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Barnabee, Henry Clay (14 November 1833–16 December 1917), singer and actor, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Willis Barnabee and Mary (maiden name unknown). His father was a stagecoach driver who became an innkeeper. Willis Barnabee’s wife was cook, and his adolescent son Henry was odd-jobs man and at times bartender....

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Cole, Bob (01 July 1868–02 August 1911), actor, director, and composer, was born Robert Allen Cole, Jr., in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole, Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist in the black community. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack’s ...

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De Angelis, Thomas Jefferson (30 November 1859–20 March 1933), actor and musical performer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of John “Johnny” De Angelis and Susan Loudenschlager, stage performers. He was thus born to a theatrical heritage. His uncle, Thomas Rosa, taught him dancing and gymnastics, and his father gave him voice lessons. De Angelis also attended a few classes in public schools in both Philadelphia and New York, but his formal schooling was sparse....

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Emmet, J. K. (13 March 1841–15 June 1891), actor and songwriter, was born Joseph Klein Emmet in St. Louis, Missouri. (His middle name is frequently spelled Kline.) Nothing is known of Emmet’s parents except that his father died young, leaving behind a son who had been able to find sporadic employment as a drummer with several St. Louis bands while unsuccessfully trying to become a photographer. On the elder Emmet’s death, Joseph became an apprentice to a sign painter who also made sets for local theaters. While working in the playhouses, the musically talented Emmet became fascinated with the stage and developed his own act with original songs and dances....

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Fox, Della May (13 October 1870–15 June 1913), comic opera star, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Andrew J. Fox, a leading St. Louis photographer, and Harriett Swett. Della made her first appearance on stage as the Midshipmite in a St. Louis production of ...

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Gilbert, Ruth Alice “Ronnie” (7 Sept. 1926–6 June 2015), folksinger, actor, and therapist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Sarah and Charles Gibson. Her mother was a dressmaker and her father was a factory worker; both parents were Jewish. Ronnie inherited her lifelong leftwing politics particularly from her Polish-born mother, who was long involved with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and who took her daughter to a ...

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Hall, Pauline (26 February 1860–29 December 1919), singer and actress, was born Pauline Fredericka Schmidgall (or Schmitgall) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Little is known of her parents other than that her father was an apothecary and her mother was a keeper of an actors’ boardinghouse. Pauline’s humble background was significant to her career primarily because the actors living in her childhood home caused her to be stagestruck at an early age. She was young when she committed herself to the “profession,” as she called it, performing at age fifteen in a ballet presented by R. E. J. Miles at Robinson’s Opera House in Cincinnati, “where she stepped out of the chorus to sing a small part” and “then chose the stage name of Hall” (Clippings File). She then went to the Grand Opera House until Miles, still her manager, put his “America Racing Association and Hippodrome” on the road, and Hall was featured in the street tableaus and drove a chariot in races at the indoor entertainments....

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Held, Anna (18 March 1865?–13 August 1918), actress and singer, was born in Warsaw, Poland (although she often claimed to have been born in Paris, France), the daughter of Maurice Held and Yvonne Pierre. Her true birthdate is a matter of considerable conjecture. Most sources give 1873 or 1877 as the year, but more recent research has provided evidence that Held was actually born in 1865. Her father was a glovemaker, but after he became seriously ill the family moved from Warsaw to Paris and opened a restaurant. Held worked in the restaurant, as did her siblings, and she also worked in Parisian shops sewing buttonholes, making curled ostrich feathers, and constructing fur caps. She occasionally sang in her father’s restaurant and was clearly drawn to the stage at an early age. She made her debut in a café concert in 1889, impressing her audience by singing in Spanish, French, German, and Polish. After her father’s death, Held moved with her mother to London where she sought chorus work and made her legitimate theater debut at London’s Princess Theatre in 1889. She also performed in London’s Yiddish Theatre. She slowly moved up to featured roles both in England and on the Continent, where she performed in the elegant El Dorado and La Scala cabarets in Paris. While starring in other top-notch European cabarets in Germany, Amsterdam, Hungary, and Scandinavia, Held also performed in the palaces of royalty and the mansions of the rich. Her celebrity was such that at this time she was the model for two Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs. Also at about this time, Held secretly wed a fifty-year-old South American named Maximo Carrera in 1894. They were separated after a short time....

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Hewlett, James S. (fl. 1821–1831), actor and singer, , is said to have been born on Long Island, New York, presumably toward the end of the eighteenth century. His parents are unknown, and nothing is known about his childhood. As a young man he worked as steward on passenger ships, and he is said to have been an avid playgoer. In 1820 New York City had a black population of about 11,000, out of a total of about 125,000. The one theater in town, the Park, admitted African Americans to only a section of one of the balconies. When ...

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De Wolf Hopper Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90305).

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Hopper, DeWolf (30 March 1858–23 September 1935), actor and singer, was born William D’Wolf Hopper in New York City, the son of John Hopper, a lawyer, and Rosalie D’Wolf. The family lived on East Third Street right off the Bowery and later moved to West Forty-third Street. His paternal grandfather, John Tatum Hopper, was a Quaker and a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was disciplined by the Quaker Meeting for his participation in the Civil War. Hopper was six when his father died, leaving him and his mother comfortably well off. He studied at J. H. Morse’s School. Early on he showed a propensity for the theatrical. As a school boy he mastered the “Senator Dilworthy” monologue, and when he was fifteen he played in a Sunday school production of ...

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Mills, Florence (25 January 1895–01 November 1927), entertainer, was born Florence Winfree in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Winfree, a carpenter, and Nellie Simons, who did laundry. Educated locally, by age five Mills was winning contests in cakewalking and buck dancing. Her first professional engagement came as Baby Florence Mills in the second company (1902) of the Williams-Walker ...

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Olcott, Chauncey (21 July 1860–18 March 1932), actor, singer, and composer, was born John Chancellor Olcott in Buffalo, New York, the son of Mellen Whitney “Jack” Olcott, a horseman and stable operator, and Margaret Doyle. Olcott became interested in performing while growing up in Buffalo. He sang continually, influenced, he said, by his father’s fine voice and his mother’s stories of her Irish heritage. His first professional appearance was in blackface with Emerson and Hooley’s Minstrels. He also appeared with Haverly’s Original Mastodon Minstrels (he traveled to London with the company), Carncross’s Minstrels, and Thatcher, Primrose, and West’s Minstrels. In these companies Olcott sang sentimental songs and sometimes appeared in comic sketches....

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Lillian Russell Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91178).

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Russell, Lillian (04 December 1861–06 June 1922), entertainer, actress, and singer, was born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton, Iowa, to a well-to-do family. Her father, Charles E. Leonard, was the publisher of the local newspaper, the Clinton Herald, and her mother, Cynthia Howland Van Name, was an early and ardent feminist. Her family moved to Chicago in 1865, and she attended local schools, completing her formal education at the Park Institute, a finishing school. However, as she later recalled, her most significant education occurred at home: “Our family was a musical one. We sang and danced and played, and all my sisters had exceptionally fine voices, which were carefully trained.” Her parents subsequently divorced after separating in 1877, and, with her mother and sisters, she moved to New York City. Within a short time, she secured a chorus part in Edward E. Rice’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ...

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Ward, Geneviève (27 March 1838–18 August 1922), singer and actress, was born Lucy Geneviève Teresa Ward in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Ward, a planter, businessman, and sometime diplomat, and Lucy Lee (or Leigh). Taken abroad for her education, Ward traveled extensively throughout Europe as a young girl. When Ward was between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, composer Gioacchino Rossini heard her sing and sent her to study with the director of the opera in Florence, Italy....

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Whiffen, Blanche Galton (12 March 1844–25 November 1936), actress and singer, was born in London, England, the daughter of Joseph West Galton, a secretary of the London General Post Office, and Mary Ann Pyne, an opera singer. After the death of her father in 1851, Whiffen and her sister attended a boarding school in Gravesend, Kent, until 1857. They later studied at Mrs. Chapman’s School in London and spent eighteen months at a school in St. Omer, France. Whiffen made her stage debut in November 1865 at London’s Royalty Theater as Rosatinta the Fairy in the light opera ...