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James Barton

Stage Name

Birth Name

James Barton

James Barton

   Barton was a Vaudeville Song and dance man. Barton came from a dancing family with his father working for the Primrose and West Minstrels as the interlocutor and his mother being an aspiring ballet dancer plus his Uncle who was a dancer as well. Learning how to dance and perform from your family had its benefits for Barton as by age two he learned his first dance steps and by age four was traveling with his family from 1898 to 1902 doing comedy and dance.

   While working in Vaudeville as a young man, he was exposed to as much of the business and entertainment styles he could handle, and handle it he did, he was a sponge and soaked everything all up. He was to become a very versatile performer who became a master at all the Vernacular dances of the day and learned comedy from some of the best in the business. He did it all and very well done at that, a sort of Jack of all steps and mastered them all as well, in essence he was to become a dance genius and an exceptional entertainer.

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   From 1907 to 1915 he would venture out on his own taking any performing job he could from Bicycle riding to Comedy, Ice-Skating, Dancing and even Baseball in the North as well as being accepted in the South. 1915 led him to the Columbia Burlesque theatres dancing in a show called the 'Twentieth Century Maid' until 1919. By 1920 he had played just about every Minstrel, Vaudeville and Burlesque house around and even repertory theater. Whenever he was allowed to dance his impact was tremendous.

    As a dancer, Barton could stop any show in its tracks. Barton got his big break on Broadway with the 'Passing Show of 1919.' When Ed Wynn was unable to fulfill his role and then unknown to Broadway Barton stepped forward from the shadows and asked to take over the role, among many chuckles, murmuring, ribbing and frowns from the cast, the directors thought it might be amusing to let him make a fool of himself. When Barton started to dance Wynn's part, all the chuckles, comments and frowns turned to cheering and applause, he was hired on he spot!. Critics were calling him "a Burlesque obscurity in which he was only known to several hundreds of thousands of people." Barton reached his most acclaim with the critics in 1923 in the show called 'Dew Drop Inn,' basically he single-handily stopped the show 10 times by count and danced an otherwise poor production to great success.

   His acts were immense and completely unique; mainly because he got his vast mixture of training first hand rather than say the 'Hoofers Club' where everyone was sharing and doing everyone else's stuff. He would do Struts, a Mooche, a knock-about dance, Military drill, a dying Swan burlesque, Ballroom dances, Ballet, Tap, Pedestal dances, Black face comedy, imitations like Charlie Chaplin, Buck and Wing, Acrobatic dance skits, challenge dances, waltzes and more. He even danced with an imaginary partner mimicking the dance act that proceeded him, which was called burlesquing and his burlesquing of a whole number called the 'Parade of the Wooden Soldiers' from 'Chauve Souris' in 1922 which was praised even by the original cast members.

    Barton's dancing, altho white was said to be the closest to African American vernacular dance as any African-American dancer could ever do. He danced as good lying down as most do standing up. As a dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson rarely had any real respect for other dancers, let alone a white one, but James Barton and Eddie Rector were the exceptions. Bojangles and Barton, tho slight became real friends. Bojangles often mentioned that he got all his material from Barton, which wasn't true but do to his respect and friendship for him would almost always mention him publicly ( Occasionally he would mention Rector) when trying to appease his white fans.

   Barton was also known for some of his "Black face routines" on the Vaudeville Stage but as Burlesque and Black face were on the way out, Barton would start to get frowns on a few of his acts, critics adding he should become and actor or stay a dancer. On hearing this he decided to head for Hollywood and would do some acting in the legitimate Stage and Films with his greatest movie part being that of "Kit Carson" in a movie titled "Time Of Your Life." Barton is said to be one of the white pioneers of tap dancing on the Broadway Stage with his wry, sophisticated humor which is said he was a good hoofer but more fun to watch than listen too. Barton today is not really remembered as the great dancer he was but rather for being a good actor (Tobacco Road) by journalists, however he really was one of the greatest dancers ever of his time. It's kinda like a journalists writing Elvis Presley only becoming famous because he was an actor.

   Had a bit part in a historic film clip: "At the Jazz Band Ball" aka 'After Seben' video (see clip), which featured him in Black face introducing legendary " Shorty George" Snowden in a Lindy Hop dance contest. The clip above features the scene with Barton from this scene. The original Song was Tiger Rag and the band playing is Chick Webb's Savoy House Band.

Birth Place

Birth Date



Gloucester, NJ 11/1/1890 - 2/19/1962 Kathryn Penman n/a
      (Heart Attack)            

Dance Types

Dance Partners

Music Titles

Black face Comedian n/a Waitin' for the Evenin' Mail [SM]
The Buck and Wing        
The Cakewalk / Strut        
Comedy dancing        
Eccentric dance            
Jigs, Clogs etc.        
Mooch and Grind        
Legomania ( Rubberlegs)        
Pedestal Dancer        
Tap dance        

Night Clubs



The Cotton Club Astor Theater (1923) 1919 - The Passing Show
      Century Theater (1921) 1921 - The Last Waltz
      46th St. Theater (Chanins) 1922 - The Rose of Stamboul
      Forrest Theater (1934) 1923 - Dew Drop Inn
      Globe Theater (1926) 1924 - The Passing Show
      Lexington Opera House (1919) 1926 - No Foolin' (Ziegfeld revue)
      Martin Beck Theater (1946) 1930 - Sweet and Low (Billy Rose's)
      Schubert Theater (1951) 1933 - Tobacco Road
      Winter Garden Theater (1919) 1944 - Bright Lights of 1944
            1946 - The Iceman Cometh
            1951 - Paint Your Wagon
            1957 - The Sin of Pat Muldoon




1923 - Why Women Re Marry 1958 - Naked City $1964 - Jazz Dance (Marshall Stearns)
1929 - After Seben (see At The Jazz Band Ball) 1959 - Hotel de Paree'      
1929 - Tiger Rag (Crazy Feet)        
1930 - The Underdog        
1934 - The Whole Show (Barton dancing)            
1935 - Captain Hurricane            
1935 - His Family Tree        
1936 - Hideaway Girl            
1941 - Shepherd of the Hills            
1948 - The Time Of Your Life [DVD]        
1950 - Daughter Of Rosie O' Grady            
1950 - Wabash Avenue            
1951 - Golden Girl (Danced w/ Mitzi Gaynor)            
1951 - Here Comes The Groom [DVD]            
1957 - Quantez            
1961 - The Misfits [DVD]        
1993 - At The Jazz Band Ball (w/ Shorty George)        
NOTE: Tillie (Otillia) Barton may have been related
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