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William Higgins recording
*William Higgins was born on this date in 1888. He was a Black vaudeville entertainer, comedian, singer, and songwriter.
William Weldon Higgins was born in Columbia, South Carolina; early on, he was a machinist. He began his career in 1912 on stage; he often worked in blackface and as a singer of ballads at private clubs in his hometown. Around 1913, he joined Billy King, a widely popular comedian, and producer of touring theatrical revues. Higgins co-starred with King in the show Two Bills from Alaska. Higgins performed with King until 1917, when he entered the U.S. Army during World War I.
Higgins was assigned to the 805th Pioneer Infantry, a segregated black regiment during the war. It had 2,810 men comprising 14 companies and a medical detachment. The regiment was nicknamed "Bearcats." Higgins established himself as a performer at Camp Funston's Detention Camp No. 2, where he was first assigned, and Army medics cleared all recruits of any communicable viruses or diseases. The Bearcat Entertainers were assigned to Headquarters Company. When the Bearcats were deployed to Europe, Higgins was the chief entertainer for the 14-day trip — which included a stay at Camp Upton, New York, and a Transatlantic crossing aboard the Saxonia.
In Europe, the Bearcats were at Chatel-Chéhéry. Early on, after arriving, they organized a regimental show and entertained guests, including the Congressional Committee on Military Affairs, the Staff College of the American Expeditionary Forces, and several other visitors of high rank. Lieutenant Leonce Raoul Legendre of the Headquarters Company oversaw the show and the band that comprised the Bearcat Entertainers. But Higgins was the de facto stage director. The Infantry was in Europe until November 11, 1918, when the Armistice was signed.
Married to Valaida Snow, he was acclaimed and chronicled as one of the most popular stage comedians of the 1920s. Langston Hughes named him one of the "Golden Dozen" black comedians. On various recordings of the 1920s, Higgins used the pseudonym Jazz Caspar (aka Casper). William Higgins died on April 19, 1937.