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Fri, 07.24.1807

Ira Frederick Aldridge, Stage Actor born

Ira Aldridge

This date commemorates the birth of Ira Frederick Aldridge in 1807. He was a Black actor, considered one of the greatest interpreters of his day.

He was born in Maryland.  Because of the lack of schools for Blacks in Maryland, Aldridge moved to New York and attended the African Free School and Schenectady College. The British-American actor James William Wallack is believed to have hired him as a personal attendant while visiting the United States.

It was at Schenectady that Aldridge became interested in acting and he raised money and moved to Glasgow, Scotland.  He studied at the University of Glasgow, developing voice projection and dramatic skills. Aldridge began to study for the stage, moving to England in the mid-1820s. In 1833, he made a highly successful debut in London as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Billed as the "African Roscius," after the great Roman comic actor, he made triumphant tours of Europe in several Shakespearean roles, including Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth.  After 1853, he played mostly in Europe, receiving honors from the Emperor of Austria, in Switzerland, and in Russia, among others.

Aldridge was planning a trip back to the United States, but it is doubtful that he ever returned; he became an English citizen in 1863. Aldridge was the first Black to become a knight.  He married twice and was divorced once. At the Shakespearean Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, England, a chair is dedicated to the memory of him.  Ira Aldridge died on August 7, 1867 in Lodz, Poland.

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