1904 Black Americana postcard depicting ‘Cake Walk’ dance, vaudeville

An African-American couple doing the Cake Walk dance. Dressed in their finest: man with top-hat and walking cane, woman in a long dress and elaborate hat.

The man was one of a pair of well known African-American vaudevillians of the day Bert Williams (the other being George Walker).

Cake Walk (Negro Dance) No.7   Frank Huld, Publisher, N.Y.

Sender has written message (in French) on front, dated ‘Lowell 14/8 04’.

Undivided back.

Addressed to Paris, with stamp rempoved, and ‘LOWELL MASS AUG 15 1904’ postmark. Receiving postmark ‘--S FRANCE 25 - 8 4’.

Paper yellowed. Corner creases where mounted in album.

The cakewalk or cake walk was a dance developed from the "prize walks" held in the late 19th century, generally at get-togethers on black slave plantations after emancipation in the Southern United States. Alternative names for the original form of the dance were "chalkline-walk", and the "walk-around". At the conclusion of a performance of the original form of the dance in an exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, an enormous cake was awarded to the winning couple. Thereafter it was performed in minstrel shows, exclusively by men until the 1890s. The inclusion of women in the cast "made possible all sorts of improvisations in the Walk, and the original was soon changed into a grotesque dance" which became very popular across the country

WIKIPEDIA

On 22 August 1897, the American Woman's Home Journal published seven photographs of “The Cake Walk as It Is Done by Genuine Negroes” in which “Williams and Walker Show How the Real Thing Is Done before the Journal Camera.” In this series, the African American stars Bert Williams, George Walker, Belle Davis, and Stella Wiley perform their popular cake walk act with situational humor in medias res before an unknown photographer in a nondescript space. Among the seven selected poses, one intriguing photograph in the lower right-hand corner depicts the encircled dancers gazing down upon an empty space in the center. The subject of their gaze becomes apparent when comparing the magazine images with the seven “Post Cards” Franz Huld published as part of his “Cake Walk/Negro Dance” series around 1901. 

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/theatre-survey/article/cake-walk-photo-girl-and-other-footnotes-in-african-american-musical-theatre/1FF5D68C9A572BB4FA8E7520E5D66BFA


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