American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 35

John W. Cooper

He was billed as “The Black Napoleon of Ventriloquism,” “The Great Cooper,” “The only Colored Ventriloquist in the World,” “America’s Representative Colored Ventriloquist,” and “Cooper, The Great Ventriloquist,” and he played the big-time vaudeville circuits of America. Yet very little is known of Cooper’s early life.

His father, John W. Cooper, Sr., came from Beaufort, South Carolina, and his mother, Annie Morris, from Georgia. Sometime before their son’s birth in 1871, the family moved north. Young John Cooper attended Professor Dorsey’s Institute in downtown Brooklyn for his early education. John was orphaned sometime before he reached his early teens, and, by the age of 13, he had begun to care for himself, working as an exercise boy at the stables of the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in New York. While there, Cooper met a white ventriloquist who tried to fool him into believing that horses could talk. Perhaps that incident first directed his interest toward ventriloquism.