Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Malveaux: See Racial Barriers-first Black owned establishment in 'History of the Musical Stage 1700-1865: Musical Pioneers' by John Kenrick

"James Hewlett as Richard III"

John Malveaux of 

Please see excerpt from History of the Musical Stage 1700-1865: Musical Pioneers by John Kenrick  [(Copyright 1996, Revised 2014)  Full text:]:

"In the summer of 1821, William Henry Brown (a black West Indian and former ship's steward) opened a "pleasure garden" in his backyard at 38 Thomas Street. This was the first black-owned establishment in New York to offer entertainment to African American audiences. With blacks barred from every other theatre in town, Brown drew capacity crowds. He soon built the American Theatre on Mercer Street, and drew curious whites by featuring all-black casts in the same blend of plays and musical acts found in white theatres.
At first, Brown's work was tolerated by the authorities, and viewed with amusement by the press. However, when he had the audacity to lease a performance space on Broadway, the theatrical establishment reacted with alarm. White theatre owners hired street toughs to break up Brown's performances, and when police were called in they ignored the thugs and arrested the black actors. When the matter came to trial, a white judge ruled that Brown's negro company was not to perform Shakespeare again, limiting itself to lighter material. Brown returned to his old location and abided by the court's order, but continuing harassment forced him to shut down altogether in 1823. African American performers would not return to New York's legitimate stages until after the Civil War, and all-black productions would not successfully appear on Broadway until the next century."

John Malveaux

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