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Beyond BlackfaceAfrican Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930$

W. Fitzhugh Brundage

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780807834626

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807878026_brundage

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The Real Thing

The Real Thing

(p.99) The Real Thing
Beyond Blackface

David Krasner

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the interest in the real as a commercial device. This interest made it possible to break mainstream showbusiness's color barrier. The real enticed white audiences because realism was in vogue. For the educated white bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century, historian T. J. Jackson Lears contends, “authentic experience of any sort seemed ever more elusive; life seemed increasingly confined to the airless parlor of material comfort and moral complacency. Many yearned to smash the glass and breathe freely—to experience ‘real life’ in all its intensity.” Being quite cognizant of this fact, black performers sought to contrast their “realness” with white imitation. White minstrelsy's “seeming counterfeit,” Eric Lott's coinage describing a “contradictory popular construction that was not so much true or false as more or less pleasurable or politically efficacious in the culture that braced it,” was dissolving.

Keywords:   commercial device, mainstream showbusiness, color barrier, realism

I'm the real thing I dance and sing.

—AIDA OVERTON WALKER, “I Wants to Be an Actor Lady” (1903)

“We finally decided that as white men with blackfaces were billing themselves ‘coons,’” wrote the performer George Walker of the Williams and Walker Theatrical Company in 1906, “Williams and Walker would do well to bill themselves the ‘Two Real Coons,’ and so we did.”1 Walker and his partner, Bert Williams, did indeed “do well,” becoming the dominant black theatrical company from 1899 to 1909. Their productions of In Dahomey, (1902–5), Abyssinia (1905–7), and Bandanna Land (1907–9) were among the most bankable musical vaudeville shows on Broadway.2 At the peak of their career, George Walker reported the company's payroll at $2,300 per week, making them one of the most successful companies of the time.3 In Dahomey attained success in London during its 1903 tour, and the company maintained successful engagements from there.4 Capitalizing on the “coon song” craze, Williams and Walker appropriated the term “coon” and applied it to their show. The script for Two Real Coons has been lost, but the idea of being the “real coons” was not lost on black performers. Williams and Walker, and their friend and rival Robert “Bob” Cole and his company, Cole and Johnson, displayed throughout their writings and actions an acute awareness of the “real” as a cultural signifier and marketing tool.

For Williams and Walker and Cole and Johnson, interest in the real as a commercial device made it possible to break mainstream show business's color barrier. The real enticed white audiences because realism was in vogue. For the educated white bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century, historian T. J. Jackson Lears contends, “authentic experience of any sort (p.100) seemed ever more elusive; life seemed increasingly confined to the airless parlor of material comfort and moral complacency. Many yearned to smash the glass and breathe freely—to experience ‘real life’ in all its intensity.”5 Being quite cognizant of this fact, black performers sought to contrast their “realness” with white imitation. White minstrelsy's “seeming counterfeit,” Eric Lott's coinage describing a “contradictory popular construction that was not so much true or false as more or less pleasurable or politically efficacious in the culture that braced it,”6 was dissolving. Although blackface would be revived in Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1940s, by the turn of the century America's interest in racial “counterfeiting” waned, replaced by an obsession with the real. The “real thing”—to coopt the period's jar-gon—signified what Miles Orvell calls the “tension between imitation and authenticity,” which “has been a key constituent in American culture since the Industrial Revolution and assumes critical importance in the shift from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries that we have called—in all its encompassing multiplicity—modernism.” Orvell adds that the emphasis on realism eventuated popular productions that “catered increasingly to a taste for lifelike imitation that floated easily over the border between life and art. It was an excess of such theatrical representation—which might include everything from real food eaten on stage to real horses used to enact battle scenes”—that reflected “the taste for realism in literature.”7 When black performers created “life and art” by putting on the “coon” mask and attaching the term “real” to it, they complicated (and contributed to) the semiotics of realism in American culture.

Following Toni Morrison's call for a “reinterpretation of the American canon,”8 I hope to show that African American performers played a critical role in defining American culture at the turn of the century. Emphasis on realism in America at the time was certainly broad, but the significance of black performers' contributions to this cultural event has largely gone unnoticed. Black performers are rarely mentioned in studies of how American realism took root.9 This disparity is due at least in part to the negative value judgment labeling realism retrograde. Such condemnation is exemplified by Amy Kaplan, who remarks that from “a progressive force exposing the conditions of industrial society, realism has turned into a conservative force whose very act of exposure reveals its complicity with structures of power.”10 I shall argue, however, that realism by black performers was a tactic used to dismantle the structures of power.

Not all black performers opposed what was then the status quo; in fact, the use of the blackface mask by black performers perpetuated the accepted (p.101) stereotype. But some performers, especially George Walker's wife, Aida Overton Walker, skillfully manipulated the prevailing reality and in doing so contributed to the creation of a revised American realism. She countered hegemonic and racist depictions by exploiting the desire for the real among whites. The notion of “authenticity” displayed in her cakewalking dance deserves recognition as an imaginative and constructive employment of cultural paradigms.

In this essay I will attempt to shed light on Walker's role in shaping American culture. First I will provide background by accounting for how the real came to be a cultural signifier and marketing tactic. Then I will examine Walker's success in marketing herself as the “real” cakewalker. Walker contributed significantly to an enduring strategy that has come to be known in contemporary parlance as “crossover appeal.” The goal here is to locate and analyze some of the roots of this appeal.

The new “realism” at the turn of the century was paradoxical in its appeal to both what was real and what was not. The theatrical companies of Williams and Walker and Cole and Johnson were black, but the fixture of the stage “coon” that they embodied was a theatricalized portrayal made commonplace by nonblack actors. Minstrelsy was the nineteenth-century white performer's attempt to create a slippery reality superficially related at best to black culture. By the end of the nineteenth century black performers had to adopt the stage convention—especially the debasing yet indispensable use of blackface makeup—in order to attract audiences demanding minstrel traditions. To function successfully, even to survive, black performers had to don blackface and satisfy white expectations of black buffoonery. While pandering to their audiences, black performers negotiated ways of undermining the derogatory image.11 Still the price was high, given the perpetuation of the blackface stereotype even among those who found it offensive. As a result of this complex mixture of the real and unreal, of complicity in stereotyping and subverting it, African American performers not only joined in the creation of a new “realism” in American art and culture, they were a force in making realism a major component of American aesthetics. However much this realism might be unreal—even surreal—it does not detract from their cultural contributions.

For black performers, the real was commodified in order to lead the challenge against minstrel theater. At a time when African Americans had been denied participation in a growing economy, blacks sold one of the few commodities they owned: “realness.” Like the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows of the 1890s, blacks jumped on the bandwagon of the “authenticity” phenomena (p.102) while exploiting the euphoria over realness. Buffalo Bill Cody had enticed the masses with his extravaganza replete with “real” cowboys and Indians, rodeo, and reenactments of battle scenes onstage that recreated the adventures of the Great Plains. Most of all, Cody advertised the productions as not merely Wild West shows, but as resurrections of the Wild West itself. Cody and his producing partner, Nate Salsbury, realized that audiences would pay to see dramatized portrayals of the “real” West, provided that what passed for real was a carefully chosen performance that concealed much of the truth.12 Following Cody's success Salsbury produced another “reality” show, Black America, a reenactment of the plantation that opened in Brooklyn in 1895.13 Although it was hardly as successful as his Wild West endeavor, Salsbury followed the same promotional strategy: resurrect the “real.” Savvy marketers took advantage of the “authentic” by turning entertainment into big business and the real into something appealing. Thomas Postlewait writes that “both entertainment and advertising learned how to deliver the hyperreal, the domain of desires.”14 Producers Salsbury, P. T. Bar-num, B. F. Keith, Florenz Ziegfeld, the Shubert brothers, and the Frohman brothers, along with film moguls Samuel Goldwyn and the rising department store empires of Walgreens, Woolworth's, Macy's, Jordan Marsh, Marshall Field's, and the Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues, created visual splendor and commercial spectacle that merged theater and the marketplace during the Gilded Age. Robert Ogden, Wanamaker's partner and superintendent of the New York department store, put it best when in 1897 he said, “I have no doubt whatever that the high priests of art would sneer at the statement that art in advertising is art for humanity's sake; but, nevertheless, such is the case, and humanity benefits by the art that is expended upon advertising, and the benefits include the artist himself and the audience to which he appeals.” Jettisoning “art for art's sake,” he averred: “art belongs to commerce; it must be connected with practical things.”15 Black performers appear to have heeded this advice by merging art and commerce.

The advent of marketing and realism was fortuitous, and black performers made the most of it. Remarking on Williams and Walker's performance of A Lucky Coon during its first tour of England in 1899, the Washington, D.C., Colored American reported that “Williams & Walker are the only two ‘real coons’ (as they facetiously style themselves) who ever had the honor of appearing before royalty while in Europe.”16 Williams and Walker and Cole and Johnson advertised the “fact” that they were “coons”—albeit coyly. “I attribute our success to our knowledge that to please an audience (p.103) we must give them the real negro character,” wrote George Walker around 1906. “We know that when we try to act like white folks, the public won't have us; there are enough bad white actors now.”17 The complicated mapping of racial identity and authenticity suggests many vantage points from which to explain its popularity. Black actors and producers, like other theatrical and business people, were obsessive selfpublicists. They were favorably disposed to commercialization of realness, even going so far as to invent stories about it. George Walker, for example, extolled the skills of his partner, Bert Williams, and his use of blackface by comparing Williams to white comedians: “Blackfaced white comedians used to make themselves look as ridiculous as they could when portraying a ‘darky’ character.” The “one fatal result” of such performances, he claimed, “was that they imitated the white performers in their make-up as ‘darkies.’” In other words, for Walker, whites were replicating other whites, creating characters having no connection to black realty. Bert Williams, however, “is the first man that I know of our race to attempt to delineate a ‘darky’ in a perfectly natural way, and I think much of his success is due to this fact.”18 Williams, according to Walker, was able to avoid white minstrelsy because he was “original and natural,” a turn of phrase apropos of the era's cultural lexicon. The paradox of acting “in a perfectly natural way” while donning blackface is hardly an expression of “reality.” It is show business hyperbole and a form of masking. Trying to find some primordially authentic, natural identity through representation is, as Plato cautioned in Book X of The Republic, a tenuous illusion at best. However, the success of Williams and Walker did not go unnoticed. R. C. Murray, incorporating the period's emphasis on racial uplift, wrote in the Colored American Magazine in 1905 that “Williams and Walker have pulled up as they have mounted, hundreds of their kind, and have demonstrated in a most convincing manner, both the persevering ability of the colored actor and the shallow crust of American prejudice.”19 The use of the real and the natural by Walker and others cannot be easily dismissed; as a tool for the promotion of racial equality, it served to establish a presence in the main-stream marketplace. The depiction of realism as one-sidedly conservative simplifies the picture and suppresses the contributions by African Americans. The story of African American contributions to American realism is complex and involved, taking place as it does amid the turbulent transformation of turn-of-the-century modernism and the ever-evolving confluence of American race relations. For better or worse, the ideas and strategies begun by George Walker, Bert Williams, Bob Cole, and Aida Overton Walker remain relevant but are yet to be fully appreciated or understood.

(p.104) Marketing the Real, Selling the Race

The complex interconnection of authenticity, race, and commodification at the turn of the century converges at its focal point in American modernism. The transition from Victorianism (ca. 1870s-1880s) to modernism provided a threshold through which black performers could cross, yet it also brought with it considerable humility. Such was the case of the performer Ernest Hogan, who produced his 1895 vaudeville show All Coons Look Alike to Me by marketing the lead song of the same title. According to a 1930 retrospective on Hogan in the Baltimore Afro-American, “All Coons Look Alike to Me” had “a beautiful melody, as many who recall the song will attest, and while the words were quite innocuous the title became a byword and an epithet of derision, and Hogan never forgot it.”20 The 1895 song and show likely influenced the decision of Williams and Walker to title their shows A Lucky Coon and Two Real Coons (from 1900 onward they dropped “coon” from their titles). Regrettably the term “coon” had market value; Bob Cole's 1898 A Trip to Coontown, for instance, evoked a show that used the “coon” vocabulary and continued a stage convention. In The Last Darky, Louis Chude-Sokei observes that for Williams and Walker (as well as other performers) “the African American stereotype had been filtered through many generations of white impersonation; only their own racial authenticity could be used as an edge in the ‘mimic warfare’ of vaudeville.”21 The turf for this warfare was theater, where the authentic and the real would be exploited for tactical advantage.

The idea of African Americans “selling” themselves as performers is hardly new. “Selling blackness,” Harry J. Elam reminds us, “conjures images of the auction block and black bodies sold to the highest white bidder. In the arena of slavery, the auction block compelled restricted, distorted performances of blackness where any display of black agency raised concerns, and blackness became understood only in terms of white desire and black economic utility.”22 Despite the deplorable conditions of slavery and its aftermath, the dynamics of theater has historically highlighted the conflict between a performer's desire for agency on the one hand and an audience's insistence on convention on the other. Elam is correct, however, insofar as blacks often sought ways of asserting their self-determination even as audiences impelled them to act in a reified manner. Whites, writes Ellis Cash-more, “having material, if not moral, power sufficient to dictate the ebb and flow of plantation life, would have had the ability to impose certain conditions.” As these conditions evolved in the early twentieth century, Cashmore (p.105) says, “Blacks may have been consciously playing the roles whites had created for them; they may also have been manipulating images for expedient purposes.”23

This was evident in the use of blackface by black performers. The mask of blackface minstrelsy was so embedded into the American psyche that any vaudeville show, black or white, without a “coon” mask was sure to fail (Spike Lee's film Bamboozled makes this point well). Black performers at the turn of the century were aware of the legacy of minstrelsy and realized that they lived a conflicting “double consciousness” where desire and demands were often at odds. I have noted elsewhere that “performing within a prescribed framework established by whites in blackface, black performers had to negotiate between representations of self, and representations of blackness fixed in the minds of audiences accustomed to white caricatures. Black performers were keenly aware of this paradox, which created a complex, and often contradictory, relationship between performance and representation.”24 This Du Boisian double consciousness was summoned up in Franz Fanon's observation that despite his desire to assert his selfhood he was “an object in the midst of other objects.” The dual consciousness has also been described in a proverb Bernard Bell's grandfather was fond of reciting: “Got one mind fuh white folks to see, 'nother fuh what I know's me.”25

The late nineteenth century coincided with two significant events impacting black entertainment: the end of Reconstruction and the legalization of Jim Crow segregation. Both conditions resulted in economic hardship for African Americans. Blacks, influenced by Booker T. Washington's self-help agenda, rallied to combat poverty through labor and a sense of self-sufficiency. Many black performers were enthusiastic followers of Washington, who advocated economic advancement through manual labor.26 According to Washington, once economic parity was achieved, other benefits such as educational equality would accrue. In his famous 1895 Atlanta Exposition address, Washington urged blacks to “cast down your buckets where you are,” i.e., create business and economic opportunities despite obstacles. “Our greatest danger,” he said, “is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor, and put brains and skill into the common occupation of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful.”27 Historian Sven Beckert remarks that, for Washington, freedom “rested on economic power.” To remain (p.106) free, Beckert maintains, “people of African heritage had to become part of the global capitalist economy, of ‘civilization’ in Washington's words, while retaining their ability to provide for themselves independently.”28 Washington's separation of the utilitarian and the frivolous would subsequently impact black performers. Furthermore, his emphasis on capitalism and useful productivity was, I believe, at the root of the decision to use the term “coon” despite its negative connotation.

African American actors realized that their best chance of theatrical mainstream commercial success rested on two principles: talent and marketing. Talent they had in abundance; but the marketing of and for black theater had by this time been hardwired into America's psyche. Minstrelsy's stereotypic caricature produced a seemingly endless parade of white actors who stepped into the gestures of an American minstrel arche-type—T. D. Rice's Jim Crow caricature is famous for this—portraying recognizable and derogatory features. During the nineteenth century white actors in blackface were an accepted artifice; this theatrical convention endured in the public's imagination even through the twentieth century. How to free black theater from white control became the circumambient concern of African American performers. However, early twentieth-century performers had experienced what many performers encounter even now: a perceived need to appeal to white audiences. With such acquiescence came financial success, despite the objection of African Americans who were strongly opposed to the images of minstrel derogation and superficial disport.

Amid the heady times of venture capitalism that arose in the late 1890s, black performers were caught in a bind: they needed to advertise to succeed, but they also needed to assuage fears of middle-class blacks who considered their work an abetting of racism. Additionally, the appearance of department stores fed a burgeoning consumerism that had found its way into world's fairs, hotels and museums, film, magazines, and tourism.29 Turn-of-the-century industrialization resulted in nearly everyone across the political spectrum and up and down the economic ladder embracing free-market credos. Commercialization was transforming economies, and they in turn were transforming the world. A “deepgoing change in the capitalist mode of production and exchange,” writes Martin J. Sklar, “represented a new stage in the development of market society.”30 The pace of industrialization accelerated, notably in the rapid spread of mass production, oil refineries, pipelines, retail chains, bigger and faster railroads, and the emerging telephone system. Following the depression of 1893 to 1896, the economy continued (p.107) to grow, with the next two decades experiencing an unprecedented upsurge. The unemployment rate remained close to 4 percent, and per capita income rose nearly 2.5 percent a year from 1896 to the beginning of World War I. Overall, from the late nineteenth century to the end of World War I, within one generation, Americans' average standard of living had jumped by nearly two-thirds.31

America boasted of being the “land of opportunity, where success was available for the ambitious and plucky. Entrepreneurs reported rising like the phoenix from nothing to become powerful kings of industry. Gilded Age rapacity encouraged individuals to seize upon any available opportunity, and many made their fortunes. The “theology of the free market,” writes political scientist James E. Block, demanded the “moral liberty” of individuals to pursue goals and pioneer invention.32 This resulted in a literature replete with “how-to” books and articles embracing the “selfmade man.” “Every man for himself, and the Devil take the hindermost,” noted social scientist David Wells in 1875.33 The nation's industrial revolution—indeed explosion—led to a growth in new methods of distribution, which in turn led to an increase in marketing. Individual liberty in a free-market system combined with the reorganization of market forces resulted in a new middle class. The idea of advertising one's goods—in the Sears catalog, for example—had a profound impact on the American way of life. As people made their mark in the hurly-burly of capitalism, the consequences of this excitement was evidenced by the boom in manifestos and pamphlets urging individuals to “get up and go.” “Life is action,” wrote William Mathews in his 1878 book, Getting on in the World: Hints of Success in Life. “Money is power,” added Russell H. Conwell in his 1890 book, Acres of Diamonds: How Men and Women May Become Rich, and the key to success was said to be within one's grasp: “Your wealth is close to the spot where you sit to read these pages; perhaps within your fingers' reach…. Not far from you now is all the wealth your heart should desire, and more than you will ever need.”34 Inventiveness, diligence, and fortitude were terms of the new Zeitgeist. Railway transportation rushed goods across the nation; new inventions fostered overnight wealth; and captains of industry such as the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and J. R Morgan became worthy of youthful emulation. These were new business leaders whose endurance and plentitude brought with them a sense of adventure. Wilbur F. Crafts, in his popular 1883 book, Successful Men of Today and What They Say of Success, announced that “‘sticktoitiveness’ is often mentioned as the essential condition of success.”35 Passivity was shunned, and laziness was deemed immoral; only those who (p.108) took the initiative would reap the rewards. “Don't wait for your opportunity. Make it” urged Orison Swett Marden in his book, Pushing to the Front: Or, Success Under Difficulties: “The giants of the race have been men of con-centration, who have struck sledge-hammer blows in one place until they have accomplished their purpose. The successful men of today are men of single and intense purpose.”36 Amid this euphoric rush to wealth, marketing strategies abounded.

Like everyone else, blacks wanted their rightful share. However, the door to opportunity was not only shut, it was slammed shut. In its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional, thereby allowing institutions and individuals to institute racial segregation unimpeded. This decision had enormous consequences, none more devastating than its economic impact on the black community. Social historian Nikhil Pal Singh has commented that racism “operates at the level of market activity and socalled private life, where blacks have been prevented both formally and informally from acting as proprietors of their own capacities, sellers of their labor-power, and sensuous participants with exchange relations.”37 By law blacks were prevented in many instances from acting as entrepreneurs of their own inventiveness and brokers of their own labor. As business expanded in virtually every corner of the marketplace, blacks were largely relegated to sideline observers. Outside of their own communities African Americans could work only in prescribed professions, usually menial and servile vocations. With little or no involvement in the means of production, and few opportunities for imaginative self-employment in business, blacks were locked into “their place.” Frustrations began to mount not merely because of restrictions, but also because American business was growing at a fever pitch. The timing of the Supreme Court ruling on segregation could not have been worse, for it not only created second-class citizenship, it effectively cut off blacks from the era's exhilarating possibilities. Poverty is devastating, but poverty amid seemingly boundless wealth is cruelly ironic in a socalled free-market society.

Competitiveness required selling. If blacks were to be denied the right to sell commodities, they were left to sell themselves. It was a déjà vu of slavery, but this time the item was marked and polished by its “realness.” But merely selling the “real coon” would not be sufficient to overcome white hegemony in the theater. The “realness” had to be transferable; in other words, whites not only had to observe “real” blackness, they had to experience it as well. “Blackness” had to be made marketable, a species not only in the showcase window (or on the auction block), but something a buyer might sensuously (p.109) “adorn.” The product had to be felt, bejeweled, and experienced; it had to be tactile as well as visual. The mode of exchange was performance; what would be marketed would be teaching whites how to “be black.” Blacks sold authenticity using rhetoric, gesture, and conviction—blackness in the body itself and not just the mere surface greasepaint of blackface. Reality had to be invented, but it also had to conform to real body language, movement, and performance. Whites would have to purchase blackness from those best equipped to sell it—“real” black performers.

Black performers, Aida Overton Walker in particular, capitalized on what Thorstein Veblen famously called “conspicuous consumption.” In his well-known 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen illuminated the sort of portal through which black performers might enter as successful “investors.” According to Veblen, the turn of the century created a need for people not merely to acquire wealth but to display it ostentatiously. “In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men,” he said, “it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.”38 The wealthy sought ways to demonstrate their social status; the cakewalk, a dance that Walker taught to whites, became a signifier of Veblen's conspicuous consumption. Walker emerged as the principal cakewalking teacher. Acting “primitive”—a catchphrase of the era—by way of cakewalking became one of the cultural artifacts being collected by the West. Coopting the vogue of primitivism (Cubism is the well-known example), the movement toward collectibles and acquisition fell in line with the “realness” whites associated with primitive societies. Like Cubism, cakewalking was therefore marked by its primitive imbrication, which elevated its cachet. If whites could learn the cakewalk, they could learn the “performance of blackness,” the bodily gestures that displayed their conspicuous consumption. If real blackness was something desirable (albeit at a safe distance), and if blacks were the original cake-walkers—as Will Marion Cook's 1898 musical, Clorindy, the Origins of the Cakewalk, attested—then whites could demonstrate their ability to display blackness through cakewalking. But to be successful at this, whites had to learn it from someone “authentic.” Taking cakewalking lessons from Aida Overton Walker was therefore de rigueur for the upstart wealthy as well as the blue bloods. Walker did for the cakewalk dance what William Cody's Buffalo Bill show did for the Wild West—capitalizing on and literally selling a wish to experience something “essential” about a certain culture. As we will shortly observe, cakewalking was a conglomerate dance of mixed origins and hardly the result of a singular or linear development. But this (p.110) mattered little in the rhetorical strategy of selling the Cakewalk; what mattered to its promoters were consumers eager to demonstrate their status and sellers deftly marketing the product.

Cakewalking to the Real Thing

The most popular Cakewalk dancer in the United States during the turn of the century, Aida Overton Walker (1880–1914) was described by Sterling Brown as “the most talented Negro soubrette and dancer of her time.”39 Five years after her death, Howe Alexander eulogized her work as “the apogee of dancing done by Colored dancers.” Her dance, he said, “had the power to dilate the vision and stretch the imagination.”40 In 1914 Variety reported that she was “easily the foremost Afro-American stage artist”; and sixteen years after her death James Weldon Johnson crowned her “beyond comparison the brightest star among women in the Negro stage of the period; and it is a question whether or not she has since been surpassed.”41 According to her biographer, Richard Newman, Walker's “life changed” when in 1898 Stella Wiley, a performer and occasional dance partner to Bob Cole, “invited her to pose dancing the Cakewalk for an American Tobacco Company trade-card photograph.”42 Walker joined George Walker (whom she would marry in 1899), Bert Williams, and Wiley, becoming the company's leading choreographer and actress. When Williams and Walker performed In Dahomey in London in 1903, Constance Beerbohm reported in the London Tatler that in “In Dahomey at the Shaftesbury Theatre we are nightly seeing real negroes dancing real calk-walk and noting the grace and true inwardness of the dance.”43 Beerbohm's emphasis on “real Negroes” and “real calk-walk” was part of a cultural interest in the real that spotlighted the popular American dance. However, the notion of “realness” was also part of a designed strategy that worked on behalf of the performers. A brief history of the Cakewalk confirms how Walker in many ways marketed its “realness.”

Walker was not the first African American to popularize the Cakewalk among whites. Dora Dean danced it during the 1890's in Europe, and the composer Will Marion Cook's Broadway musical Clorindy, the Origins of the Cakewalk certainly contributed to the dance's popularity. What Walker did was advance the Cakewalk as a kind of “myth.” She branded her insignia on cakewalking: over time her appropriation of the dance became more elaborate and ambitious, and her emphasis on grace and ease was her signature on the dance itself. Its commodity value was the “authenticity” she lent to the Cakewalk—hers was the “true” knowledge of a genuine black (p.111)

The Real Thing

Figure 4.1. George and Aida Overton Walker performing a dance in their production of Bandanna Land. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, SCCN-82-0029.

dance having African roots. Like Buffalo Bill's “cowboy,” the image of cake-walk dancing loomed large in popular imagination, even if the actual era of both the cakewalk and the cowboy was fleeting. The “real” cowboy endured merely two decades, and the popularity of the cakewalk lasted at most two decades. The Cakewalk's influence coincided with interest in ragtime from the 1890s to its decline around 1910. What remained was the association of “cakewalk” as something that can be accomplished with ease. Although difficult to confirm, the popular expression “it's a cakewalk” is likely credited to Aida Overton Walker.

(p.112) The news of Walker's cakewalking success in the 1903 London production of In Dahomey led to a desire by New York elite to absorb it from “the real thing.” An interview of Walker titled “Cakewalk Society” reported that the “New York 400”—an elite social group—has “fallen under [the] spell of the willowy dance” and that Walker “leads young women in the mazy steps.” The article went on to say that Walker, “a well-known colored actress, has taken the ‘400’ by storm by her graceful dancing and under her graceful leadership society has taken up the cakewalk until it is the perfect rage.”44 The emphasis here and elsewhere was on Walker's trademark “grace.” She had conducted several interviews on the subject of cakewalking in which she portrayed the dance as intertwined with race, authenticity, and social acceptability. The operative word she stressed was grace. When asked why African Americans are adept at cakewalking, she replied: “The negroes are not pessimists; there is no expression of sadness in their countenances, even in repose…. Think of moonlight nights and pine knots and tallow dips of lives untouched by the hardness of toil, for I tell you there was sunshine in the hearts of those who first danced the cakewalk.” Her response was designed to draw a compelling picture of lightness and joy, but it was also meant to create a backdrop of authenticity. Relating the history of cake-walking, she describes its ease and charm: “In the old times there was more of what the original cakewalker called ‘dignity.’ It was more of a walk, less of a dance. The African race is a graceful people. It thrums banjoes with a flourish, and even when it has to do with pickaxes it gives those implements a long and graceful swing. That grace is inborn.” Emphasizing this “grace” as innate, she asserted her authenticity and improved her marketability. She added that “society, which is now learning the cakewalk, has had the advantage of years of training by the best masters of dancing and of the bodily graces.” Placing herself front and center as the cakewalker, she went on to define the dance:

The Cakewalk is a dance peculiar to our people. Its steps, however, are of American origin, whatever the original idea may have been. The tempo is often that of the two-step and the march…. But that is only the mathematics of it…. Remember that the cakewalk in itself is an expression of joy, of freedom from toil, of solitary making. There, too, bear in mind that there are other purposes. It is necessary to impress the judges with the gracefulness of the cakewalker in order to win the prize.… Because each dancer desires to attract to himself or herself the most graceful partner, for the judges make up their decisions upon (p.113) the appearance of a man and woman cakewalking together…. Don't you see how necessary it is for the dancers to be not only as graceful as they can, but also to convey an idea by their expression that they are delighted with the chance of dancing together. Therefore, I say, don't forget the eyes…. In fact, a little flirtation—just a little flirtation—is a prime requisite.45

In evidence here is the explanation of the Cakewalk's origination and its history as a symbol of grace and sexual charm. Walker's cool aloofness beneath the crowd-pleasing charm, the caginess behind the exaggerated sangfroid, and the mask covering the self-promotion was what she had to do: white star actors knew the mainstream press would fan their legends; Walker and her cohorts had to stump for themselves. But more than these ideas of elegance and self-promotion, Walker's notion of improvisation and creative impulse went a long way in establishing an aesthetic even while capitalizing on perceived “traditions.” The dance, as Walker explained it, was always evolving. The evolving idea was part of a strategy that Paul Gilroy calls “black diaspora styles,” the process of performance “emphasized by their radically unfinished form—a characteristic which marks them indelibly as the products of slavery.”46 Walker kept the description of the dance “in fashion” by stressing its slave tradition and evolutionary contours: “Be happy, for the original cakewalkers were glad at the light of the moon when their work was done.” But she also folded in a nuanced style. In describing the actual steps of the dance, Walker stressed flirtation and charm, emphasizing the Cakewalk's dulcet attributes:

As far as the actual execution of the steps is concerned many persons may surpass their instructors in time. If, however, they do not remember to show by the expression of their faces that they are interested and happy, I do not believe that any amount of fancy steps will make up for such a defect…. The Cakewalk is characteristic of a race, and in order to understand it and appreciate it and to become adept in it, it is necessary to keep your mind on the judges, your partner and especially upon what the Cakewalk really is—a gala dance.47

By commodifying the cultural authenticity of the Cakewalk (“characteristic of a race”), Walker, as I have noted elsewhere, “cloaked the origins of her choreographic ideas and signified on the basic ideas of a semantics of authenticity.”48 The origins of the Cakewalk are inchoate at best; Terry Waldo suggests that the Cakewalk originated “with slaves who dressed up in ‘high (p.114) fashion’ and mimicked the formal dances of their masters. Their caricatures were picked up by white performers and used in the grand finale of the minstrel show.” African Americans “performing in the black-stereotype mold of the white minstrel shows picked up the dance. By the time the rag-time era began in 1896, the Cakewalk was being performed by blacks imitating whites who were imitating blacks who were imitating whites.”49 The comedic hall of mirrors that is the cakewalk appears to undermine Walker's view that the dance expresses a “characteristic of a race.” However, Walker's description of cakewalking is best conceived of as a bricolage of influences and modifications, an understanding that signifies the dance as a subcultural invention. According to Dick Hebdige, such bricolage “is basically the way in which commodities are used in subculture which mark the subculture off from more orthodox cultural formations.”50 Walker exploited many clichés, in particular those associated with the “origins of the cakewalk” as an essentialized construction. But she did so out of necessity. She capitalized on the aggressive “gofor-it” rhetoric of her time, selling what she had at her disposal. Furthermore, white Americans frequently depicted African Americans as bound to their “original” state, as people fixed and without history. The cakewalk, like African American culture more generally, was perceived as frozen in time. Its gestures and movements were alleged to be a source of authenticity from its inception. Thus, for Walker, the cake-walk represented a link to a “primitive” past. According to Brooke Bald-win, “the cakewalk can be identified as an Afro-American folk form with roots in African music through its traits of syncopation and suspended beat, polyrhythmic structure, signifying, improvisation, and responsoriality. All combine to make it a genuinely black cultural product, which is exactly why whites, from the beginning, attempted to coopt and stereotype it.”51 Baldwin's description is correct up to a point. It does not take into account that the cakewalk itself was of dubious origins. Its hybrid form had in fact many influences. According to Roscoe Lewis in The Negro in Virginia, the cakewalk “has been ascribed to African tribal celebrations.”52 There can be little doubt that it evolved from African dance traditions, especially the “ring shout”; however, as it was absorbed in the American vernacular, it became a common festive dance in which slaves imitated their masters. “The slaves would assemble en masse—dressed in their Sunday best…. Masters and mistresses would be there, one of whom would award the prize for the best ‘cuttin’ of the figgers.’ Sometimes the mistress of the big house would donate a prize cake.” (It is likely that this last detail that gave rise to the dance's name.) Marshall Sterns contends that during slavery, couples “promenaded (p.115)

The Real Thing

(LEFT) Figure 4.2. Portrait of Aida Overton Walker, ca. 1911. Schomburg Centerfor Research in Black Culture, SCCN-85-0158.

The Real Thing

(ABOVE) Figure 4.3. Aida Overton Walker as Salome, drawing by Moe Zayas. From New York World, August 30, 1908, Metropolitan Section, p. 2.

grandly with a high kickstep, waving canes, doffing hats, and bowing low.” Vaudeville performer Tom Fletcher makes the interesting claim that the Cakewalk was originally a processional dance called “the chalkline-walk” or “walkaround,” developed “from a ‘Prize-Walk’ from the days of slavery, generally at get-togethers on the plantation.”53 But once it was picked up by white minstrel performers, its steps were modified. When blacks copied minstrel whites, who imitated plantation blacks, who were sarcastically mimicking their white masters, details of the dance's origins go up for grabs. Walker finessed the dance's meaning and maximized its market value. She catered to the demands of her white students but asserted her control over its distribution.

Despite success, black performers faced another problem. The wide-spread popularity of the cakewalk and the intense condemnation of it elicited public debate. Some “New Negro” progressives campaigned against (p.116) it, believing that it promoted open sexuality and folderol (Washington's frowned-upon “gewgaw”) and recalled memories of a painful past. One 1897 editorial from the Indianapolis Freeman maintained that the “good people of this country have nothing in common with cake walks,” because “the great crime attached to cake walks is the resurrection of supposed obsolete manners … and if there is anything that gets close to the modern Negro, it is the reminder of past associations and tribulations.”54 The fear of losing control owing to the dance's seductive powers prompted the Cleveland Gazette to report disapprovingly that “some of our best girls, even some who sing in the Baptist church choir, I regret exceedingly to say, were roped in and took part in the disgraceful affair.”55 In an article entitled “Rag-Time Music and Calk Walks,” the front page of the Chicago Broad Ax called the “two above named past-times disgusting—ridiculously disgusting!” Why, the paper inquired, should “mothers of refinement and proper training allow their young, pliable, easily impressed daughters to indulge in any such devilment and monkey shines is a mystery to the writer, who would far prefer washing her daughter's face and following her to the cemetery to see her going to hell” as the result of “dancing cake-walks, indulging in rag-time music, and other such deviltry.”56 In The Negro in Etiquette, E. M. Woods was even more critical: “The cake walk is really a negro product. Nevertheless, its more prominent features are ‘monkey shines,’ coarse, clownish jokes, and many ludicrous didos akin to the funny mule in the circus.” He added sarcastically: “The more zealous votaries of the cake-waking fad, hold that it teaches naturalness and gracefulness. This is not denied; nor is it altogether affirmed. For one may be a natural fool or an artificial fool.”57 One of the strongest condemnations came in an 1898 Freeman editorial: “As representative of the colored race I desire to enter my protest against the ‘cake walk’ which is now becoming a fad among some colored people, encouraged by whites.… The whites go to these exhibitions of buffoonery to laugh at and ridicule the monkified contortions of the principal actors.” The editorial concludes: “I insist that the cake walk is beneath the dignity of the better class of ‘the race,’ and that it brings them into ridicule and contempt … and so should be frowned down by the better class of colored people.”58 The acidulous critique resulted from the belief that it possessed sexual overtones and gimcracks that contradicted appropriate moral standards. But criticism in a broader sense can be viewed as part of the backlash against modernity traceable to the early 1900s. This period experienced a reaction to progress, defended creationism over encroaching Darwinism, and favored what Ferdinand Tönnies called Gemeinschaft (community), with its (p.117) emphasis on trust, kinship, social bonding, and pastoral values, over Gesellschaft (civil society), with its emphasis on business, competition, market orientation, urbanity, and ruthlessness.59

Walker, as I have suggested, “hoped to mollify middle-class blacks suspicious of cakewalking, and, simultaneously, to make cakewalking acceptable to that part of white society interested in transgressing racial bound-aries. If black society had cast a shadow of doubt over cakewalking, Walker attempted to allay its fears that cakewalking was representative of racial stereotyping; and as white elite society wanted to learn about black dance, Walker emerged as cakewalking's popular practitioner.”60 Balancing propriety and salesmanship, she defended herself and her career: “Colored people on the stage have been given very little consideration by our colored writers and critics; perhaps they have considered them unworthy of the attention, or perhaps it has just been a matter of oversight.” She added—keeping Booker T. Washington's emphasis on discipline and work ethic in mind—that the stage was a viable avenue for black women and “decent” labor. Her rearguard action in African American newspapers was an effort to justify her work: “In the past the profession which I am now following may have merited severe criticism, but like every other calling or profession, the Stage has improved with time, and I am proud to say that there are many clever, honest and well deserving men and women of other races in color in professional life who will compare favorably with men and woman of other races in the profession or other professions.” She argued that “when white people refuse to classify, in dealing with us, we get highly indignant and say we should not all be judged alike, and yet we often fail to classify and make distinctions when judging ourselves…. Some of our socalled society people regard the Stage as a place to be ashamed of. Whenever it is my good fortune to meet such persons, I sympathize with them for I know they are ignorant as to what is really being done in their own behalf by members of their race on the Stage.” Walker added:

In this age we are all fighting the one problem—that is the color problem! I venture to think and dare to state that our profession does more toward the alleviation of color prejudice than any other profession among colored people…. As individuals we must strive all we can to show that we are as capable as white people. In all other walks of life when colored people have had fair play, they have proved their ability, those before the lights must do their part for the cause…. Our people are capable and with advantages they will succeed.61

(p.118) But black people, as Walker knew well, did not enjoy “fair play.” Consequently, the Cakewalk had to be transformed to suit her agenda. If the “real” Cakewalk could be turned into the mythical embodiment of “primitive Africa,” then Walker would have to give the British and Americans what they wanted: a dance with “genuine” African roots. Walker stepped into the center of the cakewalk craze as the “authentic” dancer with legitimate credentials. The fact that the cakewalk was a hybrid did not deter her from promoting the “real thing.” The fault line between truth and invention was artfully joined by Walker in her approach to the cakewalk dance. She had created a process by which, in anthropologist Michael Taussig's words, the real is “really made up.”62 Walker maneuvered the tight space between accusations of degrading stereotype and promoting a cultural touchstone. Her footing was surest when she articulated the importance of women as professionals. Examining market strategies of Walker's dancing the “origi-nal” cakewalk reveals a complex and ingenious use of the real to circumvent racist obstacles and establish her company's success. Julia Kristeva contends that the “true-real” of modernity “relativizes the notion of truth, and, while maintaining it, often presents it to us in an extremely attractive way.”63 Walker, too, relativized an authenticity that, as the above endeavors to show, fit several demands.

The popularity of cakewalking during its heyday epitomizes much of what black popular culture has utilized in selling the real now. At the beginning of the twentieth century, writes Karen Sotiropoulos, “black popular artists sold white Americans on the idea that black style was the very essence of cool.”64 If dancing the cakewalk was “cool,” Walker's method was to sell the “real cool,” anticipating what has come to be called “ghetto fabulous.” According to John L. Jackson,

To be ghetto fabulous is to embrace a sense of self utterly irreducible to one's assumed location at the residential and spatial bottom of national or international pecking order. Ghetto fabulousness takes the quantified assumptions of localizing marginality and transforms them into a qualitatively different kind of lived experience, a way of traversing the socio-spatial margin that privileges personal and intimate privatizations over market-based instrumentality of social scientists, government agencies, and economic modeling.

Ghetto fabulous, Jackson adds, “is not simply a depressing enslavement to designer clothes—foolish ghetto residents living beyond their means in authentic (p.119) Versace, Prada, or even Burberry fashion.” Rather, it “epitomizes a consumerism and commercialism that revels in knockoffs and wears them, sincerely, against the grain of societal expectations,” yielding “the underside of the global to challenge its own confinement, to declare the social margins quite central to the people who live there, even as they struggle for more access to a global mainstream.”65 The cakewalk was “ghetto fabulous” because it characterized an underground localized economy and promoted a marginalized “authenticity.” It came from the “spatial bottom,” represented conspicuous consumerism much like knock-off clothes are “slumming-it” commodities of today, and declared its marginal status as central to those living with it. Cakewalking was, furthermore, “real” at the moment it was exchanged; it existed partly in what had occurred before, and partly in Walker's imagination, but it was concretized when it was sold on the open market—when it was actually danced—while Walker's authenticity lent it currency. When whites donned the countenance of cakewalking and followed Walker's instructions, they were ipso facto “real” cakewalkers. Its realism was not based on a reified past but an active and evolving present orchestrated by Walker. It was the “real thing” in the same way as fashion is authenticated. Fashion is itself a shill game, but is nonetheless real in its empirical actions and material existence. It is a testament to Walker's insight that she had the wherewithal to envision the cakewalk in a social context in ways that we take for granted now. Walker's ken as entrepreneur and actress allowed her to accomplish what she did, and perhaps more astonishingly, when she did it.




(1) . George Walker, “The Real Coons,” Theatre Magazine 6 (1906), 224.

(2) . Their early shows were Senegambian Carnival (1898), Two Real Coons (1898), Lucky Coon (1899), 4–11–44 (1899), The Policy Players (1899–1900) and Sons of Ham (1900–1902). For statistical records of the shows, see Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978); and Bernard L. Peterson, Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816–1960 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001).

(3) . George Walker, “Bert and Me and Them,” New York Age, December 24, 1908, 4.

(4) . See Thomas Riis, Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theatre in New York, 1890–1915 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989); Allen Woll, Black Musical Theatre: From Coontown to Dreamgirls (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989); Errol Hill, “New Vistas: Plays, Spectacles, Musicals, and Opera,” (p.120) in A History of African American Theatre, ed. Errol Hill and James V. Hatch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 135–85; and Jeffrey Green, “In Dahomey in London in 1903,” Black Perspective in Music 11, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 22–40.

(5) . T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 5.

(6) . Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 110.

(7) . Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), xvi, 34.

(8) . Toni Morrison, “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,” Michigan Quarterly Review 28, no. 1 (1989): 11.

(9) . One fine exception is Kenneth W. Warren, Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

(10) . Amy Kaplan, The Social Construction of American Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 1.

(11) . See David Krasner, Resistance, Parody, and Double Consciousness in African American Theatre, 1895–1910 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997); and Karen Sotiropoulos, Staging Race: Black Performers in Turn of the Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006) for a history of their resistance to racism.

(12) . See Louis S. Warren, Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Knopf, 2005); Larry McMurtry, The Colonel and Kittle Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginning of Superstardom in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005); and Robert W. Rydell and Rob Kroes, Buffalo Bill in Bologna: The Americanization of the World, 1869–1922 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

(13) . See Barbara Webb, “Authentic Possibilities: Plantation Performance of the 1890s,” Theatre Journal 56, no. 1 (March 2004): 63–82.

(14) . Thomas Postlewait, “The Hieroglyphic Stage: American Theatre and Society, Post-Civil War to 1945,” in vol. 2 of The Cambridge History of American Theatre, 1870–1945, ed. Don B. Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 161.

(15) . Robert Ogden, “Advertising Art,” May 15, 1898; quoted in William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1993), 52.

(16) . “Williams and Walker Coming,” Colored American (Washington, D.C.), May 6, 1899, 2.

(17) . George Walker, “Colored Actor Tells the Story of His Life from Kansas to Abyssinia,” undated clipping circa 1906 (the date of the Abyssinia's production), from the Williams & Walker clipping file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. (hereafter Billy Rose Theatre Collection).

(18) . Walker, “The Negro on the American Stage,” 566.

(19) . R. C. Murray, “Williams and Walker, Comedians,” Colored American Magazine, September 1905, 496.

(20) . Baltimore Afro-American, August 16, 1930, 9.

(21) . Louis Chude-Sokei, The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Modernity, and the African Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 124.

(22) . Harry J. Elam Jr., “Change Clothes and Go: A Postscript to Postblackness,” in Black Cultural Traffic: Crossroads in Global Performance and Popular Culture, ed. Harry J. Elam Jr. and Kennell Jackson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 379.

(23) . Ellis Cashmore, The Black Cultural Industry (London: Routledge, 1997), 28, 29.

(24) . Krasner, Resistance, Parody, and Double Consciousness, 9.

(25) . Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove, 1967), 109; Bernard W. Bell, The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), xi.

(26) . See a report on the Williams & Walker Glee Club, a musical group sponsored by Williams and Walker for the promotion of classical music. The glee club performed before Washington at his Tuskegee Institute. “Washington, Williams and Walker,” New York Age, August 3, 1905, 4.

(27) . Booker T. Washington, “Atlanta Exposition Address,” 1895, in African-American Social and Political Thought, 1850–1920, ed. Howard Brotz (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Press, 1993), 357.

(28) . Sven Beckert, “From Tuskegee to Togo: The Problem of Freedom in the Empire of Cotton,” Journal of American History 92, no. 2 (September 2005): 508.

(29) . See Leach, Land of Desire; Richard Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (London: Verso, 1996); Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); Richard W. Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears, eds., The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980 (New York: Pantheon, 1983); Elizabeth and Stuart Ewen, Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992); Robert Rydell, All the World's A Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); and Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982).

(30) . Martin J. Sklar, The United States as a Developing Country: Studies in U. S. History in the Progressive Era and the 1920s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 21.

(31) . Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (New York: Knopf, 2005), 132.

(32) . James E. Block, A Nation of Agents: The American Path to a Modern Self and Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 481.

(33) . David A. Wells, “Influence of the Production and Distribution of Wealth on Social Development,” Journal of Social Science 8 (May 1876): 5 (paper delivered in 1875).

(34) . William Matthews, Getting on in the World: Hints of Success in Life (Chicago: S. C. Griggs, 1878), 125; Russell H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds: How Men and Women May Become Rich (Philadelphia: John Y. Huber, 1890), 22.

(35) . Wilbur F. Crafts, Successful Men of Today and What They Say of Success (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), 146.

(36) . Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front: Or, Success Under Difficulties (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1894), 23, 109.

(37) . Nikhil Pal Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 26.

(38) . Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899; reprint, New York: Dover, 1994), 24.

(39) . Sterling A. Brown, “The Negro on the Stage” (1940), unpublished study, The Negro in American Culture, Carnegie-Myrdal Study, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, 37.

(40) . Howe Alexander, “How Dancing Studs the Pages of History,” Half-Century Magazine, 7, no. 2 (August 1919): 16.

(41) . Variety, October 17, 1914, 13; James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (1930; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1968), 107.

(42) . Richard Newman, “‘The Brightest Star’: Aida Overton Walker in the Age of Ragtime and Cakewalk,” in Words Like Freedom: Essays on African-American Culture and History (West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill Press, 1996), 57.

(43) . Constance Beerbohm, “The ‘Cake-walk’ and How to Dance It,” London Tatler, July 1, 1903, 13.

(44) . Undated clipping, Williams & Walker file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

(45) . Undated clipping, c. 1903, Williams & Walker file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

(46) . Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 105.

(47) . Undated clipping, c. 1903, Williams & Walker file, Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

(48) . Krasner, Resistance, Parody, and Double Consciousness, 95.

(49) . Terry Waldo, This Is Ragtime (1976; reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1991), 25.

(50) . Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Routledge, 1979), 103.

(51) . Brooke Baldwin, “The Cakewalk: A Study in Stereotype and Reality,” Journal of Social History 15 (1981): 213.

(52) . Quoted in Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory & the Foundations of Black America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 95.

(53) . Virginia Writers' Project, The Negro in Virginia (New York: Hasting House, 1940), 89; quoted in Lynne Fauley Emery, Black Dance in the United States from 1619 to 1970 (New York: Dance Horizons, (p.123) 1980), 91; Marshall Sterns, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vaudeville Dance (London: Macmillan, 1964), 116; Tom Fletcher, 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business (New York: De Capo Press, 1984), 103.

(54) . “That Cake Walk,” Indianapolis Freeman, January 9, 1897, 4.

(55) . “New Castle Pa, News,” Cleveland Gazette, November 19, 1898, 2.

(56) . “Ragtime Music and Cake Walks,” Chicago Broad Ax, January 20, 1900, 1.

(57) . E. M. Woods, The Negro In Etiquette: A Novelty (St. Louis: Buxton & Skinner, 1899), 131.

(58) . Indianapolis Freeman, February 2, 1898, 4.

(59) . Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, trans. Josh Harris and Margaret Hollis (1887; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

(60) . Krasner, Resistance, Parody, and Double Consciousness, 76.

(61) . Aida Overton Walker, “Colored Men and Women on the Stage,” Colored American Magazine, October 1905, 571–75.

(62) . Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (London: Routledge, 1993), xiii–xix.

(63) .Julia Kristeva, “The True-Real,” trans. Seán Hand, in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Tori Moi (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 221.

(64) . Sotiropoulos, Staging Race, 237.

(65) . John L. Jackson Jr., Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 59–60.