Luke Schoolcraft

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Luke Schoolcraft
Harvard Theatre Collection - Luke Schoolcraft TCS 1.941 - cropped.jpg
Background information
Born 1847
Origin New Orleans, Louisiana
Died March 10, 1893
Genres Minstrel show
Years active 1865–1893

Luke Schoolcraft (November 13, 1847 - March 10, 1893) was an American minstrel music composer and performer. He appeared in numerous minstrel shows throughout the North after the American Civil War.

Early life[edit]

Schoolcraft was born in New Orleans, Louisiana into a family of actors and artists.[1] His father, Henry R. Schoolcraft* was an actor who appeared in shows at Crisp's Gaiety Theater and who despite his death before 1860, saw to it that his son Luke and his daughters Jane and Alfreda (who would be famous in her own right as Alfreda Chippendale) all pursued careers in theater. Luke Schoolcraft's first stage performance was in 1851 in Rolla, the Richard Brinsley Sheridan adaptation of August von Kotzebue's Pizarro.[2]

  • Not Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who is credited with the discovery of the source of the Mississippi River.

Career in minstrelsy[edit]

Minstrelsy was America's first original contribution to the theater arts.[3] It was popular from just before the American Civil War to the end of the 19th Century. Today minstrelsy and its attendant blackface is viewed as racist and anachronistic, however it was the preeminent entertainment in the United States during the life of Luke Schoolcraft, and he was one of the most well-known and successful performers.[2]

In Terre Haute[edit]

Cover of Schoolcraft's Minstrel Sheet Music

By his twenties, Schoolcraft was touring the nation and performing in variety shows. Negroes were not the only ethnic group who were lampooned in minstrel shows; indeed Schoolcraft began performing Dutch songs until several hits as a blackface performer landed him in the minstrel ranks.[4] In 1870 he and his first wife Belle were living in St. Louis, Missouri among a troupe of actors that included George H. Coes. Schoolcraft also had an early association with Billy Emerson [2] and Schoolcraft settled in Terre Haute, Indiana after 1870. He helped form a music academy in a former church that was popularly known as "Luke Schoolcraft's Academy of Music." [2] It was in Terre Haute that Schoolcraft met and wed his second wife, Elizabeth Clark on January 7, 1871.

In New York City[edit]

In 1872, Schoolcraft moved to New York City and made a spectacular debut at Richard M. Hooley's Opera House in Brooklyn on March 25, 1872. Newspapers there declared that he was "an immediate hit." [2] During this period, one of Schoolcraft's original songs, Oh! Dat Watermelon became popular. Today, this song is among the best-known minstrel pieces of that era.

Partnership with Coes[edit]

Schoolcraft joined with his old friend George H. Coes in 1874 and they formed "one of the most famous minstrel tandems in history." [2] Schoolcraft & Coes appeared with a number of leading companies including Emerson's Megatherian Minstrels and Barlow, Wilson, Primrose & West. By 1880, the two settled with their families in Cambridge, Massachusetts and continued to tour throughout the country performing their minstrel act in a variety of shows and venues.

When Coes was unable to continue his career due to poor health in 1889, the partnership dissolved. Schoolcraft continued to perform solo as part of a number of shows including Lew Dockstader's popular minstrel troupe. In 1892, Schoolcraft was a star in Russell's Comedians, a troupe of specialty artists. It was with this company that he performed his final show at the Walnut Street Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. He died on March 10, 1893 in his room at the Hotel Stratford. His body was transported to Boston, his funeral was held at the Church of the Advent and he was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester, Massachusetts.[5]


Luke Schoolcraft produced a number of songs, but his most well-known pieces were:


  1. ^ Federal Writers' Project; Lyle Saxon (1940). Louisiana: A Guide to the State. New York, New York: Hastings House Publishers. p. 213. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f McCormack, Mike (February 2, 2003). "Luke Schoolcraft's life touches on minstrel shows, composing". Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Retrieved August 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ Bean, Annemarie; James Vernon Hatch; Brooks McNamara (1996). Inside the minstrel mask: readings in nineteenth-century blackface minstrelsy. Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-5294-1. 
  4. ^ Dumont, Frank (March 27, 1915). "The Younger Generation in Minstrelsy and Reminiscences of the Past". New York Clipper. Retrieved August 30, 2008. 
  5. ^ "Funeral of Luke Schoolcraft". Worcester Daily Spy. March 17, 1893. 

See also[edit]