Norman Astwood (1902-1994)


Actor and singer, later film actor, Astwood was born in Florida before he moved to New York as a young man. He was in the UK for a two year period as part of T. Elder Hearn’s production of Blackbirds 1928-9 (the company included Johnny Nit, Anita Edwards, Olive Mendez and Bert Russell). Astwood sang solos and duets with Edwards, who was a white Welsh opera singer.

He briefly went into another Elder Hearn vehicle around Eddie Hunter, Good Gracious, but returned in 1930 after the tour.  Before his arrival in the UK, Astwood had been a part of several US all Black cast revues including the Chicago production of Shuffle Along (1924), in Eddie Hunter’s Struttin’ Time (1924, co written with Alex Rogers) Darktown Scandals (1927). When he returned to the US in 1930, Astwood performed in various Harlem theatres, including the Alhambra, the Apollo and at the Cotton Club alongside Duke Ellington. He later appeared in three films Paradise in Harlem (1939), Sunday Sinners (1940), and Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941). He died in Florida in 1994.

Paradise in Harlem (1940) - Rotten Tomatoes
The poster for Paradise in Harlem, from Rotten Tomatoes


British Newspaper Archive, Afro American, Billboard

Further Reading

Astwood is mentioned in numerous accounts of Black film in the 1940s and in connection with Duke Ellington (e.g. Vail, Ken. Duke’s Diary. Scarecrow Press, 2002) but there is no substantial further material yet written.

Garland Anderson (1886-1939)

Image of Garland Anderson (copyright status unknown)


Anderson is an important playwright, philosopher and performer, who has been widely written about for his work in general. There is an expansive biography available of his career at Wikipedia. In the UK he was the subject of a great deal of interest, and was frequently described as a ‘playwright, lecturer, and metaphysician’ in the British press. While he didn’t directly produce or write musicals, he was a part of the wider theatre scene and the Black community. He maintained a transatlantic presence throughout the 1930s, perhaps unsurprisingly given his marriage to Doris Sequeira, a white British woman.

He saw his plays produced in the West End, and worked as a lecturer and public speaker, often in churches. Mrs Bourchier produced his play Appearances at the Royalty Theatre, London, in March 1930 with Doe Green, a Black actor, in the lead. In 1932 it was reported that he wanted to revive it so that 200 unemployed men could see it and be addressed by him in the interval, and hear his message of hope. This came to fruition and his play was revived at the Fortune Theatre, he donated his royalties to a charity for the unemployed.

In 1934 he opened a teetotal bar at Shaftesbury Avenue, referred to as a milk bar, though it is unclear how long it lasted for.

He gave lectures across the UK, from Eton School, Edinburgh Rotarians, the Practical Psychology Club of Reading, to Eastbourne Pier and churches in Preston, Lancashire. He spoke about his ideas of “uncommon sense”, that allowed him to pursue the impossible or face unimaginable difficulties, and as a way to circumvent the many problems he had faced. He later published this idea as a book with the same title.

My common sense told me that these things were impossible, but I made them possible by using my uncommon sense - the power within that everyone can use"
Birmingham Daily Gazette (UK) 11 January 1939, 5.


British Newspaper Archive, in particular The Era.

Read more

Abramson, Doris E. Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre, 1925-1959. New York : Columbia University Press, 1991.

Internet Broadway Database records

Blackpast article

Prentiss, Craig R. ““The Full Realization of This Desire” Garland Anderson, Race, and the Limits of New Thought in the Age of Jim Crow.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 17, no. 3 (2013): 84-108.

Cherry Adele

(active 1945-1949)

Embed from Getty Images

Cherry Adele [pictured on the far left] first appeared in the UK in August 1945, appearing with the Blue Hawaiians, led by Al Shaw. At Liverpool Shakespeare she sang ‘first class modern and “hula” numbers’ (Liverpool Echo, 04/09/1945, 2). Adele’s performance as a singer is commentated on through various racialised terms, advertisements listed her as the ‘singing blackbird’ and ‘the sophisticated blackbird’ variously, reviews commentated on her ‘seductiveness’. She was in the May 1948 production of Calypso in London’s West End. After this, she became part of Les Ballets Nègres, Berto Pasuka’s company. She appeared in Sauce Tartare alongside Audrey Hepburn in 1949 (see above), but no further mention can be found of her. She can be seen in Ballet Black see ::: Arts on Film Archive ::: 

~Sources: British Newspaper Archive

Further Reading

Very little exists about Adele, though you can see her in Ballet Black. She is also mentioned in An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre.