Black History Month Honoree 8

Bert Williams
Posted on 02/10/2023
Image of Bert WilliamsBert Williams (November 12, 1874 – March 4, 1922) was a Bahamian-born American entertainer, one of the pre-eminent entertainers of the Vaudeville era and one of the most popular comedians for all audiences of his time. He is sometimes credited as being the first Black man to have the leading role in a film: Darktown Jubilee in 1914.

He was by far the best-selling Black recording artist before 1920. In 1918, the New York Dramatic Mirror called Williams "one of the great comedians of the world."

Williams was a key figure in the development of African-American entertainment. In an age when racial inequality and stereotyping were commonplace, he became the first black person to take a lead role on the Broadway stage and did much to push back racial barriers during his three-decade-long career. Fellow vaudevillian W.C. Fields, who appeared in productions with Williams, described him as "the funniest man I ever saw—and the saddest man I ever knew."

In 1910, Booker T. Washington wrote of Williams: "He has done more for our race than I have. He has smiled his way into people's hearts; I have been obliged to fight my way."

Image of Bert Williams
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