The Vaudeville Actress Who Refused To Be A Stereotype

Aida Overton Walker was an African-American singer, actress, dancer, and choreographer that broke down barriers.

1. Born in New York City on Valentine’s Day 1880, Aida Overton began her career while still a teenager — as a chorus member of “Black Patti’s Troubadours.”

2. While performing with the group, Aida met her future husband, prominent vaudeville performer George Walker.

3. After their marriage, Aida began working as a choreographer for his groundbreaking vaudevillian comedy duo Williams and Walker.

4. Aida soon joined the act — playing the female lead.

5. She also earned the nickname “The Queen of the Cakewalk,” after popularizing the dance of the same name.

Cakewalk was a 19th-century dance that began in the African-American community in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes.

6. Williams and Walker were one of the few all-black acts allowed to perform on white vaudeville stages

7. While they did perform in black face, they refused to perform demeaning minstrel acts.

8. Aida — for her part — refused to play stereotypical mammy caricatures.

9. In 1903, she played a command performance at Buckingham Palace for King Edward VII. The performance transformed her into an international star.

10. In 1908, Aida’s career took an unexpected turn when her husband became ill and was forced to retire. She then began touring the vaudeville circuit as a solo act — performing his parts in drag.

11. After her husband’s death in 1911, her career went into decline.

12. But in 1912, Aida had a small comeback playing the lead in Oscar Hammerstein’s revival of Salome, at the Victoria Theater in New York City. Her performance won her critical praise.

13. Tragically, Aida died suddenly on October 1, 1914, at age 34, from kidney failure.

14. While Aida’s life was cut short, she left behind a important legacy.

As I’ll Keep You Posted notes:

“[Aida] was renowned in her own community as an activist for both black entertainment and women’s equality. Aida opened the doors for the show business daughters… like Lottie Gee, Florence Mills, Ethel Waters and even Josephine Baker.”

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

          
    Now Buzzing