress, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the show. She was also the mother of writer/producer Susan Fales-Hill. Photo: Bettman/Corbis.

Lena Horne and Josephine Premice in a scene from the 1958 Broadway musical Jamaica. Ms. Premice (1926-2001), a phenomenal Haitian-American singer, dancer and actress, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the show. She was also the mother of writer/producer Susan Fales-Hill. Photo: Bettman/Corbis.

Whenever I look at the great singer, dancer, actress and producer Aida Overton Walker, I think about how awesome it would be to see someone like Anika Noni Rose or Audra McDonald bring her to life on the stage. Born on Valentine’s Day in 1880 in New York City (some accounts say Richmond, VA, but my source is “Black Women in America,” edited by the foremost historian of black women, Darlene Clark Hine. Ms. Overton Walker changed her name from “Ada” to “Aida” late in her short but storied career, which began in the chorus of Black Patti’s Troubadours, the troupe founded by the one of the first black opera singers, Sissieretta Jones. She was best known for her work with the comedian and singer Bert Williams and her husband George Walker and, upon joining their Williams & Walker act around 1899, she choreographed all of their routines. She won critical acclaim for her solo performances, especially in the 1902 musical “In Dahomey” and sang three of the shows most popular tunes including “Leader of the Colored Aristocracy,” a song written by James Weldon Johnson (one of her most ardent admirers) and the brilliant composer and violinist, Will Marion Cook, expressed the desire of her character’s (Rosetta Lightfoot) desire for more opportunities in life. Ms. Overton Walker is also credited with popularizing the cakewalk, the 19th century dance craze that originated on slave plantations. Keenly aware about stereotypes and how they affected black people, on and offstage addressed members of the black elite who took issue with blacks in show business in a searing 1905 essay for the Colored American entitled “Colored Men and Women on the Stage.” In the essay, she wrote, “Some of our so-called society people regard the Stage as a place to be ashamed of…. In this age we are all fighting the one problem—that is the color problem! I venture to think and dare to state that our profession does more toward the alleviation of color prejudice than any other profession among colored people. The fact of the matter is this, that we come in contact with more white people in a week than other professional colored people in a year and more than some meet in a whole decade.” When her husband became ill around 1908, Ms. Overton Walker donned his costume and performed his routines along with her own until after his death in 1911. Some accounts of her life incorrectly report a decline in her career after the death of Mr. Walker, however, in 1912, she had great success touring the United States in a solo show as “Salome.” The photo here is Ms. Overton Walker in character as Salome, from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Tragically, amidst her very successful career, Aida Overton Walker died at the age of 34 on October 11, 1914, after a brief illness.

I left quite a bit out of this lengthy post, but Ms. Overton Walker is featured prominently in my book, Vintage Black Glamour, which will be published in Spring 2014 by Rocket 88 Books. Please visit the book site and register for updates and pre-order information. http://vintageblackglamourbook.com/

Percy Verwayne (1895-1968) was the original Sportin’ Life in the 1927 Broadway DuBose and Dorothy Heyward play, “Porgy,” the precursor to the iconic 1935 George Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess.” Mr. Verwayne was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) and appeared on Broadway, on radio and in several films for at least thirty years, but he was best known in his day for originating the role of Sportin’ Life. He was also a former athlete and that came in handy in 1941 when he was robbed of 75 cents by a very unwise 18-year-old within two blocks of his Harlem home at 400 West 128th street. The incident was gleefully reported in the New York Amsterdam News on August 9, 1941 under the headline, “Mugger Gets Wrong Victim.” According to the paper, when the mugger tried to run away, “Verwayne chased him for a block, grabbed him by the seat of his trousers and socked him into submission. When the cops arrived, Verwayne was in complete control of the situation.” I’ll bet he was… haha! Photo: New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theater Collection.

Percy Verwayne (1895-1968) was the original Sportin’ Life in the 1927 Broadway DuBose and Dorothy Heyward play, “Porgy,” the precursor to the iconic 1935 George Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess.” Mr. Verwayne was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) and appeared on Broadway, on radio and in several films for at least thirty years, but he was best known in his day for originating the role of Sportin’ Life. He was also a former athlete and that came in handy in 1941 when he was robbed of 75 cents by a very unwise 18-year-old within two blocks of his Harlem home at 400 West 128th street. The incident was gleefully reported in the New York Amsterdam News on August 9, 1941 under the headline, “Mugger Gets Wrong Victim.” According to the paper, when the mugger tried to run away, “Verwayne chased him for a block, grabbed him by the seat of his trousers and socked him into submission. When the cops arrived, Verwayne was in complete control of the situation.” I’ll bet he was… haha! Photo: New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theater Collection.

Sidney Poitier with his first wife, Juanita Hardy, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry at the opening of “A Raisin in the Sun” in New York City in 1959. Photo: Moneta Sleet for Ebony magazine via Art.com.

Sidney Poitier with his first wife, Juanita Hardy, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry at the opening of “A Raisin in the Sun” in New York City in 1959. Photo: Moneta Sleet for Ebony magazine via Art.com.

Beautiful Alfre Woodard, onstage in a Boston University production of Thesmophoriazousae. Ms. Woodard, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, graduated from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts in 1974 with a degree in drama. She also received an honorary degree in 2004. Photo by BU Photography.

Lena Horne hugging her brilliant daughter Gail Jones, backstage at the York Playhouse on October 6, 1960 after Gail made her stage debut in the musical “Valmuouth.” Gail Jones is now Gail Buckley and the author of several books including The Hornes: An American Family.” Photo: Bettman/Corbis.

Lena Horne hugging her brilliant daughter Gail Jones, backstage at the York Playhouse on October 6, 1960 after Gail made her stage debut in the musical “Valmuouth.” Gail Jones is now Gail Buckley and the author of several books including The Hornes: An American Family.” Photo: Bettman/Corbis.

Hilda Simms and Lena Horne in the late 1940s. It drives me crazy that I have not been able to find a legitimate source/photographer behind this photo. It’s one thing to find it on a random website (like I did last year) but it’s another thing to share it and properly credit it for a wider audience. Sigh…

Hilda Simms and Lena Horne in the late 1940s. It drives me crazy that I have not been able to find a legitimate source/photographer behind this photo. It’s one thing to find it on a random website (like I did last year) but it’s another thing to share it and properly credit it for a wider audience. Sigh…