Yale Bulletin
and Calendar

March 8-22, 1999Volume 27, Number 24

'From Bojangles to Broadway' exhibit
celebrates black musical entertainers

"From Bojangles to Broadway," an exhibit of over 20 vintage photographs and related ephemera documenting the rise of African-American entertainers on the American stage, is now on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The display traces the history of black musical entertainers from the minstrel shows of the late 19th century through musicals such as "Porgy and Bess." The exhibition will continue until March 26.

The exhibit was organized by Micaela Blei, a Yale College junior who works as curatorial assistant in the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Library.

"This is by no means a comprehensive look at black musical theater," says Blei, "but a look at the evolution of what black performers were allowed to do, and in turn demanded to do, onstage."

Early minstrel shows, which employed white entertainers in blackface, purveyed gross stereotypes of the "shuffling, irresponsible Negro," notes Blei. Even when black performers began to make their appearance in the minstrel shows of the 1870s, the stereotypes remained unchanged, she notes.

By the turn of the century, minstrelsy was superseded by vaudeville, where many well-known black artists got their start. These include singers Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, and dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

While vaudeville fell from favor, the traditions of both minstrelsy and vaudeville passed on into the American musical theater through such pioneers as the song writers Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, and through the surprise hit of 1921, the all-black production of "Shuffle Along" by the vaudeville team Eubie Black and Noble Sissle.

Among the items on display are early photographs of minstrel performers; several studio portraits by Carl van Vechten of such figures as Waters, Smith, Robinson and John W. Bubbles; images of black vaudeville performers of the 1890s through the 1920s, including costumes ranging from formal evening dress to the clown suits of "That Clever Classy Captivating Couple Mack and Mack"; and publicity photographs from "Shuffle Along" and the 1935 Theater Guild production of "Porgy
and Bess."

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located at the corner of Wall and High Streets, is open for exhibition viewing 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Admission to the library is free.


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Campus Notes

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Carl van Vechten's portrait of dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is one of the images featured in the Beinecke exhibit.