Chicago's Pekin Theater
The First Black-Owned Vaudeville Stock Theater in the United States
Following a 1901 trip to the Parisian music hall, “Cafe Chantants”, Robert T. Motts, a Chicago saloon keeper and gambling king was inspired to “make a contribution to his race by providing entertainment along more cultural and uplifting lines”. In 1905, he converted his Pekin saloon and restaurant, located at the corner of 27th and State Street, into the Pekin Theatre “Temple of Music”.
Established on June 18, 1905, Chicago’s Pekin Theatre was the first black owned musical and vaudeville stock theatre in the United States. Between 1905 and 1911, the Pekin Club and its Pekin Theatre served as a training ground and showcase for Black theatrical talent, vaudeville acts, and musical comedies. Additionally, the theatre allowed “African-American theatre artists with an opportunity to master theater craft and contribute significantly to the development of an emerging Black theater tradition”.
The Pekin became "renowned for its all-black stock company and school for actors, an orchestra able to play ragtime and opera with equal brilliance, and a repertoire of original musical comedies." Robert T Motts, founded the theatre, and brought it to prominence by presenting an all black company, seeking out an affluent interracial audience, and using his establishment for social causes. Mott died in 1911, and after that the theater faded but he had established a new pattern of successful black enterprise.
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Nationally known Vaudeville Duo
Butterbeans & Susie
Butterbeans and Susie, Chicago based Vaudevillians, used their fame and influence to help younger black comedians. After seeing Moms Mabley in Dallas, for example, they helped her gain acceptance at better venues. Even after leaving show business, they remained friends with many black entertainers and put up down-on-their-luck comedians in their Chicago home.
They were a couple of teenage chorus dancers in a T.O.B.A. (Theater Owners Booking Association) Vaudeville show in 1917 when a publicity agent offered them $50 to get married on stage at the Standard Theatre in Philadelphia. It started out as a joke for Jodie Edwards and Susie Hawthorne, but they stayed together for life.
Butterbeans and Susie's act played up the differences between the two. Susie wore elegant dresses and presented an air of composure and sexiness. Butterbeans, in contrast, played the fool, with his too-small pants and bowler hat, bow tie, tailcoat, and floppy shoes. He was loudly belligerent: "I'd whip your head every time you breathe; rough treatment is exactly what you need." However, his pugnaciousness was belied by a happy demeanor and an inability to resist Susie's charms.
Whereas Stringbeans and Sweetie May stressed song and dance, Butterbeans and Susie emphasized comedy with content that was frowned on by moralists. The typical act featured a duet, a blues song by Susie, a cakewalk dance, and a comedy sketch. Short bouts of bickering peppered the act. The humor often concerned marriage or occasionally black life in general. One of their more popular numbers was "A Married Man's a Fool If He Thinks His Wife Don't Love Nobody but Him". The act was risqué at times. One of their more popular comic songs was Susie's saucy "I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll", full of racy double entendres:
The song was accompanied by Susie's provocative dancing and Buttberbeans's call-and-response one-liners: "My dog's never cold!" "Here's a dog that's long and lean." "I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll" was one of the few songs that Okeh refused to release.
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Cicero's Olympic Theater
Operated by C. E. Kohl and George Middleton, Chicago Vaudeville magnets, beginning in 1894
The 1920’s proved to be a boom period for the Chicago area, as well as for the rest of the United States. The Cicero-Berwyn area became the destination for scores of Czechs that were moving away from the crowded Chicago neighborhoods of Pilsen and Lawndale. due to this westward migration, the Sokol Slavsky gymnastic association (a Czechoslovakian organization whose primary focus was on physical training) would choose Cicero as the home for what would be the largest building project ever undertaken by a Sokol organization in the united states. the Czech community had experienced exponential growth in the decades leading up to the 1920s, and by this time had amassed a great deal of wealth.
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