Fred Astaire performing “Bojangles in Harlem” number, where he dressed like a blackface minstrel and danced with his shadows to pay homage to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
In honor of Mr. Davis’s birthday, I present this comparison that I have been pondering since I stumbled across this image of Davis (top) on the web. Mr. Davis performing Mr. Bojangles here is an intriguing counterpoint to my discussion of Fred Astaire’s “Bojangles in Harlem” number in Swing Time (1936). [Props to Elizabeth Abel’s “Shadows” essay in Representations, of course] Davis’ adoption of Mr. Bojangles as signature song speaks back to Astaire’s racial masquerade/homage to Bill Robinson in forceful ways that I don’t yet know if I will include in my book. To be continued, perhaps…
Snippet of Astaire’s performance:
An exhibition that I wish I could see:
I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.
Bel Geddes designs were very influential on the style of Jazz Age. A little known aspect of his career: the 1922 design of the interior of Palais Royal Cabaret where Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra performed.
George S. Kaufman dubbed the Cabaret “the Geddes triumph,” asserting that it “proved. . . that art and the night places can go hand in hand.”
The venue later became The Cotton Club when it moved downtown.
[Shout out to my colleague Sandy Isenstadt who contributed to the catalogue!]
Quintessential example of white modernists’ appropriation of blackness: The Congo by Vachel Lindsay, a poem from 1914
It was great to finally see this in person. Hide/Seek was a terrific show.
The influx of white folks to the new Harlem has led to many a grande folie! Shades of Godmother.
A portrait of Carl Van Vechten by E. O. Hoppe.
Carlo is a key player in Afrochic. He is a constant challenge and conundrum. Still trying to figure him out…
LoBagola, a trickster from B’mo, who pulled the wool over the eyes over the Negrotarians:
Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola (1877 – 1947) was an early 20th century American impostor and entertainer who presented an exoticized identity as a native of Africa, when in reality he was born Joseph Howard Lee in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite an impoverished start in life and a lack of education, and a series of scandalous arrests related to homosexual activities, mainly involving underage individuals, LoBagola maintained a long and colorful career posing as an African “savage”, during which he delivered lectures to many institutions and conducted public debates.
LoBagola was able to secure a book contract with Knopf to publish his “life story.” He was photographed by Doris Ulmann, one of the photographers I discuss in Afrochic.