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Album of Gems, Introduced by Williams and Walker and Their Own Big Company

Unidentified Artist and Hurtig & Seamon1899

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

This sheet music cover features portraits of renowned vaudeville performers George Walker (lower left) and Bert Williams (upper right) and scenes of, among other things, the actors teaching their famous “cake walk” to William Vanderbilt. The Policy Players was their 1899 production that garnered glowing reviews and stories of audiences laughing in “uproars.”
Walker and Williams reclaimed material from white minstrelsy performers who “blacked up” to racially derogate African Americans. Walker was the straight man and petty tyrant of the hapless and put-upon Williams. The gaiety of this cover featuring flowers, ribbons, and levity, however, belies the darkly racist and contradictory conditions the entertainers endured as pioneers in professionalizing black theater—as “blacks in blackface.” W.C. Fields, another vaudeville actor, once commented, Williams was “the funniest man I ever saw—and the saddest man I ever knew.”

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  • Title: Album of Gems, Introduced by Williams and Walker and Their Own Big Company
  • Creator: Unidentified Artist, Hurtig & Seamon
  • Date Created: 1899
  • Physical Dimensions: w26.4 x h35 cm (Sheet)
  • Type: Chromolithograph on paper
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
  • Classification: Print

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