Women of Vaudeville

The freedom of expression vaudeville provided was especially complicated for Black actresses. Women were largely offered supporting roles in this already marginalized corner of the American stage. Despite their limitations, vaudeville roles allowed Black women to participate in theater when there were few artistic opportunities for women of color. Even so, women often only received name recognition as part of a married pair (a popular vaudevillian trope), such as Butterbeans and Susie; or as a member of a troupe or chorus group like Smart Set Company, which included The Colored Beauty Chorus. While some of these women achieved larger acclaim, many have been nearly lost to historical record. Others, like Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey, would go on to careers in music with a reputation for their vaudeville-inspired talents.