• Chris Smith, 1879-1949

    Biography. Biography. Chris Smith "wrote songs that pointed to black folk styles," according to music historian Eileen Southern. One of his biggest hits, "Good Morning, Carrie," was recorded as early as 1901. Both black and white musicals of the first decade of the 20th century used many of his songs as "interpolations,"or extra songs not especially connected to the plot. Some interpolations were "He's ...

  • Benjamin Shook

    Biography. Biography. A musician who was well-versed in almost all musical idioms except the blues, Benjamin Shook was a bandleader in Detroit from the end of the 19th century into the 1930s. According to Blesh and Janis, authors of They All Played Ragtime, the bands of Theodore Finney, Fred S. Stone, and Benjamin Shook "...monopolized the city's entertainment and social world to the almost ...

  • George Walker, 1873-1911

    Biography. Biography. George Walker died on January 6, 1911. Lester Walton, in the New York Age of January 12, 1911, said, "George Walker was a talented artist, a fact which cannot be overlooked . . . Yet, the man was a dominating force in the theatrical world more because of the service he rendered the colored members of the profession, more because of the ...

    • Date: 1911-01-06
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912

    Biography. Biography. In England, Coleridge-Taylor continued an active life in music. He composed, taught at Trinity College of Music, conducted numerous choral societies, and even conducted in the famed Handel Society from 1904 until his death. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died on September 1, 1912, of pneumonia contracted due to overwork.

    • Date: 1912-09-01
  • Maceo Pinkard, 1897-1962

    Biography. Biography. Composer Maceo Pinkard was born in Bluefield, West Virginia, in 1897. After his "Oh, You Darktown Regimental Band" was published in 1920 by the first black-owned music publishing company, Pace and Handy, Pinkard went on to write music for the shows Bon Bon Buddy, Jr. (1922), Liza (1922), and Broadway Rastus (1925 edition). He also composed several blues songs as well as ...

  • Billy Johnson, 1858-1916

    Biography. Biography. After a period in Chicago, where Johnson got married, dabbled in politics, wrote some songs, and appeared in the last Pekin Stock Company production, he returned to the New York stage around 1911. The last show he performed in was Twenty Miles from Home in 1914. Billy Johnson died in 1916 after a fall.

  • Alton A. Adams

    Biography. Biography. Alton Augustus Adams, born in the Virgin Islands in 1889, remains an iconic figure there. When the United States took over the islands in 1917, the new governor appointed Adams chief musician. The band that Adams assembled entered the U.S. Navy as a unit, making Adams the first black bandmaster to serve in the U.S. Navy. He composed a great deal of ...

  • Clarence Cameron White, 1880-1960

    Biography. Biography. White remained active in music throughout his life. Among his positions were conductor of the Victorian Chamber Orchestra in Boston from 1916-20 and the Hampton Institute Choir upon Dett's retirement in 1933. White was director of music at West Virginia State College from 1924-31. He died in 1960, shortly after the completion and performance of his cantata, "Heritage."

  • Shepard N. Edmonds, 1876-1957

    Biography. Biography. Little is known of Shepard N. Edmonds, except that he published some music. He was part of a vaudeville team with J. Leubrie Hill which performed on the East Coast around 1898.

  • Bob Cole, 1868-1911

    Biography. Biography. James Weldon Johnson later referred to Cole as "the single greatest force in the middle period of the development of black theatricals in America." Although he is still not well known today, history bears out much of Johnson's claim. Cole was one of the handful of truly pioneering black composers and performers of his time.

  • J. Rosamond Johnson (John Rosamond), 1873-1954

    Biography. Biography. When World War I broke out, Johnson received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Regiment. After the war, he toured with his own groups, and even sang and played the part of a lawyer in the original production of Porgy and Bess in 1935. J. Rosamond Johnson died in New York City on November 11, 1954.

    • Date: 1954-11-11
  • John Larkins

    Biography. Biography. John Larkins was a minor figure in black music in the early part of the 20th century. He ran "Jolly" John Larkin's Company and employed James Reese Europe as its musical director from 1906-07. In 1910 he produced and starred in A Trip to Africa. His other credits include Royal Sam (1911) and Deep Central (1932).

  • William H. Tyers, 1876-1924

    Biography. Biography. One of the first black composers to join ASCAP, Tyers died in 1924.

  • Maurice Arnold, 1865-1937

    Biography. Biography. Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonin Dvorak during Dvorak's 1894 stay in the United States. Arnold participated in Dvorak's famous January 23, 1894, concert at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" were performed at the conservatory and garnered him a small measure of fame. He was also the author of ...

    • Date: 1894-01-23
  • Eubie Blake, 1883-1983

    Biography. Biography. Blake was one of the principle figures of the ragtime and early jazz revival of the 1970s, giving talks and performances well into his nineties. In 1979 the musical Eubie was created from his work; Blake himself made several cameo appearances in performances. Eubie Blake passed away shortly after his 100th birthday.

  • Luckey Roberts, 1887-1968

    Biography. Biography. Roberts recorded two unissued solo piano sides for Columbia in 1916. These were his compositions "Shoo Fly" and "Shy and Sly." Although he accompanied other artists in late-1920s recordings, he did not record again under his name until 1946. Roberts performed as a vaudvevillian singer, dancer, and pianist in the United States and Europe. He also organized and conducted his own ensembles, ...

  • R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)

    Biography. Dett was opposed to the style of "swinging the spirituals" that was becoming popular during the 1930s. He held a poll among his students at Bennett College regarding their opinions of the popular style. One of his students, reflecting Dett' s teaching, wrote: "I like the music, but I don't like the way it was sung. . . . I think it lowers ...

  • Herman Wade

    Biography. Biography. Very little is known of Herman Wade. He may be the same person as Herman Avery Wade (and may also have been known as Edwin E. Wilson) who worked for the Aeolian Corporation from 1904-23 as a piano roll arranger. Songs attributed him include "I Want to be Loved Like a Leading Lady" (1908), "Hindoo Honey" (1907), and "I've Got a Pain ...

  • Bert Williams, 1874-1922

    Biography. Biography. Williams was also one of the most prolific black performers on recordings, making around 80 recordings from 1901-22. Indeed, his first recording sessions with George Walker for the Victor Company in 1901 are considered the first recordings by black performers for a major recording company. Williams signed with Columbia in 1906 and the majority of his recordings were with that company, including ...

  • J. Leubrie Hill (John Leubrie), d. 1916

    Biography. Biography. Florenz Ziegfeld, producer of the Ziegfeld Follies, was impressed enough to buy the rights for a few of the numbers from My Friend from Kentucky including "At the Ball, That's All" to use in his next Follies production. Parts of My Friend from Kentucky also were used in 1914's Darktown Follies, which played in a more conventional Broadway theater; this production was ...

  • J. Tim Brymn, 1881-1946

    Biography. Biography. After the revival of black musicals in 1921, Brymn immediately returned to stage work, appearing in Put and Take and conducting the orchestra for Liza. In 1923 Brymn introduced the "Black Bottom" dance to the world at large as part of the musical Dinah. Brymn also wrote several blues songs during the 1920s blues craze. In the 1930s Brymn conducted American military ...

  • James Reese Europe, 1881-1919

    Biography. Biography. The impact of James Reese Europe on American music cannot be overestimated. Perhaps even more than Will Marion Cook, he shaped not only the music of his own time, but of future generations as well. His organizational accomplishments, far exceeding Cook's, prefigured the black-owned, black-run musical organizations that have existed since his time and to this day.

  • Montague Ring

    Biography. Biography. Ms. Aldridge was the mentor and coach to such luminaries as Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and Roland Hayes. She also composed several classical works including the songs "Noontide Song" and "'Tis Morning," the piano suites "Three Pictures from Syria," "Baghdad," "Four Moorish Pictures," "Three African Dances," and "Carnival: Suite of Five Dances," as well as several light orchestral works.

  • Horace Weston, 1825-1890

    Biography. Biography. One of Weston's principal champions was Samuel Swain Stewart, a proponent of the banjo, who published pieces by Weston and other banjo players. Among Weston's compositions are: "Horace Weston's Home Sweet Home," "Horace Weston's New Schottische," "Horace Weston's Old-Time Jig," "The Egyptian Fandango," and "Weston's Great Minor Jig."

  • Sidney Perrin

    Biography. Biography. Perrin also had a production company. Sid Perrin's High Flyers Company produced at least two shows--Show Folks (1920) and High Flyers (1921).

  • Will Accooe (d. 1904)

    Biography. Biography. Accooe also composed for other musicals. Williams and Walker's The Sons of Ham (1900) included some Accooe material. He also wrote a musical in 1901 with Will Marion Cook called The Cannibal King, but this was never staged.

  • Will Marion Cook (1869-1944)

    Biography. Biography. Biography. Cook also followed his own advice. Thomas Riis, in his study of early black musical theater, singles out Cook's remarkable harmonic skill and compositional sophistication. When the pursuit of his classical career was stymied, Cook brought his exceptional talent to bear on popular music, perhaps paving the way for the marriage of popular spirit and classical complexity which became jazz. Either ...

  • Joe Jordan

    Biography. Biography. Around 1905, he began a long career as a conductor and composer, working with James Reese Europe on Ernest Hogan's Memphis Students performance troupe. In 1906 he became music director of Chicago's Pekin Theater Orchestra. Jordan also worked in Chicago as a composer and conductor for several musicals. He contributed songs such as "Lovey Joe" to Ziegfeld's 1910 Follies. In 1939 Jordan ...

  • Noble Sissle, 1889-1975

    Biography. Biography. Sissle also founded the Negro Actors Guild. Known as the unofficial mayor of Harlem, he died in December 1975.