Ira Frederick Aldridge was an American and later British actor, playwright, and theater manager, who made his career after 1824 largely on the London stage and in Europe, especially in Shakespearean roles. Born in New York City, Aldridge is the only actor of African-American descent among the thirty-three actors of the English stage honoured with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Aldridge’s acting career took off at the height of the movement to abolish slavery. He chose to play a number of anti-slavery roles and often addressed his audiences on closing night, speaking passionately about the injustice of slavery, as did other touring Black abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass.
He was especially popular in Prussia and Russia, where he received top honours from heads of state. At the time of his sudden death, while on tour in Poland, he was arranging a triumphant return to America, with a planned 100-show tour to the United States. Aldridge married twice, once to an Englishwoman, once to a Swedish woman, and had a family in England. Two of his daughters became professional opera singers.