The Theater Owners Booking Association, known simply as T.O.B.A., was founded in 1920 by black actor S. H. Dudley and white theater owner Milton Starr. It grew out of their concern for the increasing number of theaters that catered to blacks and booking problems that they faced. By 1921 there were some ninety-four such theaters nationwide owned and managed by blacks. The T.O.B.A. worked in support of underpaid entertainers on the black musical stage, dealing with issues such as long travel days, demanding audiences, and similar difficulties. It is probable that most of the T.O.B.A. performers were Southerners; those from other regions associated Jim Crow and lynchings with traveling in the South. Joining the circuit were Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith. T.O.B.A. came to its demise because of the Great Depression and the impact of sound films on vaudeville.
The Apollo Theater in Harlem became one of the first American theaters to showcase black and other minority talent when radio host Ralph Cooper began an amateur night there in 1934.