Blackface minstrelsy was not performed only by the type of working class white actors described by scholars of whiteness studies such as David Roediger. This profession was also inhabited by blacks as a means for economic upward mobility. One such individual was the African American vaudeville performer Johnny Hudgins. Born in Baltimore in 1896, he started as an amateur performer in local nightclubs and sang and danced on the burlesque circuit for nine years. He then developed into what he is most well known for: blackface pantomiming. During the 1920s he appeared in such productions as Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s “Chocolate Dandies”. Furthermore, he performed both domestically and internationally in major cities like New York City and London as part of the Lew Leslie Blackbirds. Known as the “Wah-Wah Man”, his popularity stemmed from his unique dance routine. This routine consisted of trumpet soloist playing a “wah-wah” sound that Hudgins would simultaneously lip synch while dancing. His personal life included an eighty year marriage to Mildred Martien and adoption of daughter Lisa Hudgins. He died in 1990.
-written by Felicia Bevel
Image Source (Top): Romare Bearden - Columbia University - 1981