African American Performers: Egbert Austin Williams

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Egbert Austin Williams better known as Bert, was an African American performer during the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in Nassau, Bahamas on November 12, 1874. He was the child of Frederick, who was a sailor and his mother Julia. When Williams was 11 he and his family moved to Riverside in southern California. While in Nassau, Williams encountered very little racism, southern California however was a much different story which troubled him deeply throughout his lustrous career. Although he faced racism throughout his career he still was extremely successful. By the time he died in March of 1922, he had broken down numerous racial doors that has had an everlasting impact on Broadway. He became a legend as a comedian, songwriter, singer, and dancer in American Musical Theater.
Bert Williams moved to San Francisco to attend college at the University of San Francisco in 1892. While in school Williams would write songs, and do impressions at local venues to earn some extra money. He met a man named George Walker, a fellow black artist, who was a young and talented performer. These two decided to put an act together, and to tell one’s story is to tell the others as well. Williams and Walker called themselves for a time, “The Two Real Coons”. They “worked in the minstrel tradition, originally created by Whites wearing blackface as a vehicle for demeaning humor aimed at African Americans” (BHS). Williams was able to turn this around however as he “avoided the racial stereotype as he transformed the sorrow of his race into the stuff of laughter” (Stempel 92). He would also find a way to tell a tale all races could share and relate to.
That was just the start for Williams and Walker. Their act which developed from mins...

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