Casting Call

Musical Theater

American musical theater in the 1890’s was a genre monopolized by white people. African Americans were only seen through the white director or peoples perspective which was usually presented in the form of Black face or through coon songs. However, in 1898, William Marion Cook and Bob Cole brought Black art to Broadway. Both had different philosophies on how the “Black Performer” should be. Cole felt that Black people would be most successful in musical theater if they competed against the white performers and showed them that they could perform in the same manner. Cook on the other hand believed that Black performers would be most successful if they created their own style and did not bother themselves with competing and imitating the white people.Through the beginning of the Black presence in musical theater, it is obvious of what the white audiences found entertaining. Cakewalks like Bert Williams and George Walker’s the Gold Bug, found great success as the audiences loved seeing the Black performers cakewalk. Many thought that Williams and Walker were the originators of the performance, which actually finds its origins in slavery, where enslaved people would dance around, imitating their owners in hopes of winning a cake. White audiences found entertainment in Black people performing roles such as mammies, cakewalkers, coons, or other degrading characters. As time went on, musical theater has progressed to be something of much more inclusive, compared to its beginnings. Musicals such as Ain’t Misbehavin’, Passing Strange, Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, The Color Purple, and Carmen Jones gave Black performers the proper roles they deserved. While Broadway is can sometimes be primarily white dominated, many musicals formed huge praise due to their originality and authenticity. There have also been the emergence of many Black theater companies or acting and dance troupes. Sometimes the authentic Black sound gets watered down to please the white ears, but many Black written and performed acts hold true authentic love for the negro sound.


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