Williams and Walker
Egbert Austin Williams
Bert Williams was part of
the very successful "Williams and Walker" comedy vaudeville
act. They popularized the "Cakewalk"
by including the dance in many Broadway type plays and brought
the Cakewalk to it's peak around 1898. Bert Williams worked in
many of the Ziegfeld Plays/ Revues of the time.
He was reported as not being
a very good dancer by many critics of the time who were not really
familiar with that style of dancing and even reported he seemed
clumsy (he wasn't,) altho, those critics didn't report
good revues of the Vernacular type dances that other African-Americans
did either. However he was a brilliant dancer in what he did.
His comic dancing was a thing to behold, as Walker did his famous
Strut in the Cakewalk, Williams would follow behind doing his
famous, loosely jointed, slow moving Mooch dance.
This would be named the 'Williams Mooch and Grind,' which had
a sultry, subtle flow that would make any dancer today stand in
awe. Williams was considered an eccentric
dancer who performed a comedy type, catch-all style of dancing,
incorporating many of the Vernacular dances together when he danced
such as the Mooch, a version of The Georgia Grind, Shuffles, Twists,
Hip Pops and Hops, etc.
While still teenagers, Williams met Walker in
the early 1890's in San Francisco, California. Altho a failure,
their first show together was in 1896 for 'the Gold Bug' in New
York. Failure was not going to stop them however, they kept at
it, they went to London for a few shows, performed in a Senegambian
Carnival and finally the Policy players, were sadly all flops
as well. Not feeling real good about their roles, they decided
to do something different in Minstrel shows and rebel against
the stereotypical Minstrel Coon, which they had been playing.
With this idea in hand they put together an act titled "The
Two Real Coons" which sounded like a normal Minstrel Parody
at the time, it was actually based on a real African-Amercan DANCE-COMEDY
act. In this show, Williams played a shiftless, strutting 'darky'
whose shoes pinched his feet. Mr. Walker portrayed a real, intelligent,
natural high strutting "Darky," rather than the 'Blackface
stuttering fool' that was usually portrayed. The show was the
turning point for Williams and Walker. Altho today these are still
considered stereotypical of those times, they were not back then.
In 1898 the two performed
for forty weeks at Koster and Bilas theater and were met with
good success, here they brought the Cakewalk to its highest degree.
1900 brought 'the Sons of Ham' to audiences and again was a success
and by 1902 they produced one of their greatest hits 'In Dahomey'
in Times Square no less. When In Dahomey hit London, the Cakewalk
was now the in thing and national fad.
After George Walker retired
from show business in 1907, Bert Williams went on to perform in
the Ziegfeld Follies and was a featured act in most of the shows
until his death in 1922.