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Stage Name

Birth Name


Alberta Whitman

“Royalty of Negro Vaudeville”

Alice Whitman


Essie Whitman


Mabel "May" Whitman

     The sisters grew up in a religious home with their father as a minister and sang Jubilees at church. When they were young they arranged shows for their church which gave them a lot of experience when it came to producing later on in life. They would tour at a young age, singing and dancing in various Church functions and Vaudeville shows with their mother in tow as chaperone and finally started their own act called The Whitman Sisters New Orleans Troubadours around 1903 Which consisted of Alberta, Mabel and Essie, Alice would join them after their mother died in 1909.

    Because they were light skinned, they dyed their hair blonde, looking very much like Gibson Girls who were able to start their show business career touring in many white Vaudeville shows. The Whitman Sisters would become the highest paid black act on the Negro Vaudeville circuit, Later when they managed their own shows which became the biggest, classiest, fastest, flashiest most dignified shows in black vaudeville.

    These four African American women danced, sang, and played banjos and were profoundly talented entertainers and impressive entrepreneurs, whose own Stage company would be the very springboard for many up and coming musical and Stage luminaries to come. They would have anywhere from 20 to 30 performers in the show and had six to eight programs running at any one time and always did a Shake Dance to Diga-diga-do.

    Mabel (or May) successfully ran the production company (producer, manager and director.) She was a voice of change in the racially corrupt practices and racial segregation in vaudeville. In 1910 Mabel created her own troupe of Picks (Pickaninny's) called Mabel Whitman and the Dixie Boys while Mabel sang and the boys danced. Mabel was the first to quit performing in the shows. May also coached the Picks in the shows.

    *Essie who was a big-voiced comic-singer and labeled as a real coon shouter at the time. Was in charge of designing and making the costumes for the group. Essie retired in the late twenties and became preacher at the Metropolitan Church.

    *Alberta (or Bert) who was an agile flash dancer also worked as a male impersonator which in most of her acts and handled all the shows finances. Was in charge of the Music end, and Composed much of the Music that the group would use. Alberta did the "Strut" as her dance act.

    *Alice, the youngest was regarded by many as the "Queen of Taps and Champion Cakewalk dancer." Alice joined the group in 1909 and would sing and dance. She was praised by many for having a fabulous figure as well. She did many dances of the day including the Shim Sham Shimmy, Ballin' The Jack, Walkin' the Dog and the Sand as well as the standards like Tap dance. Alice's son Albert also joined the show and grew to become a great dancer in his time.


Birth Place

Birth Date



Alberta Atlanta, GA ? d.1964? Maxie McCree ??
Alice Atlanta, GA ? ?? Aaron Palmer Albert
Essie Atlanta, GA ? D.1964? ?? ??
Mabel Atlanta, GA ? D.1942 (Uncle) Dave Payton ??
-Albert "Pops" Palmer n/a 1919-1950 ?? ??

Dance Types

Danced With

Music Titles

Ballin' The Jack Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson Adam Never Had No Harmony
Cakewalk Jenni Le Gon Little Black Me
Charleston Willie Bryant Some of these Days
Georgia Hunchin'    

Shim Sham Shimmy

The Sand    
Tap Dance    
Walkin' the Dog    

Dancers in their shows (p) = a "Pick"
Aaron Palmer (1910) (p) Jenni Le Gon (p) Leonard Reed (1926)  
Billy Adams (w/ Albert) Joe Jones (p) Maxie McCree (p)  
Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson Julius Foxworth (p) Princess Wee-Wee (p. midget)  
Groundhog (1928-36 w/ Albert) Louis Williams (w/ Albert) Tommy Hawkins (p)  



Stage / Circuits

n/a Jefferson Theatre (Alabama) Pantages Circuit
  Minsky's Theatre (Pittsburgh)  
  Regal Theatre (Chicago)      

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Publisher
The Whitman Sisters & the Negotiation of Race, Gender & Class in African American Theater Nadine George-Graves    
$ The Royalty of Negroe Vaudeville    




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