African American Musical Theater
Before the turn of the 20thth Century the idea of Black Musical Theater was a second-hand treatment of black life created by European-American performers, performing stereotyped “coon songs” in blackface. This began to change as African American composers and lyrists such as Will Marion Cook and Bob Cole brought black-written musical comedy to Broadway in 1898.
Cook’s Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cake Walk, an hour-long sketch, was the first all-black musical to play in a prestigious Broadway house, Casino Theatre‘s Roof Garden. Cole’s A Trip to Coontown was the first full-length New York musical comedy written, directed and performed exclusively by blacks.
Bob Cole and brothers John Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson focused on elevating the lyrical sophistication of African American songs. Their first collaboration was “Louisiana Lize”, a love song written in a new lyrical style that left out the watermelons, razors, and “hot mamas” typical of earlier “coon songs.”