According to critics of his time, Bert Williams was the Greatest Comedian on the American Stage. A black Bahamian immigrant, Williams made his start as a barker advertising the rough-and-tumble medicine shows that dotted the Wild West at the end of the nineteenth century. Not long after joining a minstrel troupe and donning the burnt- cork makeup of blackface, he teamed up with African American George Walker in a sixteen-year partnership that would take them from rural western mining towns to the bright lights of Broadway. In Introducing Bert Williams, historian Camille Forbes reveals a fascinating figure, initiating the reader into the vivid world of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century popular entertainment. Williamss long and varied career is a whirlwind of drama, glamour, and ambitionnothing less than the birth of American show business.
Camille F. Forbes, historian, critic, and performer, is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California, San Diego.