Bert Williams in blackface. Image found at PBS.org, where they have more of his bio.
Disturbing, daring ‘Dancing in the Dark’ Nicholle Manners February 8, 2008 Yale Daily News
“Largely-forgotten legend Bert Williams was a foundational figure in American theater, an inspiration to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the first major African American performer on Broadway — and a ‘real coon.’
“His simultaneous groundbreaking success and use of blackface is a paradox in the history of American theater.
“Premiering this weekend at the Yale Cabaret, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ explores this figure’s rich career.”
“Artistic Director of the Yale Cabaret Rebecca Wolff DRA ’09 said the show is part of the Cabaret’s plan to ‘present work that goes to the heart of the American experience.’“’We value work that is irreverent, rebellious and relevant to our community,’ she added.”
Cabaret not ‘Dancing’ around politics By Nicholle Manners Yale Daily News 2/5/08
Note: The San Francisco Chronicle posted a column about Bert Williams yesterday for Black History Month. (Robert Hurwitt, February 11, 2008)
“W.C. Fields called him ‘the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew.’ The man who changed the face of American theater, a West Indian who would become one of the highest-paid comedians of the early 20th century, started his career as a blackface minstrel in San Francisco. By the time of his death, still in his 40s, he had helped break the color line in mainstream, ‘white’ vaudeville, helped do the same for Broadway with the early all-black musicals, recorded some of the most popular songs of the era and pioneered integrated casts when he became the first African American performer in the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910 to 1920.”
Posted by: Tanya