Tom Fletcher (vaudeville)

Last updated

Thomas Fletcher (May 16, 1873 October 13, 1954) was an African-American vaudeville entertainer, actor, and writer.

Cover of 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business: the Tom Fletcher Story (1954) 51jGGlho-tL. AC SY780.jpg
Cover of 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business: the Tom Fletcher Story (1954)

Career

Fletcher was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and started a career on the stage after performing in Uncle Tom's Cabin in his teens. He sang in local talent contests before touring with minstrel shows, and by 1900 was performing regularly in vaudeville with Al Bailey as "Bailey and Fletcher, the Minstrel Boys". [1] With Bailey, he appeared in films made in New York in the early 1900s by Edwin S. Porter. [2]

In 1908, he replaced the group's founder Ernest Hogan as a member of the Memphis Students, an ensemble of singers and dancers who were neither students nor from Memphis. The group, comprising about twenty musicians and dancers, performed regularly on Broadway, and were "the first to perform syncopated music on a public concert stage." [1] In 1919, Fletcher joined the New York Syncopated Orchestra led by Will Marion Cook, and performed in Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Throughout his career he also worked as an entertainer for "the who's who of white America". [1]

His autobiography, 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business: the Tom Fletcher Story, was published in 1954. It "gives the only eyewitness account from a black insider of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century theatrical players, personalities and pioneers," [1] including Hogan and Scott Joplin, [3] and has been used as a source by many historians of musical theatre. [2]

Fletcher died in New York in 1954, aged 81. [1]

Related Research Articles

Ragtime, also spelled rag-time or rag time, is a music genre that had its peak from the 1890s to 1910s. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or "ragged" rhythm. Ragtime was popularized during the early 20th century by composers such as Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb. Ragtime pieces are typically composed for and performed on piano, though the genre has been adapted for a variety of instruments and styles. "Maple Leaf Rag", "The Entertainer", "Fig Leaf Rag", "Frog Legs Rag", and "Sensation Rag" are among the most popular songs of the genre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scott Joplin</span> American composer, music teacher, and pianist (1868–1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. Because of the fame achieved for his ragtime compositions, he was dubbed the "King of Ragtime". During his career, he wrote over 40 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first and most popular pieces, the "Maple Leaf Rag", became the genre's first and most influential hit, later being recognized as the quintessential rag. Joplin considered ragtime to be a form of classical music and largely disdained the practice of ragtime such as that in honky tonk.

Wilbur Coleman Sweatman was an American ragtime and dixieland jazz composer, bandleader and clarinetist. Sweatman was one of the first African-American musicians to have fans nationwide. He was also a trailblazer in the racial integration of musical groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cakewalk</span> Type of dance

The cakewalk was a dance developed from the "prize walks" held in the mid-19th century, generally at get-togethers on Black slave plantations before and after emancipation in the Southern United States. Alternative names for the original form of the dance were "chalkline-walk", and the "walk-around". It was originally a processional partner dance danced with comical formality, and may have developed as a subtle mockery of the mannered dances of white slaveholders.

Trixie Smith was an American blues singer, recording artist, vaudeville entertainer, and actress. She made four dozen recordings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bill Robinson</span> American dancer and actor, AKA Bojangles (1878–1949)

Bill Robinson, nicknamed Bojangles, was an American tap dancer, actor, and singer, the best known and the most highly paid African-American entertainer in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. His long career mirrored changes in American entertainment tastes and technology. His career began in the age of minstrel shows and moved to vaudeville, Broadway theatre, the recording industry, Hollywood films, radio, and television.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Will Marion Cook</span> American composer and violinist

William Mercer Cook, better known as Will Marion Cook, was an American composer, violinist, and choral director. Cook was a student of Antonín Dvořák. In 1919 he took his New York Syncopated Orchestra to England for a command performance for King George V of the United Kingdom, and tour. Cook is probably best known for his popular songs and landmark Broadway musicals, featuring African-American creators, producers, and casts, such as Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cake Walk (1898) and In Dahomey (1903). The latter toured for four years, including in the United Kingdom and United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Marshall (composer)</span> Musical artist

Arthur Owen Marshall was an American composer and performer of ragtime music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Entertainer (rag)</span> Piano rag by Scott Joplin

"The Entertainer" is a 1902 classic piano rag written by Scott Joplin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Billy Kersands</span> American comedian and dancer

Billy Kersands was an African-American comedian and dancer. He was the most popular black comedian of his day, best known for his work in blackface minstrelsy. In addition to his skillful acrobatics, dancing, singing, and instrument playing, Kersands was renowned for his comic routines involving his large mouth, which he could contort comically or fill with objects such as billiard balls or saucers. His stage persona was that of the dim-witted black man of the type that had been popularized in white minstrel shows. Modern commentators such as Mel Watkins cite him as one of the earliest black entertainers to have faced the dilemma of striking a balance between social satire and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hokum</span> Type of song in American blues

Hokum is a particular song type of American blues music—a humorous song which uses extended analogies or euphemistic terms to make sexual innuendos. This trope goes back to early blues recordings and is used from time to time in modern American blues and blues rock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John W. Cooper</span>

John Walcott Cooper, Jr. was an American ventriloquist, entertainer, and singer with the Southern Jubilee Singers. He was known as the "Black Napoleon of Ventriloquism" and also performed under the pseudonym Hezekiah Jones. Over the course of his lifetime Cooper was a member of the Negro Actors Guild of America, the Colored Vaudeville Benevolent Association, and the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernest Hogan</span> Vaudeville performer

Ernest Hogan was the first African-American entertainer to produce and star in a Broadway show and helped to popularize the musical genre of ragtime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Rabbit's Foot Company</span>

The Rabbit's Foot Company, also known as the Rabbit('s) Foot Minstrels and colloquially as "The Foots", was a long-running minstrel and variety troupe that toured as a tent show in the American South between 1900 and the late 1950s. It was established by Pat Chappelle, an African-American entrepreneur in Tampa, Florida.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eddie Leonard</span> American vaudevillian and actor (died 1941)

Eddie Leonard, born Lemuel Golden Toney, was a vaudevillian and a man considered the greatest American minstrel of his day, at a time when minstrel shows were an acceptable and popular mainstream entertainment in the United States. He was called "last of the great minstrels" in his 1941 obituary in Time. He performed in vaudeville for 45 years before that medium faded in the 1920s, and was known for such songs as "Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider" and "Roly Boly Eyes". He published his memoir titled What a Life I'm Telling You in 1934.

This is a timeline of music in the United States from 1880 to 1919.

Sanding, also known as sand jigging or sand dancing, is a type of dance performed as a series of slides and shuffles on a sand-strewn floor. In some instances, the sand is spread across an entire stage. In other cases, it is kept in a box that the dancer stays in throughout the dance. Originally a soft-shoe technique, scratching in sand can also add a different texture to the percussion of tap. There is no one type of shoe used to sand dance; traditional tap shoes are used alongside soft shoes and leather boots, all creating a distinctive sound. Willie "The Lion" Smith said of sanding, "You could really hear and feel the rhythm when the dancers shuffled around in a nice pair of patent-leather shoes".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black Vaudeville</span>

Black Vaudeville is a term that specifically describes Vaudeville-era African American entertainers and the milieus of dance, music, and theatrical performances they created. Spanning the years between the 1880s and early 1930s, these acts not only brought elements and influences unique to American black culture directly to African Americans but ultimately spread them beyond to both white American society and Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Billy McClain</span> American actor

William C. ("Billy") McClain was an African-American acrobat, comedian and actor who starred in minstrel shows before World War I. He wrote, produced and directed several major stage and outdoor extravaganzas, and wrote a number of popular songs. He was influential in extending the range of minstrel shows far beyond the traditional conventions of the time, giving them appeal to much wider audiences. He toured in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. Later he promoted boxing and played several minor roles in movies.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Gates, Henry Louis; Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (2009). Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 204. ISBN   9780195387957.
  2. 1 2 "Tom Fletcher remembers", The Bioscope, April 27, 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2016
  3. Nancy R. Ping Robbins, Guy Marco, Scott Joplin: A Guide to Research, Routledge, 2014, p.114