Bert of Ham was their biggest hits together.

Bert Williams,
generally known for performing in Blackface, was born in Nassau, Bahamas on
November 12, 1874 and he died in Manhattan, New York City, New York on March 4,
1922. Due to the illness of his father, him and family moved to San Francisco
when he was at the age of 10 years old.  While attending school in his teenage years,
he showed little to no interest in his academics. His heart was with the
performing arts, he sung in the choir at his high school. At the age of 16, he
ran away from home to perform Medicine Shows, which are shows where people tour
to perform all types of entertainment and sell medicine at the same time. Later
on, Williams eventually returned home. Williams attended Stanford University,
however, ended up dropping to pursue his career in being a performer, in music
and comedy. He soon began to perform in saloons and minstrel shows throughout
northern California.

In 1893, Bert
signed with Martin and Selig’s Minstrels, where he met his soon to be career
partner George Walker. These men traveled across the country performing minstrel
shows. They were called the “Two Real Coons.” Williams and Walker performed
songs and comic routines. They were considered the two most successful comedian
duos during that era. Dahomey and Sons of Ham was their biggest hits
together. This duo unfortunately, would soon come to an end, when Walker died
in 1909 from being ill. In 1910, after the death of Walker, Florenz Ziegfeld
hired Williams, to be one of the leading stars in “In Ziegfeld Follies”. During
his time performing in “Follies”, he became the first black star in a leading
white Broadway revue. From then his popularity and fame grew nationwide. Williams
starred in a movie called ‘A Natural Born Gambler’ in 1916. His final
performance in Follies was in 1919 and in 1920 he signed with a New York Company,
The Shuberts. Williams began acting in the production, Under the Bamboo Tree in
December of 1921. During the touring of the play, Williams began to develop
pneumonia. On February 21, 1922, he fainted on stage in Detroit, Michigan while
rehearsing for Under the Bamboo Tree. A month later, Bert unfortunately passed
away. Bert Williams was the best-selling African American recording artist
before the 1920s.

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Theaters Owner’s Booking Agency

            The Theatre Owner’s
Booking Agency (TOBA) was established in 1920, by the people who were involved
in the vaudeville circuit; which is a theatre with mostly white owners that
involved comedians, blues and jazz singers, musicians, and other types of
performances for African American audiences. Sherman H. Dudley, who was a
performer in the vaudeville circuit was the inspiration for TOBA. Dudley was recognized
by the name of ‘Lone Star Comedian’ and began attempting to established black
owned establishments across the United States. Dudley was set in Washington
D.C. in 1911, and worked as a general manager and treasurer for the Colored
Actors’ Union. He established the S.H. Dudley Theatrical Enterprises, which he
would begin leasing and buying theatres in the areas of D.C. and Virginia. In
1916, is when the Dudley Circuit would stretch from the South all the way to
the Midwest. Black performers were enable to secure longer contracts for an
extended season.

TOBA was the
vaudeville circuit for black entertainers during the Roaring 1920s. The President
of TOBA was the President of the Bijou Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee, Milton
Starr and the booker was Sam Reevin who was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. During
its peak in the 1920s, TOBA had well over than one hundred theatres. TOBA was
also had different acronyms like, Tough on Black Artists, or as Gertrude Rainey
would say, “Tough on Black Asses”. TOBA only booked black entertainers into
theatres on the East Coast and went as far as Oklahoma. This organization was
the only form of entertainment that sought out the black audience on a
consistent basis. When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, TOBA began to
lose its popularity and Dudley sold his chain of theatres to a cinema company.
Some of the notable black artist who came from TOBA were; Ether Waters
(singer), Bessie Smith (singer), Louis Armstrong (musician), (Duke Ellington
(musician), Josephine Baker, that’s just to name a few. TOBA still exist today
but its recognized as the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Arthur Miller

            Arthur Miller, who
is a famous playwright, was born on October 17, 1915 in Harlem, New York City,
New York and passed away on February 10, 2005 in Roxbury, Connecticut. Miller was
born to Polish immigrants. His parents had a thriving clothing company until
the Stock Market crashed in 1929 and his family was forced into poverty and to
move to Brooklyn. While in high school Miller showed no interest in his
academics. He later went on to major in Journalism at the University of
Michigan but ended up getting his Bachelor of Arts in English. While in undergrad,
he wrote for the student paper, Michigan
Daily. He also wrote his first play called, No Villain, during his
sophomore year in undergrad.

He graduated from
the University of Michigan in 1938. Shortly after in the same year, he joined
the Federal Theatre Project, which was a program provided by the New Deal
during Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, which provided jobs in theatre. Miller
was drafted in World War II but was unable to fight due to a previous injury.
In 1940, Miller first play was produced and won the Theatre Guild’s National
Award, The Man Who Had All the Luck. After four showings, this play was shut
down after bad reviews. Miller published his first book “FOCUS” in 1945. Two
years, in 1947, after he published his book, Miller has his first play produced
on Broadway. “All My Sons” established his reputation as a playwright, and his
career took off from there. After the success of “All My Sons”, Miller wrote
the “Death of a Salesman” and this became one of his most famous pieces of
work. “Death of a Salesman” went on win a Pulitzer Prize and a Drama Critics
Circle Award. As well as, ran for more than seven hundred performances. His
next play was called “The Crucible”, this was considered Miller’s most
controversial dramas. The Crucible first performance was on January 23, 1953 at
the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway. In the same year, this production was a
Tony Award for the category of ‘best play”.

In 1956, Arthur
Miller was called to be in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC), and was found guilty and convicted of contempt of Congress for not
giving up names to alleged Communist in his testimony. After this trial Arthur
was put on the Hollywood blacklist. In the 1960s and throughout the 70s, he
wrote very little work. He began to focus on his personal issues. In 1983, he
traveled to Beijing, China to direct and produce Death of a Salesman. A year later Miller published a book about his
experience in Beijing, Salesmen in Beijing. The early 90s is when Arthur’s work
had a revival, “The Ride Down Mount Morgan” and “The Last Yankee”.

All of Arthur
Miller’s plays dealt with the themes about life, death, and human purposes. While
writing over 35 plays, Arthur’s career lasted for seven decades and he is
considered one of the greatest American Playwrights of the twentieth century. 

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