Biographies George Walker, 1873-1911

Image: George Walker
[George Walker] detail from "When the moon shines" (New York: Attucks Music Co., 1904). Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920, American Memory, Library of Congress.

George Walker was born in 1873 in Lawrence, Kansas. His first acting job took him to San Francisco where he met Bert Williams in 1893. As a team, their big break came in 1896 in Victor Herbert's musical Gold Bug. The musical flopped, but the songs performed by Williams and Walker were audience hits. They began playing Koster and Bial's in New York City in 1897, billing themselves as the "Tabasco Senegambians" or sometimes as the "Two Real Coons." About this billing Walker said:

How to get before the public and prove that ability we might possess was a hard problem for us to solve. We thought that as there seemed to be a great demand for blackfaces on the stage, we would do all we could to get what we felt belonged to us by the laws of nature. We finally decided that as white men with black faces were billing themselves 'coons,' Williams and Walker would do well to bill themselves as 'The Two Real Coons' and so we did. Our bills attracted the attention of managers, and gradually we made our way in.

Williams and Walker quickly became "the standard against which other comedy acts were compared." They reversed their initial roles; Walker took the part of the straight man to Williams' con man. Walker also was known as the "darky dandy"--he usually performed in tailored suit, spats, high hat, monocle, gloves, and cane. His signature song was "Bon Bon Buddy," written by Will Marion Cook and Alex Rogers. Besides being an extraordinary dancer, Walker was also the primary creator and idea man for the Williams and Walker shows and musicals.

George Walker produced and starred in a number of hit shows with Bert Williams. These shows included Segegambian Carnival (1897), The Policy Players (1899), The Sons of Ham (1900), their biggest hit, In Dahomey (1902)--which also played in London the following year, Abyssinia (1906), and Bandana Land (1907). Williams and Walker performed a 16th anniversary show at the Majestic Theatre on April 2, 1908. Shortly thereafter, Walker retired from show business.

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 opportunities he created than for the types he originated. It was George Walker's chief aim to elevate the colored theatrical profession, and the race as well. It was his desire to give us elaborate productions as the white shows and play the best theatres."

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George Walker, 1873-1911
Subject Headings
-  Walker, George -- 1873-1911 -- -- composer
-  Popular Songs of the Day
-  Songs and Music
-  Parlor and Concert Stage
-  Social Change
-  Progressive Era to New Era (1900-1929)
-  Biographies
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George Walker, 1873 to 1911. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed January 23, 2017.)

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