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Aida Walker, 1907
*On this date we recall Aida Overton Walker, born in 1880. She was a singer, dancer, actress, and choreographer, regarded as the leading African American female performing artist at the turn of the century.
Born on Valentine’s Day in New York City, Aida Overton began her career as a teenage chorus member of "Black Patti's Troubadours." While performing in The Senegambian Carnival (1899) she met George Walker, and the two were married on June 22, 1899. After the marriage, Aida Walker worked as a choreographer for Williams and Walker, her husband's vaudevillian comedy duo. By presenting ragtime musicals with all Black casts, Williams and Walker helped bring authentic Black songs and dances to a form of entertainment that had been dominated by demeaning minstrel shows.
Walker played the female lead in The Policy Players (1899), Sons of Ham (1900), In Dahomey (1902), In Abyssinia (1906), and Bandanna Land (1908). A command performance at Buckingham Palace in 1903 transformed Walker into an international star. In 1908, George Walker became ill and could not continue in the run of Bandanna Land. Wearing her husband's male costumes, Aida Walker performed both his role and her own. After her husband's death in 1911, Walker's own career went into decline, although she was celebrated for her part in the spectacular Salome at Oscar Hammerstein's Victoria Theater in New York City. This was the last major performance of her career before her own death in 1914.
As one of the first international Black stars, Aida Walker brought versatility to her performances and authenticity to ragtime songs and cakewalk dances. Her dancing and singing ability has been compared to and sometimes applauded over that of her successors Florence Mills and Josephine Baker. Aida Walker died October 1st 1914.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York