African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


  • Timeline
    • 1865-1910

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The Development of an African-American Musical Theatre 1865-1910


Black Patti Troubadours (1896-1915)

At about the same time, the concert singer M. Sissieretta Jones, known as "Black Patti" began to tour with a variety company called the Black Patti Troubadours. Their performances incorporated Jones' operatic repertoire as well as vaudeville episodes performed by the company. Bob Cole, one of the central figures in the development of the African-American musical stage, was associated with this troupe for a time in its early years. John Larkins wrote and appeared in the musical A Royal Coon, presented as part of the Black Patti Troubadours show in 1909. The troupe toured from 1896 to 1915.

A Trip to Coontown (1898)

In 1898, Bob Cole and Billy Johnson presented A Trip to Coontown, the show that has been called "a landmark musical in the history of black theatre." (Peterson: A Century of Musicals in Black and White). This show, which toured for several years, clearly left behind the minstrel format, and was also notable in that it was conceived, written, produced, and performed by African Americans.

Clorindy, or, The Origin of the Cakewalk (1898)

The same year, the African-American composer Will Marion Cook presented Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cakewalk, with lyrics by the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It opened with an all-black cast at the Casino Roof Garden theatre, and was a great success. It starred the popular minstrel comedian Ernest Hogan and saw the debut of singer Abbie Mitchell (later Mrs. Cook).

The Policy Players (1899)

In 1899, the legendary team of Bert Williams and George Walker, along with Jesse A. Shipp, produced The Policy Players in New York, the first of the team's popular musicals that showcased African-American performers, composers, and librettists. Aida Overton Walker (shortly before her marriage to George Walker) appeared in the cast.


Cover of sheet music

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon "Chicken." 1899.

Cover of sheet music

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon  Williams and Walker. "He's up against the real thing now." Words by Edward Furber; music by Bert A. Williams. 1898.