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John Diamond dancing, from Records of the New York Stage, vol. 2, Part 7, by Joseph N. Ireland.

Stage Name

Birth Name

Johnny Diamond

Johnny Diamond

"King of Diamonds" | "'the Wirginny Nigger"  

       Master Juba's success was the means of bringing out another African-American named Johnny Diamond, who hung out around the old Fly Market of the New York city. Diamond was first brought into public notice by the enterprising P. T. Barnum, at Vauxhall Garden, about 1840, when he was 17 years of age (he billed him as only being twelve).

   Diamond originally was a street performer who got his challenge training on the "Shingle" or to say that a 6 foot plank was laid down and a dance batltle would ensue on this "Shingle," while another would make a wager that he could outdo him. Diamond would come in black face, jump on the shingle and talk like a slave while dancing, usually he would be dressed in a type of Boxing costume, which was popular at the time with certain dancers of the day, this was very popular with those who watched him. Most of the dancers however wore a velvet coat, flashy, flowing necktie, glazed cap, tight pants, patent leather shoes with old copper pennies fastened to the heels so Diamonds costume was somewhat unique as well as his style.

   Sometime later Diamond created quite a furor and and was spotted by P.T. Barnum. Barnum traveled

With him all overthe country as well as the UK, with Diamond dancing matches withwhoever came on such as dancers Dick Pelham and William HenryLane aka Juba. Master Juba initially lost to Johnny Diamond inBoston, MA. at the Boylston Gardens, but beat him there-afterand was impressed with him as a dancer. Juba took him on the roadwith him after he and Barnum had a falling out over money andwhoring, it is written that Johnny had a temper and a bad disposition.Barnum quickly replaced Diamond with Frank Lynch, who was placardedand styled the “Great Diamond.” He was an extraordinarydancer who also played the tambourine and banjo, and afterwardsit is said that he became a very prominent member of his profession.

   After his travels with Juba ( Juba joined White’s Serenaders.), Diamond joined other minstrels performers for a period of time. After the Virginia Minstrels formed in 1843, Billy Whitlock, ( Dan Emmett, Frank Brower, Billy Whitlock and Richard Pelham, calling themselves the Virginia Minstrels.) convinced Diamond to perform with them ( Aka Virginia Minstrels) in order to increase the group's exposure. Diamond eventually joined the Ethiopian Serenaders minstrel troupe. Diamond won match after match in city after city, and his fame grew exponentially. He earned a host of imitators and copycats, many of whom took his name and pretended to be him. Some people confuse Johnny Diamond with another Champion Minstrel performer of the same time by the name of Jack Diamond; Jack Diamond was white, who was also Master Juba's main "white competition." There where also the 'Diamond Brothers' and the 'great Diamond', all different people.

DANCE STYLE ( From Wikipedia 1/2010)   Diamond repertoire was a mixture of African American, English, and Irish steps. He danced the "five mile out of town dance", the "Long Island breakdown", the "Negro camptown hornpipe", the "ole Virginia breakdown", and the "smokehouse dance". A playbill claimed that his "rattle snake jig" had 120 steps. The steps and maneuvers that made up these dances had equally colorful names; his hornpipe featured the "double shuffle", the "heel and toe", the "pigeon wing", and "running on his heels". His energetic breakdowns were among his more famous dances. Diamond performed in blackface, but some of his dances were strictly British or Irish in origin and were danced without makeup. Examples of these were an Irish jig called the "fireman's hornpipe" and the "naval hornpipe in the character of a Yankee sailor".

   Diamond's dances were characterized by little upper-body movement and rapid footwork. He left his upper body relaxed so as to bring attention to his feet. One characteristic step was to lean forward and dangle his hands loosely, look to the side, and slide across the stage with a heel–toe alternation. Noah M. Ludlow, a theatre manager, wrote that "He could twist his feet and legs, while dancing, into more fantastic forms than I ever witnessed before or since in any human being." His playbills proclaimed Diamond a performer of "the greatest display of heel and toe genus [sic] ever witnessed" and that "Now de heels, if dares any music in you, its [sic] got to come out". Diamond's rapid footwork rapped out percussive patterns on the floor. He advertised that he could create music with his heels.

   Diamond's act also incorporated singing, either by a partner or by Diamond himself. When partnered with a banjoist, Diamond danced and leapt about the stage while the musician played. These acts involved precise choreography. His repertoire consisted of popular blackface numbers, such as "Jim-a-Long-Josey". He performed stump speeches as well, such as his "Negro speech in Congress". ... ( End Wikipedia).

   Diamond finally died after a triumphant career, in Philadelphia, October 29th, 1857 and around this same time the Morris Brothers’ Minstrels where created. It was with this troupe that Fred Wilson introduced the clog dance for the first time with a minstrel troupe that same year, (also Dick Sands, Tim Hayes, Dick Carroll and Ben Goldsmith introduced the clog dance with the minstrel troupes, also.) This proved to be a death blow for the Jig champions domination in Minstrel show's.

Birth Place

Birth Date



Boston 1823 - 10/29/1857 n/a n/a

Dance Types, Routines

Dance Partners etc.

Music Titles

Breakdown's Master Juba n/a
Heel and Toe Step          
Buck dance, Buck and Wing          
Plantation breakdown          
Virginia Reel, the          
--- --- --- --- ---          
"Champion's Jig"          
"Five Mile Out of Town routine"          
“Grape Vine Twist”          
"Long Island Breakdown"          
"Negro camptown hornpipe"          
"Ole Virginia Breakdown"          
"Piney Woods Jig"          
"Rattle Snake Jig"          
"Smokehouse Jig"          

Night Clubs



Vauxhall Gardens n/a P.T. Barnum


Programs, Covers etc

Publications, Books

n/a n/a 7/18/1840 - Morning Herald
    2/24/1841 - Playbill (Mobile)
    1/19/1843 - New York Herald
          New York Clipper Articles (4/8/1860) ( Link)
          1873 - Jig, clog, and breakdown dancing made easy (E. James)
          1962 - Dan Emmett and the Rise ... (Hans Nathan)
          1974 - Blacking Up (Robert C. Toll
          1996 - Fun In Black (Charles Day)
            1997 - Demons of Disorder (Dale Cockrell)
          1999 - Behind the Burnt Cork Mask (William Mahar)
          2002 - Tap Roots (Mark Knowles)
          2003 - A History of African American Theatre (Hill and Hatch)
          2009 - Challenge Dancing and American Identity (April Masten)


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