African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand

A History, 1788–1941


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About the Book

Eleven African Americans, including a musician, were among the First Fleet of colonial settlers to Australia. In the 150-plus following years, African Americans visiting the region included jubilee singers, vaudevillians, sports stars and general entertainers. This book provides the only comprehensive history of more than 350 African American entertainers in Australia and New Zealand between European settlement in Australia in 1788 and the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941. Famous names covered include boxer Jack Johnson, film star Nina Mae McKinney and jazz singer Eva Taylor. Background stories provide a multidimensional view of the entertainers’ time in a place very far from home.

About the Author(s)

Bill Egan is a Canberra (Australia) based independent researcher with a lifelong interest in jazz and African American culture.

Bibliographic Details

Bill Egan
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 282
Bibliographic Info: 81 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7795-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3743-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 4
1. In the Beginning 7
2. African American Minstrels Arrive: Dueling Georgians 14
3. The Fisk Jubilee Singers 29
4. Further Adventures of the Jubilee Singers 36
5. Charles B. Hicks Returns 49
6. Orpheus McAdoo and the Return of the Fisks 57
7. The Tivoli Era Starts 65
8. The Return of Orpheus McAdoo and a Rival 70
9. McAdoo and Curtis: The Battle Begins 81
10. McAdoo Reigns Again 86
11. Eva Taylor (Irene Gibbons) and Josephine Gassman 94
12. This Sporting Life: Major Taylor 102
13. George Sorlie and Cassie Walmer 113
14. Big, Bad Jack Johnson 120
15. The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Billy Kersands (1912) 130
16. Throw the Switch to Vaudeville 137
17. The Jazz Age (1923–1925) 150
18. The Jazz Age (1926–1927) 159
19. Sonny Clay’s Colored Idea (White Australia’s Darkest Hour) 169
20. The Post-Clay Lean Years (1928–1934) 177
21. The Norman Thomas Quintette and Ulysses S. Thompson 187
22. Nina Mae McKinney 194
23. 1937: The Harmony Kings and Bob Parrish 201
24. 1938: Chris Gill, the Edwards Sisters, Chuck Richards and Peg Leg Bates 206
25. Frankie Manning and the Lindy Hoppers (1938–1939) 210
26. 1939: Radcliffe and Rodgers, Ada Brown, the Dancing Chefs, Chuck and Chuckles, the Mills Brothers 215
27. Epilogue: 1940–1941 and After 224
Appendix 1: African American Boxers Pre–World War I 227
Appendix 2: African American Boxers Post–World War I 232
Appendix 3: The Later Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1902–1936 235
Appendix 4: Miscellanea 241
Chapter Notes 243
Bibliography 256
Index 259

Book Reviews & Awards

“Extraordinary…meticulously researched…remarkable … This eminently readable saga reflects our changing attitudes to race and our acceptance of different and evolving forms of entertainment, and it perpetuates the memory of a legion of talented performers…heartily recommended”—Theatre Heritage, Inc.