Record Companies

Who was the first African American to record with the Victor Talking Machine Company?

Bert (Egbert Austin) Williams (1873–1922) was the first black to record with the Victor Talking Machine Company, in 1901. Between 1901 and 1903 he recorded fifteen titles, primarily show tunes or comedy routines that he had done on stage. In 1910 he was the first black to receive feature billing in the Ziegfeld Follies and remained with them until 1919. Williams was born in Antigua, British West Indies, and moved with his family to New York and California. He studied civil engineering for a period, before entering show business. He and George Nash Walker formed a successful vaudeville team that reached New York City in 1896. Their show, In Dahomey, opened in a Times Square theater in 1902 and had a command performance during a tour abroad in 1903. The team became known for characterizations—Walker as a citified dandy, and Williams as a blackface comic, wearing an outlandish costume and using black dialect. In 1914 Williams became the first black to star in a movie, Darktown Jubilee. The film is said to have caused a race riot when it was shown in Brooklyn. Darktown Jubilee was his only movie. Williams’s trademark was the song “Nobody,” which he wrote and sang. He is regarded by many as the greatest black vaudeville performer in American history.


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