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The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville:

The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender and Class in African American Theatre 1900-1940

St. Martin's Press (2000)


The The Whitman Sisters were the highest paid act on the Negro Vaudeville circuit, Theater Owners Booking Association (Toby), and one of the longest surviving touring companies (1899-1942). The group was considered the greatest incubator of dancing talent for Negro shows on or off Toby, and significantly contributed to American theater and dance history.

In this book, George-Graves provides a historical narrative of their achievements and analyzes the many layers of performance in which the Whitman Sisters participated, on and off stage.


In "Setting The Stage: The Whitman Sisters' Beginnings, Influences and a Performance Reconstruction," George-Graves details the Whitman Sisters' early years, explaining theatrical influences and historically situating their entrance into the theatrical industry. She shows that they drew from not only Euro-American traditions and the short history of African Americans on stage, but also from the long tradition of African American performance. She also reconstructs a possible show based on personal accounts and reviews.


In "Race, Gender and Class: The Whitman Sisters and The Politics of Performance and Management," George-Graves shows that in their repertory and off-stage business dealings, the Whitman Sisters destabilized race and gender norms by upholding certain standards about class, respectability and uplift in order to resist hegemonic forces. She concludes this chapter by examining the management practices that led to the company's success.


In "Toby, The Depression and Beyond: The Whitman Sisters' Later Years," George-Graves resumes the historical narrative and examines the later years of the Whitman Sisters' careers. She shows how in these years, on the Toby circuit and during the Depression, the Whitman Sisters continued to uphold the values discussed in the previous chapter despite the decline of the company..

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