American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 37

Sam Cowell

Sam Cowell, one of the first ‘stars’ of what was to become known as Music Hall, was also one of the first of that fraternity to tour the United States. Others followed and presaged the “British Invasion” by British pop singers of the early 1960s. Cowell came from a generation of entertainers who were multitalented and appeared in farce, melodrama, the Song and Supper Rooms (the precursor of Music Hall) and—in the case of Sam Cowell—grand opera (Bellini’s La Sonnambula).

Sam’s father, Joseph Leathly Cowell [1792—1863], whose real name was Witchett, came from a military and naval family. His father had been a colonel in the British army and his uncle was Admiral Witshed [the family name was variously spelled]. Joseph entered the navy at 13 years old as a midshipman. Drawn to the stage, he left the Navy in 1812. Quickly securing an engagement, he began his career as a well respected actor and scene painter. In 1820, his first wife, a Mrs. Murray (given and maiden names unknown), gave birth to Sam. Not long thereafter, Joseph left for New York City where he appeared at the Park Theatre.