Aida Overton Walker

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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.


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. She created a version of the Salome dance, a popular dance routine of the time.[2]

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.

In late 1908, Walker's husband fell ill 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. During this time she also began touring the vaudeville circuit as a solo act.[1] In 1911, she performed in His Honor the Barber with Smart Set Company. Walker performed as a male character in Lovie Dear, as well as in Bandana Land, in which she took over her husband’s role.[3]

Her husband died in 1911. In 1912, she went on tour with her show for 16 weeks, then returned to New York, where she performed as Salome at the Paradise Roof Garden on Broadway.[2] 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 died suddenly from kidney failure in 1914.[4] She had continued performing until only two months before her death.[3]

Aida Overton Walker, 1913[5]

In a 1905 article in Colored American, Walker was clear in her belief that the performing arts could have an effect 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.”[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b “Aida Overton Walker.” Find a Grave. Accessed April 25, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theater Drama and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Pages 68–69.
  3. ^ a b Thorne, Wells. "The Later Years of Aida Overton Walker; 1911–1914". Black Acts. Archived from the original on 19 June 2017.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Taylor, Julius F. "The Broad Ax". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 18 June 2015.


  • 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.
  • 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

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