African-American performers, producers and writers Salem Tutt Whitney (born Indiana 1869 – Chicago, Feb. 12, 1934) and J. Homer Tutt (born Logansport, Indiana January 31, 1882- Los Angeles, February 10, 1951) billed themselves as brothers although they may have been half-brothers. In the early years of the 20th century they worked together to produce travelling shows, mainly across the southern United States and exclusively for black audiences in black theaters.
The Vaudeville genre was particularly popular in the United States and Canada from the late 1900s until its decline in the 1920s. Including musicians, dancers, actors in short scenes, comedians, magicians, animals, and many other acts, these performances were various and unique, often having little relation to one another, yet grouped on one bill. The bill was repeated throughout one circuit generally and then replaced with a new build to complete the circuit again.
Aida Overton Walker is a name that should be more familiar to vaudeville and theater lovers than it is for she was the foremost African-American star of her generation which comprised the early years of the 20th century. Her national and even international fame was such that she was a living legend of black show business and in fact her vision of a world with dignified and respected black show business artists who did not have to demean themselves onstage was years ahead of reality.
One of the most important and yet forgotten acts in vaudeville was the comedy team of Butterbeans and Susie, who were really Jodie Edwards (July 19, 1893 – October 28, 1967) and Susie Edwards (born Susie Hawthorne, December, 1894 - died December 5th, 1963).
Bert Williams (New Providence, Nassau, British West Indies, November 12, 1874 - New York, March 4, 1922) was arguably the most important black star of early vaudeville and was the first to cross the color line and the first to work openly with white performers in a major Broadway venue. He was a Mason and was the first black man buried with Masonic honors. And yet he fell victim to the blatant discrimination that prevailed during his lifetime so that he was not even permitted to watch his own show sitting in the preferred seats in the audience.