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Blackbirds

  • Object:

    Watercolour drawing

  • Place of origin:

    Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1936 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Stern, Ernst, born 1876 - died 1954 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Charcoal and watercolour design

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Artist

  • Museum number:

    E.1230-1937

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case DT, shelf 106

Physical description

Charcoal and watercolour design for a stage curtain for a revue with an all-African American cast entitled 'Blackbirds'.

Place of Origin

Britain (made)

Date

1936 (made)

Artist/maker

Stern, Ernst, born 1876 - died 1954 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Charcoal and watercolour design

Dimensions

Height: 13.125 in, Width: 15.125 in

Object history note

The accessions register describes the production as a 'negro revue'. The term ‘negro’ was used historically to describe people of black (sub-Saharan) African heritage but, since the 1960s, has fallen from usage and, increasingly, is considered offensive. The term is repeated here in its original historical context.

The revue was created by Lew Leslie, a Broadway writer and vaudeville manager. Although white, he was the first impresario to present African American artists on the mainstream stage. He became famous for his stage shows at the Cotton Club and later for his 'Blackbird' revues, which he mounted in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1933 & 1939.

'Blackbirds of 1928' starring Adelaide Hall and Bill Bojangles Robinson was his most successful revue and ran for over one year on Broadway where it became the hit of the season. The sell-out show transferred to the Moulin Rouge in Paris, France, where it ran for three months before returning to the U.S.A. The 'Blackbird' revues helped advance the career of several famous artists, including Florence Mills, Adelaide Hall, Tim Moore, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Aida Ward and Lottie Gee.

In 1936, Johnny Mercer visited Britain for the first time as part of Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds of 1936" for which Mercer wrote many of the lyrics. Mercer was surprised to learn of the transatlantic popularity, not only of his own songs, but also of southern-themed American culture in general.

Descriptive line

Ernst Stern. Design for stage curtain for the all-African American revue 'Blackbirds', produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Great Britain, 1936.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1937, London: Board of Education, 1938.

Materials

Paper; Watercolour; Charcoal

Techniques

Drawing

Subjects depicted

Curtain; Theatre

Categories

Theatre; Drawings; Black History; Designs

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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