This map was produced for a talk with the British Library – as we tried to negotiate the problems with a ‘flat dataset’ (i.e. a google sheets list) being turned into something that visually represented the story of a theatrical tour.
(b. 1914, fl. 1920-1936, d. 1951?)
Dancer and choreographer, Johnny Nit performed on Broadway and in Harlem in How Come (1923), a show which also featured Alberta Hunter, and in Dixie to Broadway (1924-5). He was frequently billed as ‘the world’s greatest tap dancer’, and his reviews suggest no one was disappointed at the moniker. On Broadway, Billboard noted that Nit’s ‘dancing routine stopped the show’ (Gordon Whyte, ‘The New Plays on Broadway: How Come?’ The Billboard (Archive: 1894-1960) Apr 28 1923: 36. ProQuest). Nit played in vaudeville alongside Will Vodery’s band in 1925.Continue reading
(b. Sept 12, 1886, Ealing – d.1964, Scarborough)
Join us as we return from our summer break to continue with the biographies – this time – the extraordinary Black British composer and performer, Madeline Rossiter.
A contralto singer, performer, male impersonator, tap dancer, dance teacher, choreographer, multi-instrumentalist, theatre director and comedian, as well as a composer and lyricist.
Rossiter toured extensively across the UK, Australasia and South Asia, known professionally as Madeline Rossiter. also performed in UK productions of musicals like the touring production of Rose Marie as Wanda the Mountain Vamp, leading the dance work of the company.
Despite this extensive presence, Rossiter isn’t included in An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre and we were told about her by a reader – we’ve noted several times that we are aware of the vaster history we are gesturing towards. What’s particularly exciting about Rossiter is that some of her music has survived – and there is potentially more in private circulation. In celebration of 135th anniversary of her birth, we’ve researched into her remarkable career and brought together some new information from digitised news sources from the UK and the US.
Very unusually for retracing Black practitioners in the early 1900s-1910s, there is one clear and full biography of Madeline Rossiter’s work written while she was still alive. The November 1954 edition of B.M.G. (Banjo Manadolin Guitar) “The Oldest Established and Most Widely-read Fretted Instrument Magazine in the World” – provides a detailed overview of her career, updating their readers that she was still directing amateur musical theatre productions in Cornwall. Though some details are very unclear, using digitised databases allows us to find a little more about Rossiter, who was by any definition, an extraordinary polymath.Continue reading
From February 1907-1967 Howard appears touring British variety theatres widely as a singer and within the year as a smart dancer, sand dancer (London, Bradford, Walsall, Bath, Carlisle etc). ‘Puts in one of the most strenuous ten minutes’ pieces of work we recall. Some of his steps compare favourably with lightning, so rapid are they.’ (MHTR 10/06/1909), Howard ‘astonishes with his untiring energy and his weird steps’ (MHTR 13/12/1909, 13). These kinds of references occur throughout the period – he clearly worked with both dance and comedy and was referred to explicitly in racially offensive terms. In 1922, he produced Going Some with a Syncopated Orchestra with Lewis Hardcastle.
There is also a Black drummer called Amos Howard who is potentially the same person, since he was part of the Going Some company.
In 1926 he went into he is listed as a partner in a business venture with Emmerson, Stockwell Productions. That note lists his address as 35 Camberwell New Road, in South East London. His company produced Still Going Some with Lewis Hardcastle, Flossie Pearce and Pepita Graham, and later Eddie Emmerson. He was in variations of this production until 1929, with a particular partnership with Hardcastle. He performed with Johnny Nit in a 1930 touring revue. He was also in the Lew Lake’s Blackberries of 1931 company, one review noted his ‘brilliant dancing’ (The Stage, 09/08/1931, 8). This was the point he potentially retired, as no clear mentions can be found subsequently.
Howard is mentioned in Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance by Jason Toynbee, Catherine Tackley · 2016.
Rye, Howard. “Showgirls and stars: Black-cast revues and female performers in Britain 1903-1939.” Popular Music History 1, no. 2 (2006).
(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
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.