Clarice Vance

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Clarice Vance 1908

Clarice Vance née Clara Etta Black (March 14, 1870 - August 24, 1961),[1] "The Southern Singer" was an American vaudeville personality from the late 19th century to about 1917.

Early life and marriage[edit]

Clarice Vance, The Southern Singer was born in Ohio in 1870. She began her career in farce comedy in the early 1890s and was such a hit singing the songs interpolated into plot that she quickly won fame, singing ragtime and dialect songs as a single. When she performed with the James and Bonnie Thornton troop, he coined her, 'The Southern Singer'.[1]

She married "Mose" Gumble, head of Remick Music Publishing in New York, in 1904, but divorced him in 1914. Moses Gumble was a well known song writer along with his brother, Albert but is remembered today as the man who gave George Gershwin his first job plugging songs at Remick. According to the 1900 census, this well known marriage was preceded by a marriage to William A. Sims who served briefly as her manager and according to the New York Clipper she was granted a divorce from John Blanchard in early 1904. This was quickly followed by her marriage to Moses Gumble. Recent research into Ohio Pike county census records indicate that Clarice's mother's name was Mary Vance, solving the riddle of her stage name. Her middle name was actually, "Etta" not Ella. This was confirmed by Sterling Morris after obtaining a copy of the original notice in Variety of her marriage to Mose Gumble in 1904. The NY Times archives reveal that Clarice Vance later married Phelps Decker, a screen scenario writer and for a short time, manager in the NY offices of Universal Pictures. His services were terminated in early 1928 (see Onoto Watanna, The Story of Winnifred Eaton by Diana Birchall, University of Illiois Press, 2001) and discovered by his wife, "former vaudeville actress Clarice Vance" to have asphyxiated himself on Feb. 5th, 1928 in their apartment at 35 E. 15th St. NY. He was 16 years junior to Miss Vance.[1][2]

Career[edit]

Vance was known as a "coon singer",[1] singing popular negro dialect songs of the day. She was a handsome woman, slightly over 6' tall and could project over a 26 piece orchestra when she sang on the stage. She shared the bill with the leading headliners of the day and her impish face appears on dozens of sheet music covers from 1897 - 1914. Her picture appeared in Vanity Fair at one point and in 1910 she starred in a short lived but lavish Broadway musical called A Skylark.[1] She played at least three extended engagements in London, the most successful being a 26 week appearance at the London Palace in 1909.

Her records exhibit a rare, radiant and very droll wit. She recorded for Edison Records in 1905 (two selections) and from 1906-1909 for Victor.[1] Her most popular song was "Mariar" co-written by her husband and she recorded three versions of it.

Later life[edit]

Vance's life after 1923 is shrouded in mystery. In the early 20's she appeared briefly in movies in character parts and slid into total oblivion, but according to the 1935 California voters registration she was living in San Francisco, listing her profession as 'dramatic coach' and residing at 1043 Bush St.. From 1944-1951, the once brilliant and popular comedienne lived in a rooming house at 1535 Pine Street in San Francisco. From 1951 until her death in 1961 she was a patient at Napa State Mental Hospital in Napa, California and died there at 91 years of age knowing only her name and that she was "an actress".[1] She died friendless, penniless and unknown. She is buried as "31" in the indigent section of St. Helena Cemetery in Napa Valley.

In August 2010, Clarice Vance biographer, Sterling Morris had a phone interview with a woman who actually knew Clarice Vance. Phyllis McCoy of Santa Clara, California was Clarice Vance's young apartment neighbor in the mid-40's. They became good friends. Today Ms. McCoy's sharp memory recalls a woman, witty, intelligent and kind with a wonderful speaking voice. She remembered Clarice as elderly but sturdy and tall with a "regal carriage", careful with her appearance and very private, "seemed to have few if any visitors outside of immediate neighbors." Ms. McCoy had heard that Clarice Vance had once been an entertainer and had found a couple of her recordings, finally asking her to autograph the labels, but "Clarice demurred and mumbled something about it 'all being in the past', and immeditately [sic?] changed the subject".[full citation needed] She never did sign the records or evidence any interest in revisiting or sharing any of her theatrical memories.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cullen, Frank; Florence Hackman (2006). Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. New York: Routledge. pp. 1148–9. ISBN 0-415-93853-8. 
  2. ^ "Scenarist Found Dead" (February 9, 1928) Orange County Independent, Middletown, New York

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