The Old Invalid of Black Show Business

Foreword to Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts by Edward Mapp

To the unknowing, “Show business” can be an illusive invalid as well as a glamorous occupation. There was a time, however, when for the black performer, it was not too illusive nor was it an invalid. For many years, being in show business was fabulous and most times glamorous. It was fabulous in 1821 when the African Company, with John Hewlett as its star, presented the classics at Brown’s Theatre on Bleecker and Mercer Sts., in what was later to become Greenwich Village. The company was so successful that they graciously made a partition in the back of the house to accommodate the whites. It was fabulous when Ira Aldridge was world famous for his portrayals of Othello and the Moor in “Titus Andronicus”; when the black performer decided to make some of the big money being made by the minstrel shows that imitated him by imitating the imitators; and when the Lafayette Players sent two acting companies a season with such stars as Laura Bowman, Abbie Mitchell, Clarence Brooks, Frank Wilson, Rose McClendon and many others.

When Harlem had little theatre groups like the Allied Re players, the Rose McClendon Players, The American Negro Theatre, The Suitcase Theatre and various church groups — these groups were the proving grounds for Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Frederick O’Neal, Earle Hyman, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Alice Childress Continue reading