Entertainment

“Chocolate Dandies” comes to town — one night only!

Wilson Daily Times, 12 November 1925.

“This li’l old typewriter hasn’t been reading programs for more than forty years, so it is unable to single out from the more or less confused card of the races that dancin’ colored boy who makes ‘The Chocolate Dandies’ stand out in an uncommonly good road season of uncommonly good road shows. In that jungle of names and numbers, his name is lost. This is regretted, seriously, for the reason that, without regard to color or condition, this keyboard is glad to pound out the fact that he is the most brilliant dancer of his type ever seen on the stage – certainly on the Richmond stage, and, be it remembered, the road sees the good dancers and good actors long before they are “discovered” by reviewers who cover Broadway shows. That statement must be qualified, of course, so as to except imported stars and manufacturer stars – such for example, as Mr. Belasco has fabricated. And, moreover – but this has nothing to do with the case.

“‘The Chocolate Dandies’ is an all-colored show after the general style of ‘Shuffle Along’ and ‘Runnin’ Wild,’ but, in so far as the road production is a guide, it is much more pretentious – to use the press agents’ favorite word – than its predecessors. It is slighter in its comedy than either of the others mentioned: but its costuming and setting are more elaborate and handsome than those of both the others put together. A long, gangling colored man named Lew Payton wrote the book and plays the comedy lead. He is so free from exaggeration in his work on the stage and has been so true to life in his comedy writing for the stage that it is quite easy for us down here to understand why this particular play and performance did not turn ‘em away in New York. At any rate, to those who fully realize how good this man is he is the acting star of his own show. That dancin’ colored boy walks away with the performance because his work is spectacular and brilliant and, in its own field just about unapproachable.

“It’s a fact, perfectly clean, amusing show, in which every member of the cast and chorus plays and dances as if for the love of it. The little orchestra carried by the company plays admirably. And the pianist-director, a woman, plays beautifully. One-man opinion is that ‘The Chocolate Dandies’ is clinking good entertainment – provided the entertainment is not submerged by the pitiful tragedy of some of the performers, who are white – but colored.

“Why, several of them have well schooled voices, one of the women would make ‘White Cargo’ more realistic than ever it has been – but this is not moralization: it is supposed to be a report of a performance. Therefore, it is repeated that ‘The Chocolate Dandies’ is clinking good entertainment – but what a piteous aching thing is this problem of ours!   — Douglas Gordon.”

——

The Wilson Theatre‘s manager reprinted a Richmond critic’s bizarrely incomprehensible review to promote — to an all-white audience — a one-night performance of The Chocolate Dandies, a lavish musical meant to capitalize on the success of Shuffle Along, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake‘s break-out Broadway production. Based on a book by Sissle and Lew Payton and with music by Blake, the stage show played 96 shows the 1200-seat New Colonial Theatre at 1887 Broadway at 62nd Street from 1 September through 22 November 1924. Josephine Baker — a few years away from her Paris debut — had a minor role, but it is not clear whether she took to the road with the traveling show. Douglas Gordon’s piece — which seems to be positive — aside, the critical reception was mixed.

Image courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Dancing and games on East Nash Street.

Pittsburgh Courier, 20 January 1934.

  • Mr. and Mrs. R.W. Hilliard — Rufus Hilliard, 35, of Wilson, son of A.H. Hilliard and Penina V. [Wimly?], married Lela M. Washington, 29, daughter of William Washington and Martha (last name not listed) on 30 December 1932 in Wilson. Baptist minister B.F. Jordan performed the ceremony in the presence of J.S. Spell, E. D.[illegible] Fisher and Nancy Wilkins. Rufus Wimberly Hilliard died 5 December 1976. Lela Washington Hilliard died 26 July 1985.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Levi Peacock Jr. — Levi H. Peacock, 22, of Wilson, son of Levi and Hannah Peacock, married Elouise Reavis, 20, of Wilson, daughter of Joseph and Etta Reavis, on 4 October 1922 in Wilson. W.A. Mitchner applied for the license, and Presbyterian minister A.H. George performed the ceremony in the presence of John D. Henry, Henrietta Foster and John H. Parris.
  • Gilda Whitley
  • Jethro Couch
  • Ruth E. Hooker — Ruth Hooker Coppedge died 26 May 1945 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 41 years old; resided at 200 South Vick Street, Wilson; was married to George Coppedge; was born in Wilson to Frank Richard Hooker of Greene County and Eleanor Farmer of Wilson County; and was a school teacher.
  • Allie M. Hines — Within days of the Hilliards’ soiree, on 27 January 1934, Willis E. Prince, 47, son of Turner Prince and Sarah (last name not given) married Alma Mae Hines, 29, daughter of Amos and Sarah Hines, in Wilson. C.E. Artis applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister I. Albert Moore performed the ceremony in the presence of M.W. Hines, C.L. Darden and A.M. Dupree. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Willis Prince, 54, carpenter contractor, and wife Allie, age not listed.
  • Willis Prince — Willis Ephriam Prince died 2 October 1960 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 17 January 1889 in Edgecombe County to Turner Prince and Sarah (last name not listed); worked as a merchant; was married; and resided at 205 Stantonsburg Street. Allie Mae Prince was informant.

Washingtonians feted.

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Pittsburgh Courier, 12 January 1929.

On 27 December 1928, Professor and Mrs. J.D. Reid threw a buffet lunch and whist party at their home at 600 East Green Street, which was followed by a dance at the Samuel H. Vick home at 622 East Green, all in honor of Irene and May Miller of Washington, D.C. [Who were the Miller sisters, and what was their Wilson connection?]

Thelma, J.D. Jr. and Frederick Reid were children of J.D. and Eleanor Frederick Reid. Robert and Samuel H. Vick Jr. were sons of Samuel and Annie Washington Vick.

Fine tea and program.

Pittsburgh Courier, 8 January 1949.

Colored section rallies for playground.

Wilson Daily Times, 29 June 1921.

  • Rev. Arthur George
  • Judge D. Reid and Eleanor P. Reid
  • S.A. Vick — Samuel H. Vick?
  • Celia Norwood — on 28 February 1895, Celia A. Hill, 22, daughter of H. and H. Hill, married Richard Norwood, 21, son of B. Norwood of Chatham County, in Wilson. Episcopal minister J.W. Perry performed the ceremony at Saint Marks in the presence of John H. Clark, B.R. Winstead and S.A. Smith. Cecilia Anna Norwood died 27 June 1944 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 February 1879 in Washington, North Carolina to Edward Hill and Henrietta Cherry; resided at 205 Pender, Wilson; was widowed; and was a teacher. Informant was Hazel Covington of Wilson.
  • C.N. Darden — Charles H. Darden? Camillus L. Darden?
  • Charles Thomas 
  • Ethel Hines — Ethel Cornwell Hines
  • C.A. Hill
  • Lonvalle Martin
  • Hazel Norwood — Hazel Norwood (a daughter of Richard S. and Cecilia Hill Norwood), 24, married Thomas Covington in Durham, North Carolina, on 5 September 1933.

In 1921, “the end of Green and Viola Streets” would have been just northwest of the lot upon which Wilson Colored High School was constructed just a couple of years later. Was the playground ever built? Or were the baseball field and tennis court quickly encroached upon and then obliterated by houses in the 900 blocks of Green and Viola? If so, they were not replaced until Reid Street Community Center opened a few blocks away in 1938.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, North Carolina (1922).

Glee.

Another gem from Darden Alumni Center, here depicting the Wilson Colored High School glee club in 1937. A label listing the students’ and teachers’ names has been augmented where possible with birth and death dates and parents’ names, below. Many eastern North Carolina counties did not provide secondary education for African-American children in the 1930s. As a result, families who wanted schooling beyond the elementary grades chose to send their children to Wilson to board with local families and attend high school. Where discovered, the hometowns of such children are noted below.

Front row: Annie Elizabeth Cooke Farmer (1921-??, Jerry and Clara Godette Cooke); Delores Robbins Coleman (1920-2003, James D. and Louise Davis Robbins); Edna Gray Taylor Desvigne (1921-2011, Roderick and Mary John Pender Taylor); Helen E. Reid Worsley (1921-1981, Willie C. and Mary Galley Reid); Lucy Gray Pittman Cunningham Parker (1922-2003, Aaron and Lucy Graham Pittman); unknown; Bessie Mae Joyner Redden (Eddie L. and Annie Joyner); Gracie White Terrell (1923-1994); Willia B. Jones Turner (1923, Wesley and Martha Taylor Jones); Lucy Dawson.

Second row: Spencer J. Satchell; Aurelia Janet Lucas Hagood (1920-1997, Henry and Mamie Battle Lucas); Helen Crutchfield Lewis (1924-1993, Willie and Novella Bryant Crutchfield), Doris Louise Crooms Caldwell Robinson (1920-1992, Lloyd and Maggie Jones Crooms); Bernice Gerald; Annie Frances Crawford (1921-??, Clarence and Maggie Barnes Crawford); Retha M. Best; Millicent Monroe; Naomi Lee Dawson Clark (1920-1978, Clarence and Elizabeth Thomas Dawson); Rosemary Plummer Fitts Funderburg (1923-2000, Howard and Elizabeth Plummer Fitts); Hattie L. Dixon; Evelyn Knight (1921-??, James H. and Ada Green Knight); Alice McCoy (1915-1983, Russell and Ometa Smith McCoy); Juanita Pope Morrisey.

Third row: Leroy Foster (1917-??, Claude and Cora White Foster); Harvey Gray Ford (1921-1942, Curlis and Mamie Battle Ford); Cornelius Best; Eula Mae Horton Bryant (1912-1990, Louis and Minnie Horton); unknown; Montez Colesse Hooker Boatman (1922-1990, Gray F. and Bettie Caddell Hooker);  Virginia Walden Wilson (Albert L. and Annie Moore Walden); Thomas H. Haskins (1919-1978, Robert and Gertrude Haskins); Primrose Carter (1914-1972, Morehead City, Carteret County, Willie E. and Henrietta Cooper Carter).

Fourth row: William Nelson Knight (1916-2011, James H. and Ada Green Knight); John Henry Mincey (1919-1982, Benjamin and Mattie Barnes Mincey); Charles Darden James (1914-1994, Randall R. and Elizabeth Darden James); James F. Coley (1921-??); Clarence Herman Best (1918-1994, Clarence B. and Geneva Smith Best); Weldon Williams; unknown; Clinton Rudolph Leacraft (1918-2007, Swansboro, Onslow County, Frank and Hagar Duncan Leacraft).

Fifth row: James Aaron Best; Marion Vernon Jones (1919-1975, Wesley and Martha Taylor Jones); unknown; Charles Elva Kittrell (1918-1990, Solomon and Lettie Roberts Kittrell); unknown; Elmond Henry McKeithen (1914-2003, Cumberland County, Henry and Sarah Robinson McKeithan).

Four-part harmony.

The Gospel Four, circa 1940.

Like The Soul Stirrers, the Gospel Four were a quartet with five members. Founded in the Lucama area, the Gospel Four achieved local fame fed by their weekly radio show during the 1940s. Shown above, they were Jim Lawrence Jones, his brother Paul H. Jones, brothers Robert Powell and Russell Powell, and Eddie Finch, who was married to the Jones brothers’ sister Ida Mae.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 February 1947.

  • Jim Lawrence, Paul and Ida Mae Jones — Jim Lawrence Jones (1917-1976), Paul Henderson Jones, and Ida Mae Jones were children of Thomas and Mary Ida Bagley Jones.
  • Robert Powell — Robert (1908-1956) and David Russell Powell (1911-1990) were sons of David B. and Sarah Boykin Powell.
  • Eddie Finch — Nash County native Edward Finch (1909-1978), son of William and Mattie Finch, married Ida Mae Jones (1912-1986) in Johnston County, North Carolina, on 10 January 1931.

Photograph courtesy of Edith Jones Garnett. Thank you!