Paul J. Edwards is a Postdoctoral Fellow of African American Literature at Rutgers University and a book reviews editor for The Black Scholar. His current book project, The Black Wave: The New Negro Renaissance in Interwar Germany, reveals the extent of the effects of the New Negro/Harlem Renaissance in Germany from 1925 to 1938. The materials in the book are drawn from extensive research in the United States, Germany, and Austria. At the heart of this project is to reveal that the effects of a Black arts renaissance extended beyond the known centers of the Black Atlantic and formed an important element of culture in Weimar and Nazi Germany.
Paul J. Edwards
On May 24, 1925, Elisabeth (“Li”) Zielesch reported for Berliner Volks Zeitung on a dress rehearsal of the first Black revue to tour interwar Europe, The Chocolate Kiddies, as they prepared for a sold-out residency at Berlin’s Admiralpalast (fig. 1). The performance astounded her. It was a full sensory experience, featuring almost fifty performers. Divided into four sections, the program reflected the temporal and geographic movement of Black American life and culture: “Plantation at sundown,” “Harlem in New York—negro life,” Sam Wooding’s Specialty Concert, and “Harlem cabaret.” The cast included veteran performers from Harlem stages, including the Colonial, the Plantation, and the 63rd Street Theater. The singers Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall had been leads in the premier of Shuffle Along, and Charles Davis had been one of its choreographers. Wooding, the revue’s bandleader, was a talented stride pianist in New York’s jazz scene, previously working in cabarets in Atlantic City and Newark, New Jersey before the First World War, and playing in some of the most recognized clubs and cabarets in Harlem, including the Nest, Club Alabam, and Barron Wilkins’ Exclusive Club. These clubs and theaters were an important training ground for Black talent to prove their skill and learn to work within the racist gaze of white audiences.