Item #8638 Autograph letter, signed, on letterhead of Nashville Students and P. T. Wrights Grand Colored Comedy Co…. Joe Becker.

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Autograph letter, signed, on letterhead of Nashville Students and P. T. Wrights Grand Colored Comedy Co…

“En Route,” West Liberty, Iowa: 3 April, 1899. 10.875” x 8.5”, 1 p. in purple pencil. CONDITION: Very good, very small loss to lower-right corner, minor toning.

Wonderful illustrated letterhead for an all-Black performance troupe, bearing a letter by the manager attempting to arrange a performance in El Paso, Illinois.

The letterhead, printed in red, shows an African American marching band, the bust of a man—presumably P. T. White himself—and the Company’s train car, and promises “Music, Mirth and Merriment” thanks to the “Sweetest Singers” and “Funny Commedians”: “A Sure Winner. Book it Quick.” The troupe is advertised as the “Best and Most Refined of all Colored Companies,” and consisted of a “Turkish Uniformed Silver Band & Orchestra” and “A Talented Company Vocalists, Comedians & Dancers.” The letter reads in full:

Manager Opera House
Elpaso Ill

Dear Sir Kindly inform me at once if I can get date their for our Co. on Tues. May 9 and send me your lowest terms cash rent. Have first class attraction send me full discription of Hall size and Seating Capacity waiting quick reply I remain yours

Joe Becker
Nashville Students Co.
West Liberty
Iowa

Based in Kansas City, Missouri, the Nashville Students Colored Comedy Company offered a variety show that included vocal and instrumental music, comedic skits, and dance. Contemporary newspapers document performances from 1889–1900 at locations ranging from Minnesota in the North to Louisiana in the South, Tennessee in the East, and Nebraska and South Dakota in the West. The troupe included such musical greats as Pete Hampton, P. G. Lowery, and Dan Desdunes, who was also an activist, and as a member of the New Orleans Comité des Citoyens boarded a whites-only train car shortly before Homer Plessy (Desdunes’s train, an interstate, was under federal jurisdiction and his action therefore failed to effectually challenge Louisiana’s Separate Car Act).

The troupe was owned by Preston T. Wright, who was born to enslaved parents in Mexico, Missouri, in 1857. According to music professor Clifford Edward Watkins, “After the war, the Wright family moved to Macomb, Illinois. Preston entered the public schools there and later learned barbering. He made his first show appearance in 1874 with T. H. Bland’s Carolinians, singing bass. Finding that singing was not profitable, he moved to Kansas City and became a detective (reportedly the only African-American detective in the West). Still unhappy with his lot, Wright then decided to reenter show work, putting together the Nashville Students Company with the assistance of his wife, Ida. Forty years after his birth, Wright was thought to be the most successful African-American owner-manager in the profession.”

Behind the scenes evidence of the operation of a popular Black performance company. 

REFERENCES: Wright, Preston T. Showman: The Life and Music of Perry George Lowery (University Press of Mississippi, 2003), p. 24.

Item #8638

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