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The man with the real sense of humor is the man who can put himself in the spectator’s place and laugh at his own misfortune… Bert Williams

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Introducing Bert Williams : burnt cork, Broadway, and the story of America’s first Black star Camille F. Forbes New York : Basic Civitas, c 2008 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xii, 404 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 339-388) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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It is not hard to argue that every black performer in show business owes something to Bert Williams. Discovered in California in 1890 by a minstrel troupe manager, Williams swiftly became a regular player in the troupe. Traveling on from the rough-and-ready “medicine shows” that then dotted the West, he rose through the ranks of big-time vaudeville in New York City, and finally ascended to the previously all-white pinnacle of live-stage success: the fabled Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway.

Bert Williams, head-and-shoulders portrait, standing, facing right, singing a psalm at the first regimental open air service for the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard, held in Olympic Field, 136th Street and Fifth Avenue, New York City

Bert Williams, head-and-shoulders portrait, standing, facing right, singing a psalm at the first regimental open air service for the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard, held in Olympic Field, 136th Street and Fifth Avenue, New York City

Inspite of his triumphs – he brought the first musical with an all-black cast to Broadway in 1903 – he is often viewed by the black community with more critical suspicion than admiration because of his decision to perform in blackface. Modest, private, and conservative in his personal life, Williams left political activism and soapbox thumping to others.

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I have never been able to discover anything disgraceful in being a colored man. But I have often found it inconvenient… Bert Williams

More than the simple narration of a remarkable life, Introducing Bert Williams offers a fascinating window into the issues surrounding race and artistic expression in American culture. The story of Williams’s long and varied career is a whirlwind of inner turmoil, racial tension, glamour, and striving – nothing less than the birth of American show business.

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