Cultural History of the First Jazz and Blues Communities in Jacksonville, Florida 1896-1916: A Contribution of African Americans to American Theatre

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This rich and descriptive analysis of one particular neighborhood and its contributions to the formation of new, and distinctively African-American, performance ideologies by lesser known performers contributes to a greater understanding of this historical period and the body of creative work that has never been fully chronicled or acknowledged before.


“Peter Dunbaugh Smith’s research offers a powerful antidote to the conventionalized narrativity of so much Africa-American cultural history… One comes away from reading this book with a distinct sense that the story of how African-Americans shaped the history of American performing arts and popular entertainment is one that really cannot be told well without Jacksonville as an integral part of it.
The story told here is a testament to the crucial historical significance of one relatively small and erstwhile forgotten place and time in the sweeping history of African-American performing arts and culture… it offers an exemplar of the kind of histories that still need to be written about so many other places, people, and times…”
-Dr. Michael Bakan,
Professor of Ethnomusicology,
Florida State University

“Smith fearlessly tackles questions that have not been satisfactorily addressed in previous studies. How did these entertainers acquire the necessary training in an era when such opportunities were severely limited for African Americans? How were these networks of Musical circuits established? What social pressures did the musicians face besides the obvious racial obstacles? How did some of the musicians receive acceptance by white audiences while others did not? Many other questions arise, and Smith is able to provide answers with a scholar’s appreciation of complexity yet with the clarity of a good writer…
Those who follow Smith on this remarkable study will get unexpected insights into issues that lie at the heart of our notion of the formation of current American culture. This book is, on one level, the story of an art form as American as rock and roll, but it is, on a deeper level, a story of America itself.”
- Ron Cooper, Ph.D.,
Professor of Humanities,
College of Central Florida

“The extensive archival research in newspaper publications, as well as other published sources, allows us to find out much more about the time period and people and communities under consideration… a fascinating and very sophisticated musical ecosystem operating for several decades, despite the obstacles of racism in communities and local institutions… The study represents a major contribution to scholarly and public appreciation of this place and this period.”
-Stephen D. McDowell, Ph.D.,
Professor of Communication,
Florida State University

"Smith utilizes a plethora of sources mining almost all of the major scholarly sources. He puts together an engaging narrative which sticks closely to its thesis. The book is very well organized and researched and has many anecdotal references to back up his points. It is a good read and provides useful analysis for understanding the role of the arts in the public life of African Americans."
Dr. Abel A. Bartley,
Clemson University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael B. Bakan
Chapter 1: La Villa and Jacksonville

An African-American Majority Becomes a Minority
Early Jacksonville’s Performance Culture
A Nascent Film Industry in Jacksonville
Chapter 2: The Johnson Brothers and the Great White Way
Rosamond Johnson and the Oriental America Company
Bob Cole and the Rehabilitation of the Coon Song
James Weldon Johnson and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”
After the Great Fire, New York Successes
The Shoo-fly Regiment and Red Moon Touring Companies
Class and Culture in Jacksonville
Chapter 3: On Stage, Under Canvas: Touring Tent Shows
Pat Chappelle, Impresario
Rabbit’s Foot Minstrel Company and Red Fox Music Hall
Eph Williams and the Silas Green Tent Show
Billy Kersands’ Minstrel Show
Chpater 4: “We Will Soon Reach the Ladder”: Honky-Tonk Theaters and Jim Crow
Mason Park and the Streetcar Boycott
The Little Savoy and the Gem
Tom Baxter’s Exchange Theater
Lincoln Park Entertainments
Chapter 5: A First Class House: The Globe Theater and the Colored Airdome

Frank Crowd’s Bijou Theater The Colored Airdome
Francis Eugene Mikell and Tim Owsley at the Globe
The New Globe Theater
Chapter 6: Tough on Black Artists: The Strand Theater and the Southern Circuits
Grand Opening of the Strand
Genesis of the Early Circuits
Theatrical Owners Booking Agency
Chapter 7: Ashley Street Blues, the End of an Era The “Hellfighters”
Rosamond Johnson’s Solo Career
Echoes of the Minstrel Shows
Jazz and Blues Traditions in Jacksonville
Chapter 8: Conclusion and Epilogue

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