The Frogs (club)
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The Frogs, African American Theatrical Organization
At the beginning of the twentieth century theatrical clubs were formed to provide a sense of fraternity for members of the entertainment community in New York. This brotherhood was not inclusive. While there were black Broadway and vaudeville entertainers, no blacks were allowed in the membership of these theatrical clubs. In response to the need for such a fraternal organization for blacks, on July 5, 1908, a group of Black vaudevillian entertainers formed what may be the first African American organization for theater professionals.
Eleven men, including such famous names as the show business team of Bert Williams and George Walker, J. Rosamond Johnson (composer of "Lift Every Voice and Sing"), and famed band leader/composer Lt. James Reese Europe created an organization they called The Frogs. The founding members of The Frogs were very respected by the citizens of Harlem. They were described as, “… very aristocratic looking gentlemen, all very distinguished…a bunch of doers.”1 According to Eric Ledell Smith in his book, Bert Williams, A Biography of the Pioneer Black Comedian, the organization chose to call themselves "The Frogs" in honor of a play by Aristophanes during which, “…the character Charon makes reference to ‘our minstrel frogs’.” 2
Although formed by actors, singers, dancers and musicians; membership was not limited to theater professionals. African American physicians and attorneys participated in the organization which raised money for charity by sponsoring an annual ball and vaudeville review called The Frolic of the Frogs. Members of the Frogs also donated enough funds to build a clubhouse in which they housed archived materials related to the African American Theater Community. 3
1 Ann Charters, Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970), p. 94
2 Eric Ledell Smith, Bert Williams: A Biography of the Pioneer Black Comedian (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1992) pg. 106 ISBN 0-89950-695-X