Jasper White was part of Isham’s Oriental America touring UK company in 1897. In 1900 Jasper White was appearing at Manchester Grand alongside George Bohee (who was no longer part of the famous banjo act, the Bohee brothers), described as a comedian. In July 1900 he was in a revival of The Octoroon at Newcastle Grand which then toured. He was part of the In Sunny Tennessee company in 1917. He became part of Will Garland’s company, in All Black (1922), Down South (1924) Coloured Lights (1925) Brownbirds (1927).
He appears to have become involved in nightclubs in later life, and advertises himself as the previous proprietor of the Sunset Club and of the new venture Club Ebony on Gerrard’s Street (various editions of The Stage July and August 1958). There is no mention of Jasper in any US sources, or in any UK genealogical records, so this is possibly a stage name he adopted for the UK, and he may well have been British.
[Hurnes, James Edward] (b.?, Birmingham, UK d.1950, fl. 1916-1949)
Emmerson was a comedian, actor, dancer, singer, later compere long associate of Will Garland. In 1910 and 1913, ‘Eddie Emmerson’ appears as an ‘American juggling comedian’ however, in later interviews Emmerson stated his birthplace as Birmingham, UK. (The Birmingham Daily Gazette later notes he is a ‘clever local comedian’ 24/07/1923, 3)
Though Black performers were often assumed to be US American, no further mention is ever made of any juggling ability, it is likely this was someone else. This means Emerson’s first appearances under that name begin from the mid-1910s. Emerson was married to Myla Soysa (Westminster & Pimlico News, 09/01/1931, 8); her wedding registration lists her marriage to Emerson or Hurnes. The address given in news coverage of an unlikely event at the Soysa family home (a cat was singed in a fire and saved its owners from further harm by causing attention to the problem) reveals his address to be 4 Seagrave Terrace. In coverage of applications for Theatrical Employers’, the same address appears with the name James Edward Hurnes, thereby confirming his identity. Hurnes’s 1914 war record gives his profession as acrobat.
The acting/theatre roles that Emerson played, as well as the paucity of information on him, reveal the limitations placed on Black performers during the period. His first named role seems to have been Man Friday in the Derby Hippodrome’s 1915 pantomime Robinson Crusoe, a role which he played the year before his death in 1949 at Bournemouth’s New Royal Theatre. He played Jim Crow in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Coventry Hippodrome in 1925). Emmerson was primarily associated with many Black cast revues. He perhaps had some producing role in the 1930 production Spades are Trumps as he ran advertisements for Black performers in The Stage 23/01/1930, 14. Together with Amos Howard, he established the Stockwell Productions company in 1926, which produced Still Going Some that year, with Hilda Dawson and Juno Grady.
He appears throughout the 1940s in variety billings – sometimes in a duo with white comedian Eddie Black. In 1946; listed as ‘the Bright Black Spot’ at Collins’s Islington (Stage, 28/08/1947, 3). Appears again at Collins in 1949 playing alongside Norman Thomas as ‘two dark clouds of joy’ (Stage, 12/05/1949, 5). He died while on tour with the revue Four and Twenty Blackbirds, from a heart attack (Stage, 06/04/1950, 4). He must have died without means to be privately buried, and was buried in a common [shared] grave in West London, West Brompton.
British Newspaper Archive
At the moment very little exists on Emmerson, he is covered in depth in An Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre.
There is more to learn about Black performers using blackface in performance, Camille Forbes has worked extensively on the earlier key practitioner Bert Williams: