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Walker, Aida Overton

Walker, Aida Overton

October 11, 1914

Aida Overton Walker was the leading African-American female performing artist at the turn of the twentieth century. Unsurpassed as a ragtime singer and cakewalk dancer, she became a national, then international, star at a time when authentic black folk culture was replacing minstrelsy and making a powerful and permanent impact on American vernacular entertainment. Born in New York City, Walker began her career in the chorus of "Black Patti's Troubadours." She married George William Walker, of the vaudeville comedy team Williams and Walker, and soon became the female lead in their series of major musical comedies: The Policy Players, Sons of Ham, In Dahomey, Abyssinia, and Bandanna Land.

In Dahomey played London in 1903, including a command performance before the royal family on the lawn of Buckingham Palace. Walker also choreographed these shows, perhaps the first woman to receive program credit for doing so. Among her best-known songs were "Miss Hannah from Savannah," "A Rich Coon's Babe," and "Why Adam Sinned." At George Walker's death she continued in musical theater and vaudeville, playing the best houses, including Hammerstein's Victoria Theater in New York, where she performed Salome in 1912. She died in New York in 1914, at the age of thirty-four. Critics considered Walker a singer and dancer superior to both of her better-known successors, Florence Mills and Josephine Baker.

See also Musical Theater; Social Dance; Theatrical Dance


"Aida Overton Walker Is Dead." New York Age. October 15, 1914.

Riis, Thomas Laurence. Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 18901915. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

richard newman (1996)

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