Bert Williams was one of our early Blues People. Of the highest caliber. Blackface and all! In a proper chronology of Blues People, Bert Williams and George Walker, and their musical play In Dahomey, which derived from their experience of the Dahomey Village at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, would provide one of the crucial starting points of the Modern African American Century.
I have also included here a running copy of the only surviving film of a Bert William's performance in A Natural Born Gambler (1916), which I picked up from former student Chris's blog. It works well although many of the other wonderful links have degraded to pictures. Still wonderful commentary.
The film is from the Biograph Company, apparently produced written and starred in by Bert Williams. A man for the ages. A black man in blackface par excellence. There is no equal. I saw many of them as a child at the Apollo Theatre in the 50s and I am still laughing.
I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.