F. S. Wolcott
Fred Swift "F.S." Wolcott (May 2, 1882 – July 27, 1967) was an American minstrel show proprietor and plantation owner who bought the Original Rabbit's Foot Company in 1912 after its founder's death, and operated it until 1950. The Rabbit Foot Minstrels or "Foots", as they were colloquially known, formed the leading traveling vaudeville show featuring African-American performers in that period, and gave a start to many leading blues, comedy and jazz entertainers.
Wolcott was born in Onondaga Township, Michigan, and grew up on a farm. He married, and established a small touring company, F. S. Wolcott Carnivals, in Columbia, South Carolina, which put on a touring show, "F. S. Wolcott's Fun Factory", in the Carolinas.
In 1912, he bought the Rabbit's Foot Company from Rosa Chappelle, widow of Pat Chappelle, an African-American theatre owner in Tampa, Florida who had set up the business in 1900. Chappelle's vaudeville company was noted as "authentic" (that is, using black rather than blackface performers), was highly popular, and toured widely in the southern states each year. Wolcott maintained the company, initially as both owner and manager, and attracted new talent including blues singer Ida Cox who joined the company in 1913. Its base moved to Wolcott's 1,000-acre Glen Sade Plantation outside Port Gibson, Mississippi in 1918, with offices in the center of town. Wolcott began to refer to the show as a "minstrel show" – a term Chappelle had eschewed – and became a member of "Port Gibson's privileged white aristocracy", although one member of the company, trombonist Leon "Pee Wee" Whittaker, described him as "a good man" who looked after his performers.
The company, by this time known as "F. S. Wolcott's Original Rabbit's Foot Company", continued to perform its annual tours through the 1920s and 1930s, playing small towns during the week and bigger cities at weekends. In 1943 Wolcott placed an advertisement in Billboard, describing the show as "the Greatest Colored Show on Earth", and seeking "Comedians, Singers, Dancers, Chorus Girls, Novelty Acts and Musicians". He remained its general manager and owner until he sold the company as a going concern in 1950, to Earl Hendren of Erwin, Tennessee.
Wolcott died at his home in Port Gibson, Mississippi in 1967, aged 85.
- Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows, Scarecrow Press, 2013, p. 1167
- Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff, Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, Coon Songs, and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009, pp. 270-289
- Billboard, June 5, 1943, p. 27