Lessons in Black History – George Walker and Bert Williams

williamsandwalkerGeorge Walker and Bert Williams – Two popular vaudeville performers during the era of the minstrel show (when performers, usually white, would paint their faces black), George Walker (above right) and Bert Williams first met in 1893. Williams was a popular comedian, musician and stage performer that is generally considered to be the most popular black performers of his era. Much of Williams’s popularity sprang from his incredible career with fellow performer George Walker. As the comedic duo of Walker and Williams, they played throughout the United States and Europe to sold-out audiences, performing such hit plays as The Sons of Ham and In Dahomy. Although it may seem strange, both men performed in blackface, even though they were both black, and billed themselves as “Two Real Coons.” This was simply how things were done in those days, and many have speculated the stress of performing under the racist constraints of the era helped to significantly shorten the lives of both men. Walker and Williams helped pave the way for other black entertainers, and along with a group of other stage performers, founded The Frogs, a fraternal organization for black entertainers and professionals. The duo broke up in 1907, after Walker became ill, passing away four years later at the age of 38. Williams’s career flourished after the duo broke up, but sadly, he also died young, passing away in 1922 at the age of 46.

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