Black Musical Theater

Blackbirds of 1926: Florence Mills Johnny Hudgins and chorus girls rehearse on roof of London pavilion
Chocolate kiddies Chorus Girls 1925

Black Musical Theater is a genre that many African-Americans are not familiar with. Due to the theater world being dominated by white actors and actresses, the works of many African-American writers and actors have gone unnoticed. In the past theater was something that only the elite would take part of, it would contain music of difference languages, with the stories of Greek Gods that only aristocrats with prior knowledge knew of. Today, musical theater is more accessible to the everyday person because it contains  content that relates to the lives of it’s audience. 

With that being said, the African-American community even though not acknowledged, played a big role in the development of what we now know of as music theater. Musicals could be connected back to the Minstrel shows were black performers would travel the country to display their talents. There is was seen that black actors and actresses had the chance to show of their music that provided entertainment to many people watching. Those musical were depictions of black people that were more like caricatures that emphasized the misconceptions many white people had about black people. In the late 1800’s many black performances were subjected to performing musicals such as “A Trip to Coontown”. 

As the years went on and more black people were exposed to theater that didn’t insult their race, they did shows that actually displayed the complexities of their lives through their perspective rather than the white-mans. Black songwriters  like Henry Creamer and Jimmy Johnson wrote the musical Alabama Stomp, which depicted the culture of the south. But, with the rise of Jazz, black theater was on the decline, with people looking towards revolution rather than performing on the stages where the crowds were segregated. 

Today, a lot has changed, many black performers are being casts in musical on Broadway. The parts that were once meant for white performers are now being given to black performers which is a big step for the theater world. Even with that being said, racism within casting is still seen and many black artists are not given the chance to perform when they are just as talented. Many black creatives have taken their narratives to smaller stages that allow them to tell their stories genuinely. 

Done by Nina J. Lee

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