Black Entertainers in African American Newspaper Articles: Volume I,

by Charlene B. Register (2002, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC, ISBN 0-7864-1053-1)

This is one of those books that researchers need and cherish. Its promise, however, is thwarted by the surviving record.

Author Charlene B. Regester has combed available editions of four major African American newspapers: The Afro-American evolved over a period between 1892 and 1907 and was published in Baltimore. The Chicago Defender began in 1905, and the New York Amsterdam News followed in 1909. In the depths of the Great Depression, 1934, a fourth newspaper made its debut as a shopping guide for black consumers and developed into the Los Angeles Sentinel.

Nearly 670 pages, exclusive of index, this tome contains snippets from the four major black newspapers. They clippings are arranged by year and, sadly, there are slim pickings—four and a half pages containing 76 entries to cover the years 1910 – 1919. The coverage gets progressively fuller: 465 entries on 23 pages for the period of 1920 – 1929. With the year 1930 alone, the tally almost doubles. All together, Volume I embraces the period 1910 - 1950.

Most of the entries follow similar lines. “1929, December 28: Ethel Waters Still London Sensation. Afro-American (Baltimore). p. 7. Ethel Waters continued to be the sensation of London and nearly all of the London papers and society columnists are singing her praises.” “1934, November 3. No planes [sic] for Sleep and Eat New Film Comedian. Chicago Defender. p.9. Willie Best; Kentucky Kernels (film) ‘Sleep and Eat,’ his real name is Willie Best and director George Stevens, who directed him in Wheeler & Woolsey’s latest starring RKO Radio picture, Kentucky Kernels, calls him ‘Buckshot’ (as he) is as funny off the screen as he is on-screen.” “1945, January 5. Muse Tells His Side of Uncle Remus of Film. Chicago Defender. p. 11 Clarence Muse; Discriminatory Practices; Uncle Remus (film); Clarence Muse, noted actor, complains that the press and public left him ‘holding the bag’ when he went all out in insisting that Walt Disney’s Uncle Remus be dignified.”

The entries are unsatisfyingly short and a few tantalize for further details.

Still, compiling this large tome was a Herculean endeavor and a pioneering step in the exploration of African American entertainment and newspapers. It will be interesting to see what Volume II brings. One assumes a post-1950 compilation, but hopes for more from the early Twentieth Century. Of course, the author can only mine the materials that survive.

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(Continued from page 12)

than ever had vaudeville. Mr. Erdman suggests several reasons, one of which is less sound than the other. The author compares nickelodeons to vaudeville palaces and concludes that their storefront modesty and darkness contrasted poorly with the splendor and safety of vaudeville houses. In fact, both movie and vaudeville houses followed the same arc of development. Vaudeville was a mature and sanitized version of saloon bred variety, and the success of nickelodeons led to movie palaces as ornate and safe as vaudeville’s best. At no time was either vaudeville or movie exhibition without rattletrap venues. Erdman’s ground is surer with a second reason: “while vaudeville may have been perceived as a form of entertainment controlled by right-intentioned Anglo-American Christian men … the movies were more readily seen as the province of outsiders: immigrants, Europeans, Jews, men with little formal education who came from low backgrounds and disreputable lines of business.” Like other portions of Andrew L. Erdman’s book, this entry provides an interesting topic for speculation and discussion.

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