African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


  • Timeline
    • 1865-1910

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The Development of an African-American Musical Theatre 1865-1910


Sons of Ham (1900)

The turn of the century saw a new effort from Williams and Walker, with music by Will Marion Cook and lyrics by Alex Rogers, Sons of Ham. Many other well-known African-American musicians and librettists contributed to the score, including Will Accooe, Cecil Mack, Bob Cole, J. Rosamund Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, and Tom Lemonier.

The Belle of Bridgeport (1900)

The same year, The Belle of Bridgeport, described as a "white-oriented musical farce" by Peterson, with music and lyrics by Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson, and J. Rosamond Johnson, and starring May Irwin, opened in New York. Cole and J. R. Johnson were prolific and popular songwriters for the white musical stage in addition to producing their own shows.

In Dahomey (1902)

In 1902, perhaps the best-known of the turn of the century African-American musicals, In Dahomey, was produced. Jesse A. Shipp wrote the book, and Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote lyrics. One of a number of "back to Africa" musicals, it was another effort of the team of Williams and Walker. Many other well-known African-American composers and lyricists contributed to the show (which changed significantly during its four-year run and tour), including James Weldon Johnson, J. Leubrie Hill, Al. Johns, Alex Rogers, and James Vaughan.

The Southerners (1904)

In 1904, Will Marion Cook (under the name Will Mercer) wrote The Southerners, which featured a black and white cast, most unusual for its day. The African-American performers had musical parts rather than speaking roles, and the cast included Abbie Mitchell.


Cover of sheet music

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon "Hannah from Savannah." 1902.

Cover of sheet music

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon "I'd like to be a real lady." Words by Alex. Rogers; music by Tom Lemonier. 1902.