Archive for February, 2016

[Posted by Henry Arneth, Special Collections Assistant]

Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams (1874-1922) was an American blackface vaudeville star. Born in the Bahamas, Williams began performing at an early age with various minstrel shows, and in the 1890s took a partner, George Walker. The pair performed under the name “Two Real Coons” because there were so many white blackface performers. It was also in the 1890s that Williams made his first recordings.

By the early 1900s, Williams’ style had changed. He performed with the Ziegfeld Follies beginning 1910, singing and “philosophizing” during the breaks in the Follies routines. This recording, “I’m Gone Before I Go,” (Columbia A-2078) from 1916, is typical of his later work. In the song, he speaks of the African-American participation in the Mexican Revolution (ca. 1910-1920). This song forms an interesting juxtaposition when compared with other patriotic songs of the period both in tone and music. The happy-sounding composition seems to belie the somewhat dismal lyrics. Williams’ delivery is also different because he doesn’t sing the entire time. He sings refrains, but speaks the stanzas, which gives the listener the feeling that one is viewing Williams on stage.