15 April 2013

Midwife To The Blues

An online search of Billo descendant Hilda Wolcott produced a hit in Billboard Magazine published December 13, 1948.  Billboard Magazine?  But there it was.

The article, Wolcott Scores Winning Season; Barns In Miss., dateline Mer Rouge, La., started with "F.S. Wolcott's Rabbit(t) Foot Minstrels closed the season here October 23.... ."  "Staff included Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Wolcott, Hilda Wolcott.... ."

Mrs. F. S. Wolcott and daughter Hilda were the Billo descendants I was tracking.  What was the Rabbit Foot Minstrels?  The 1940 Census Mississippi, showed the Wolcotts living in Port Gibson, Claiborne, Mississippi.  Fred Wolcott's occupation was "showman" and his business was Rabbit Foot.

Wikipedia provided the answer:  "...(it) was a long running minstrel and variety troupe that toured as a tent show in the American South between 1900 and 1950. It provided a basis for the careers of many leading African American musicians and entertainers, including Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith... ."

The Mississippi Blues Trails website featured a Rabbit's Foot historical marker and included the following narrative:

In 1900, Patrick Henry Chappelle, an African American from Florida, produced a musical comedy called “A Rabbit’s Foot,” and by 1902 his Rabbit’s Foot Company was touring as a tent show, though the popular attraction was billed as “too good for a tent.” Following Chappelle’s death in 1911, the company was taken over by F. S. (Fred Swift) Wolcott, a white entrepreneur from Michigan who had been running a small minstrel company.

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