Aida Overton Walker

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Aida Overton Walker
Aida Overton Walker 1907.jpg
Walker in 1907
Born (1880-02-14)February 14, 1880
Richmond, Virginia
Died October 11, 1914(1914-10-11) (aged 34)
New York, NY
Occupation Vaudeville
Known for Dancing and Choreographing (Performing)

Aida Overton Walker (14 February 1880 – 11 October 1914), also billed as Ada Overton Walker and as "The Queen of the Cakewalk", was an African-American vaudeville performer, actress, singer, dancer, choreographer, and wife of vaudevillian George Walker. She appeared with her husband and his performing partner Bert Williams, and in groups such as Black Patti's Troubadours. She was also a solo dancer and choreographer for vaudeville shows such as Bob Cole, Joe Jordan, and J. Rosamond Johnson's The Red Moon (1908) and S. H. Dudley's His Honor the Barber (1911). Aida Overton Walker is also well known for her 1912 performance of the “Salome” dance at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre. This was Aida’s response to the national “Salamania” craze of 1907 that spread through the white vaudeville circuit.

Career[edit]

Overton grew up in New York City, where her family moved when she was young and where she gained an education and considerable musical training.

At 15, she joined John Isham’s Octoroons Black touring group, in the 1890s.[1] The following years he started her career as a chorus member in “Black Patti’s Troubadours,” where she met her husband. Her early career was defined by her collaborations with Bert Williams and her husband George Walker, the major black vaudeville and musical comedy powerhouses of the era. She and George Walker married within a year of meeting. She first gained national attention in 1900, with her performance of “Miss Hannah from Savannah” in the show Sons of Ham. For the next ten years, Aida would be known primarily for her work in musical theater. Her song and dance made her an instant hit with audiences at the time. She, George, and Bert continued to produce even more successful shows such as In Dahomey (1902), Abyssinia (1906), and Bandana Land (1908). In 1904, after two seasons in England, the group returned to New York. In England, she taught the cakewalk to elite and white society. She was the highest paid and most popular female actress, singer, and dancers of the Williams and Walker Company.[2] Because of her unexpected take on Salome, critical reviews were mixed.

It was in 1908, when Walker first choreographed her own version of Salome. Although Bert Williams saw the Salome craze as a chance to integrate burlesque into the dances in "Bandana Land," Walker was determined to position herself within the establishment of modern dancers. At this time it was rare for a Broadway musical, especially a Black Broadway show to include modern dance. In her version of Salome, critics emphasized her modest costume, lack of vulgarity and gracefulness. Walker chose to emphasize the dramatic elements over the suggestive in her choreography.[3]

Working alongside her husband, Walker’s career and performances were praised by critics and her successes well known. She was both financially successful and respected by the industry.

Although Aida Walker originally became famous through her partnership with her husband and Bert Williams, her popularity only grew in the years following his death and the end of the Williams and Walker troupe. Shortly after she joined the Smart set company and became a leader of her own vaudeville company. Both were extremely well received. In late 1908, Walker's husband collapsed on tour with Banana Land and the show had to close in 1909. She left the stage briefly to take care of her husband.

In 1910, she joined the Smart Set Company following the end of the Williams and Walker troupe, of which the performances were very well received. During this time she also began touring the vaudeville circuit as a solo act.[4] In 1911, she performed in His Honor the Barber with Smart Set Company. Although she was billed as a supporting actress, the press would remember her as S. H. Dudely’s costar. The next year she and her own vaudeville company performed, both critics and the audience were more than ever impressed with her work. Walker performed male characters in shows like Bandana Land, in which she too over her husband’s role as well as the role of Chappie in Lovie Dear.[5]

By 1912, Walker was free of the presence of Bert Williams who undermined her vision and parodied her performance as well as free from the Williams and Walker Company. The same year, she took a 16-week tour of her vaudeville show across the Midwest. When she returned to New York, Oscar Hammerstein offered her the opportunity to perform her Salome at his Roof Garden Theater (‘Victoria Theater’) on Broadway.[6] Her success at Hamerstein’s theatre led to an invitation to return the following year in “Bon Bon Buddy,” which George Walker had popularized in Bandana Land years before. An ode to her late husband, Aida's performance was so successful she was asked to perform two extra weeks.

Walker was one of the only African-American performers of that time to enter into white venues in New York. Throughout the 1910s and after the death of her husband, Walker had her own dance company that performed “modern society dances” in white variety theaters. Aida continued performing until two months before she died, in 1914.[7]

Objectives[edit]

Aida Overton Walker, 1913[8]

Walker knew well that her performances as a Black woman meant something different and were interpreted differently than the performances of White women. Although she continually sought parity with white actors and dancers, “she never lost sight of the fact that in the eyes of many she represented her race.”[9] From her 1905 article in Colored American, Walker was clear in her belief that the performing arts could have affect on race relations, stating that, “I venture to think and dare to state that our profession does more toward the alleviation of color prejudice than any other profession among colored people.”

Her portrayal of the Salome character was very different from that of the white actresses of her time, and it had to be. Well aware of how the roles she played affected race relations of the time, she worked hard to break the stereotypes of black women and black actresses as immoral and oversexed. “I am aware of the fact that many well-meaning people dislike stage life, especially our women. On that point, I’d say, a woman does not lose her dignity…when she enters stage life,” Walker wrote.[10] In particular, she coordinated her movements and facial expressions in order to express the internal emotions and thoughts of the characters she was portraying.

Walker was a self-made performer who reimagined herself from vaudeville star to cakewalker and form actress to modern dancer. Her dance was less entertainment (showing off her legs, for instance) and more artistry. Rather than showing off her body, Walker sought to convey her imagination and emotional conviction as an expression of her aesthetic values and artistic ideas.[11]

Health and Legacy[edit]

Walker developed medical problems as a young woman that somewhat restricted her ability for constant touring. As early as 1908, she organized benefits to aid organizations like the Industrial Home for Colored Working Girls. She was also interested in developing the talents of younger women in the business and passing on her vision of Black performance as refined and elegant. In 1913 and 1914, she produced two shows for young girls in the groups Porto Rico Girls and the Happy Girls.

Aida Overton Walker died suddenly of kidney failure in 1914. The entertainment industry was shocked and mourned their great loss. An obituary was featured in the New York Age.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ “Aida Overton Walker.” Find a Grave. Accessed April 25, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=115047819
  2. ^ Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  3. ^ Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  4. ^ “Aida Overton Walker.” Find a Grave. Accessed April 25, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=115047819
  5. ^ Thorne, Wells. “The Later Years of Aida Overton Walker; 1911-1914”. Black Acts. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://blackacts.commons.yale.edu/exhibits/show/blackacts/walker#note7
  6. ^ Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  7. ^ Brown, Jayna. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.
  8. ^ Taylor, Julius F. "The Broad Ax". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  10. ^ Thorne, Wells. “The Later Years of Aida Overton Walker; 1911-1914”. Black Acts. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://blackacts.commons.yale.edu/exhibits/show/blackacts/walker#note7
  11. ^ Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  12. ^ “Aida Overton Walker.” Find a Grave. Accessed April 25, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=115047819
  • Brooks, Daphne. "Divas and Diasporic Consciousness" in Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910: 281-342.
  • Galindo, Brian. "The Vaudeville Actress Who Refused to Be a Stereotype." Buzzfeed. N.p., 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.
  • Krasner, David. "Rewriting the Body: Aida Overton Walker and the Social Formation of Cakewalking." Theatre Survey 37, no. 2 (November 1996): 66-92.
  • Thorne, Wells. "Black Acts." Omeka RSS. N.p., 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.
  • Kicha. "Aida Overton Walker (1880 - 1914)." Aida Overton Walker (1880 - 1914). N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2014.

Paula Marie Seniors, "Beyond Lift Every Voice and Sing: The Culture Of Uplift, Identity, and Culture in Black Musical Theater, 2009

External links[edit]