As you read in Part One of this series, Black music and theatre critic Sylvester Russell proposed a "colored company" of the Baum and Tietjens Wizard of Oz in early 1904. As wonderful as his casting ideas were, the producers never pursued the idea.
But Russell was not the only Black American to imagine such possibilities. Two days before Christmas 1922, the Chattanooga News announced:
WIZARD OF OZ
Colored People to Give Play January 10
The Wizard of Oz, a musical opera said to be the best ever presented by a colored cast, will be given Wednesday, January 10, at the Liberty Theater. The play will be supported by the A.M.A. [American Missionary Association] of the First Congregational church of this city, with Gertrude Blanton director. The proceeds of the play will be devoted to charities of the colored people.
|Chattanooga News, December 23, 1922|
|Gertrude Blanton circa 1930. Courtesy of Richard Davis.|
|Chattanooga Daily Times, December 24, 1922|
In 1912, . . . Gertrude married another Chattanooga native, James Blanton, and the pair moved in with her parents in their red-bricked house on 320 Cherry Street, situated on the border of downtown Chattanooga, once home to affluent white middle class families, and Ninth Street (on the East Side, now Martin Luther King Boulevard), a “center of African American life in Chattanooga since the mid-1800s.”Through her, music was an essential part of the family: Dorothy learned to play the piano, Jimmie first took up the violin before switching to string bass . . . , and Caroline sang. Gertrude took her children everywhere, including the bandstand, and they would occasionally perform with their mother’s band(s). There can be little doubt that this early experience was of vital importance to Jimmie’s swift rise to professional musicianship.
Another hometown colored boy has made good in music in the east. He is Jimmie ("Kid") Blanton, son of Gertrude Blanton, well known in music circles as an orchestra leader, and who plays for several of the most exclusive dance schools of the city.
"Kid" Blanton, a native Chattanoogan, was taught the rudiments of violin technique by Dr. J. L. Looney, local practitioner, followed his studies through, and is now a member of the Duke Ellington band featured not as a "doubler," but as a violinist, of whom Ellington says, "there is no finer before the public today in the field of commercial music.'
Blanton is on tour with the orchestra at the present time, and has been extolled in musical magazines throughout the country for his outstanding ability.
|Chattanooga Daily Times, January 10, 1923|
"Wizard of Oz" Given.A very creditable presentation of The Wizard of Oz was given last night at the Liberty theater on East Ninth street by a cast of colored amateurs. Horace Hicks was the Tin-man, and Alonzo Pope, the Scarecrow. The role of Dorothy of Kansas was well played by Dorothy Blanton. Others in the cast were Dave Smith, Minerva Hatcher and Thelma Vaughan. The musical comedy was directed by Gertrude Blanton and a good sum was raised for colored charities.
|Minerva's 7th Birthday, 1913. The KKK burned the house a few days later.|
I spent the weekdays at Yale, but I'd spend the weekends visiting a friend of mine in Harlem. I told my classmates I could act like a white during the week, but on weekends I had to get back to being black.