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Silas Green from New Orleans

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Silas Green from New Orleans

Silas Green from New Orleans was an African American owned and run variety tent show, which in various forms toured the southern states between about 1904 and 1957.

Part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show, the show told the adventures of short, "coal-black" Silas Green and tall, "tannish" Lilas Bean. In 1940, Time Magazine said of the show :- "This year their troubles start when they go to a hospital with suitcases labeled M.D. (Mule Drivers), are mistaken for two medicos, end in jail. The show is garnished with such slapstick as putting a patient to sleep by letting him smell an old shoe, such gags as "Your head sets on one end of your spine and you set on the other." Silas gets broad at times, but never really dirty. What keeps it moving are its dances and specialty acts, its gold-toothed but good-looking chorus."[1]

Origins and organisation

The show was originally written by vaudeville performer Salem Tutt Whitney, who sold or gave it to African American circus owner Ephraim "Eph" Williams (c.1855-c.1935).[2] Williams was the only black circus owner in America. He had set up his first circus in Wisconsin in 1885, and by the mid-1890s owned 100 Arabian horses and employed 26 people. His circus business collapsed around 1902, but soon afterwards he acquired the rights to Silas Green From New Orleans.

He set up a new company "Prof. Eph Williams' Famous Troubadours", to tour the tent show. It played one-night stands throughout the South, and became one of the longest-lasting tent shows in America. Williams managed the show and continued to perform horse tricks, alongside musicians such as Bessie Smith. By 1928, the troupe comprised 54 people including a 16-piece band and 16 girl dancers. The main show tent had a capacity of some 1,400.

Around 1922, Williams sold half the share in the show to Charles Collier, who took over sole ownership after Williams' death in the mid-1930s. The show continued to tour until the late 1950s, and in later years was sometimes billed simply as the Silas Green Show.

Margaret "Callie" Lee, Warrenton, Virginia was one of the professional dancers who traveled with the show which also included Nipsy Russel.

Historic posters advertising the shows, mostly printed by Hatch Show Print of Nashville, are popular among collectors.

References

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