The expansion of Black employment on the British stage in the twentieth century gave a range of performers of African descent opportunities to showcase their talents. Alongside Black British performers, many African Americans crossed the Atlantic to pursue their careers on stage. Through extensive research, we have been able to trace actors, musicians, dancers and comedians with Black heritage that performed at the Tivoli Theatre between 1912 and 1954.
Shows and variety performances
From the early twentieth century, performers of African descent featured in variety shows which primarily focused on satirical representations of American Society. In early March 1914, the revue "What ho! Ragtime" came to the Tivoli.  It comprised of 40 artists and was described as a whirlwind revel that included comedians, ventriloquists and musicians which played out American life on stage.  One of the entertainers was 'coloured' serenader, Lawrence Oxie, who sang and performed ragtime dancing during the show.  Other productions following a similar theme included 'Dusky Revels' in 1916 and 'Down South' in 1923, the latter featuring the then relatively famous Black performer Will Garland. 
About the Tivoli
The Tivoli music hall and theatre opened on 5 August 1912. It was located on Paragon Street and adapted from the old Theatre Royal which closed in 1902.  The original interior of the Tivoli was decorated with a colour scheme of white and gold with approximately 2,000 green ‘plush’ seats and nearly 700 bright dazzling lights.  In 1954, the Tivoli closed as a variety theatre and was used for a short time as a cinema. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1959. 
What is a revue?
A light theatrical entertainment consisting of a series of short sketches, songs, and dances, typically dealing satirically with topical issues.A light theatrical entertainment consisting of a series of short sketches, songs, and dances, typically dealing satirically with topical issues.
Other variety shows which included entertainers of African descent typically focused on music and were celebrated for the excellent atmosphere which they brought to the Tivoli. These included American success "Me and My Gal" which appeared at the theatre in 1920. Among the cast were Russel Brandow and Willie Robins, who appeared as Ebenezer Pussyfoot and Cuthbert Cavendish. Together they reportedly provided no end of laughter. In December 1921, Jazz based revue "Frivolities" featured an 'eccentric coloured man' as the drummer who provided plenty of amusement throughout the show. This was followed by the musical extravaganzas "Going Some" in January 1923, "Chocolate Drops" in 1925 and a less well-known productions such as the Blackberries variety performance in 1931 and the Harlem Night Birds in 1934. 
Singers and Musicians
The decade between the mid-1920s and 1930s was an important era for African American musicians in Britain. They crossed the Atlantic to record their music for gramophone companies and toured music halls and theatres across the country.
The most popular at this time were Turner Layton and Clarence Johnstone (of the famous duo 'Layton and Johnstone') who first performed at the Tivoli on 5 May 1927.  They were part of a special matinee production and travelled to the city from Leeds Hippodrome specifically for the event which was organised by the Hull Hebrew Boys School.  The Hull Daily Mail reported that there was a great deal of interest in the duo's impending performance and that they were to be accompanied by 'strong' supporting acts which featured some of Hull's best local talent.  By the time they performed, the duo were already very popular on the radio and were welcomed by adoring fans. They played songs such as "New Orleans" and "Because I love you" which were said to have captured the heart of the audience. 
Layton and Johnstone returned to the Tivoli in December 1927 as part of a larger variety extravaganza.  Reviews of their performances were extremely positive remarking upon their 'perfect elocution, rhythm… and rich melodious voices' with another commenting 'if a state of perfection is not a delusion, then Layton and Johnstone are perfect beyond expression.'  The African American duo received many encores and rapturous applause from the audience.  On 14 December 1927, an article full of praise for the performers included an interview with Johnstone which gave information about their lives. The African American advised that he had been a doctor before the outbreak of World War One and served in the medical corps during the conflict. While serving Johnstone's left arm was badly injured and when he returned home, he could no longer work as a doctor and thus entered the entertainment industry. He met Layton, who had also trained in medicine, at a New York drawing room engagement and their professional relationship and friendship flourished. They performed together at Palm Beach in front of prominent members of the British aristocracy such as Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Lord Dewar and Sir Thomas Lipton who all urged them to tour Britain. Thus, they travelled to London and began to perform. By the end of the 1920s they had made over 150 gramophone records and had many adoring fans in Britain.
Their popularity continued into the 1930s and in January 1931 they came back to the Tivoli to perform some of their latest music alongside a selection of hits supported by other variety artists.  They were dubbed by the Hull Daily Mail as the kings of vaudeville and it was reported that 'Monday night saw the Tivoli literally packed to the doors, and the applause which greeted the contributions of the famous coloured artists has seldom been equalled in Hull for many a long day.' 
Following in Layton and Johnstone's footsteps and often compared to the acclaimed duo was African American tenor Isaac (Ike) Hatch and pianist Elliot Carpenter (otherwise known as Hatch and Carpenter). They appeared at the Tivoli in late November 1928 as part of an excellent bill of variety entertainment.  The duo later split in 1930. However, both pursued careers in the arts.
In April 1931, the African American quartet, The Four Harmony Kings appeared at the Tivoli where they recreated the romantic atmosphere of the South with 'the soothing charm' of plantation songs.  They received very high praise for their performances with the Hull Daily Mail which stated that, 'These coloured singers are artists of a very high calibre. Each is a soloist worthy of any light musical programme, and their voices blend extremely well in the cherry part-songs which they sing.' The group had been formed by bass singer William A. Hann around 1916 and consisted of himself, William H. Berry, Charles E. Drayton, Ivan H. Browning. They recorded several songs and in 1921, rose to greater fame becoming part of the fantastic Broadway musical Shuffle Along. They also toured America and Canada with the show in 1923 and 1924. There were several changes to the band's personnel after the tour and other groups began using a variation of their name which has made it difficult to retrace their history. However, it would seem that the group toured Europe in the late 1920s and early 1930s performing at Hull's Tivoli in the Spring of 1931.  It would seem that, Browning, Berry and Drayton were still part of the group at this time and they were likely joined on stage by John Crabbe.  The same bandmembers were also probably present when they returned to the Tivoli in October 1932.  However, by their third appearance in 1934 as part of the revue "Hullo Laughter," Browning had left the group.  Sadly, we don't know who was part of The Four Harmony Kings during this appearance, or during their final performance at the Tivoli in early 1936. 
Although, 'The Four Harmony Kings' visited the Tivoli on numerous occasions, other artists of African descent performed at the theatre either once or for a short period of time. In mid-November 1945, the famous singer and actress, Evelyn Dove took to the stage as part of a variety show, which was broadcast on the radio from the Tivoli on 23 November 1945.  Dove was born in London on 11 January 1902 and was of British and Sierra Leonean descent. She rose to international fame in the 1920s and 1930s performing in shows which toured Britain and Europe such as the all Black revue, Chocolate Kiddies in 1925 and Evelyn Dove and Her Plantation Creoles in 1926/1927. She also went on to replace the wonderful Black actress, Josephine Baker in Casino de Paris and visited America to feature in a cabaret in Harlem. The 1940s marked the pinnacle of her career.  In 1947, Dove along with other famous performers such as Adelaide Hall (read Adelaide Hall's story) were part of Variety in Sepia which was dedicated to Black talent and was filmed and aired on BBC TV.
Louis Armstrong performed at the Tivoli in 1933. A separate story about his life will be released soon.
Many dancers with African heritage came to the Tivoli to showcase their skills. They performed an array of dance styles as they moved across the stage wowing local audiences. Sadly, very few reached international fame and thus it is difficult to trace their lives.
In June 1936, the "Fun Furore" revue came to the Tivoli. Dancer of African descent, Lottie Abrew and the 'Four Stella Girls' were praised for their performances of 'South American Joe' and 'Lulu's Back in town.'  They appeared again at the Tivoli when the show came back to Hull in April 1937.  The Hull Daily Mail reported that in the presentation of 'South American Joe,' Abrew 'leads the Stella Girls in some truly hot step-dancing and "hotcha" singing.'  While she was in Hull, Abrew was asked to start the second half of a charity football match between Hull Corporation Transport and Bradford Tramways at the Hull City ground on 22 April 1937.  Abrew's brother was also well known as he was Manuel (Kid) Abrew, the Scottish heavyweight boxer (who also appeared in Hull in the mid-1930s).
In October 1937, the variety show "Girls and Joys" featured at the Tivoli.  It was crammed with song and plenty of 'first-class' dancing by the wonderfully talented Johnny Nit.  Although, he was relatively famous around this time, very little is known about his life.
The following year, in February 1938, 'coloured dancers' Esther and Louise supported a variety bill at the Tivoli which included the famous Waldini and his Gipsy Band. Unfortunately, no further information about the 'hot stepping' duo has been found.  This has also been the case for William and Josephine (also known as the 'Coloured Cyclones') who featured at the Tivoli in February 1943. 
Variety comedy duos
As a variety theatre, the Tivoli attracted many artists of African descent who were praised for their comedy routines which often incorporated singing and dancing. Among the most famous were the African American duo Eddie Whaley and Harry Scott. As Stephen Bourne, has detailed Whaley was born in the Deep South and lost his parents at an early age.  He gained employment with a family who treated him terribly so fled to New York and survived by singing on the streets.  Whaley then met Scott, who was from Ohio, and they began working as a comedy duo. Their original act was as 'Cuthbert and Pussyfoot' (possibly the inspiration for the characters played by Russel Brandow and Willie Robins at the Tivoli in 1920) and included Scott dressing up in blackface, which he did on numerous occasions. 
The duo moved to Britain in 1909 and had a successful career which spanned over three decades. They first visited the Tivoli in early December 1914.  They were a big hit with locals and it was reported that the audience laughed for over an hour at the comedy duo.  They returned to the Tivoli the following year, a review of their performance in the Hull Daily Mail read, 'Scott and Whaley's eccentric conversations set the audience in a roar. As coloured comedians, they are real artists, and they bring us an adventure with a ghost, which is infinite in mirthful suggestions.'  In September 1917, they performed at the Tivoli once again, this time providing the music and lyrics for Mr William Henshall's company in the "Original Burlesque."  Scott and Whaley visited other entertainment venues in Hull throughout the 1920s but returned to the Tivoli once again in December 1931. The comedy duo headed a bill put together by Butt-Curran Enterprises and made the audience laugh with their gags and quips.  Among their many accolades, Whaley and Scott were the first Black performers to star in a British film when they appeared in Kentucky Minstrels.
In December 1934 another comedy duo of African descent visited the Tivoli, they were Thomas Brookins and Sammy Van.  The pair headed a bill of variety at the theatre and were praised for their 'new-style humour, polished tap dancing and pleasant singing' in an act of the highest order.  Brookins was born in St Louis c.1909, however he moved to Chicago aged 7 and grew up there. He later played basketball for the Savoy Five, which eventually grew into the Harlem Globetrotters (read the story of the Harlem Globetrotters).  However, in 1928 he started a career as a jazz singer and performer with the Original Jimmy Noone's Band. This led to him becoming part of the duo Brookins and Van, who performed to audiences across the world.  Sadly considerably less is known about Sammy Van.
The following year, Black entertainers Ivan Browning and Henry Starr appeared at the Tivoli.  They headed a bill of variety and interestingly incorporated a song by young Hull songwriter, Frank Soulsby who had written a fox-trot named "When I Remember You." The song was shown to the duo and they liked it so much they performed it at one of their Saturday night shows.  Browning had a long career which both preceded and proceeded his coupling with Starr. The duo got together in 1934 and moved to London in 1935.  They toured Britain and Europe extensively in the latter half of the 1930s and made several records.
In early April 1936, yet another comedy duo of African descent, Radcliffe and Rodgers came to the Tivoli.  The Hull Daily Mail advertised that the 'coloured comedy entertainers' were to perform in front of audiences at the theatre during their second visit to Britain.  A review of their show at the Tivoli has not yet been found.
- The Theatre Royal closed in 1902. For more information see Arthur Lloyds, The Music Hall and Theatre History Site, http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Hull/TheatreRoyalHull.htm#Tivoli, accessed 20/3/18
- Hull Daily Mail, 26 July 1912, p. 6
- Arthur Lloyds, The Music Hall and Theatre History Site accessed 20/3/18.
- Hull Daily Mail, 6 March 1914, p. 6
- Hull Daily Mail, 7 March 1914, p. 2
- Hull Daily Mail, 1 0 March 1914, p. 3
- Hull Daily Mail, 29 May 1923, p. 5
- Hull Daily Mail, 15 May 1925, p. 10; Hull Daily Mail, 10 February 1920, p. 5; Hull Daily Mail, 5 June 1931, p. 7 and Driffield Times, 22 December 1934, p. 4.
- Hull Daily Mail, 20 April 1927, p. 4
- Hull Daily Mail, 28 April 1927, p. 7
- Hull Daily Mail, 22 April 1927, p. 9
- Hull Daily Mail, 6 May 1927, p. 5
- Hull Daily Mail, 9 December 1927, p. 6
- Hull Daily Mail, 13 and 14 December 1927, p. 3
- Hull Daily Mail, 13 December 1927, p. 3
- Hull Daily Mail, 13 January 1931, p. 12
- Ibid, p. 12
- Hull Daily Mail, 23 November 1928, p. 13
- Hull Daily Mail, 17 April 1931, p. 11 and Hull Daily Mail, 21 April 1931, p, 8
- Tim Brookes, Lost Sounds: Blacks and The Birth of The Recording Industry 1890-1919 (Illinois: University of Illinois, 2004), p. 455
- Ibid, p. 462
- Hull Daily Mail, 21 October 1932, p. 12
- Hull Daily Mail, 2 February 1934, p. 14
- Hull Daily Mail, 31 January 1936, p. 10
- Hull Daily Mail, 17 November 1945, p. 3
- Stephen Bourne has recently written a book entitled Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen (London: Jacaranda Books, 2017) in which he details her life.
- Hull Daily Mail, 29 May 1936, p. 12
- Hull Daily Mail, 20 April 1937, p. 9
- Ibid, p. 9
- Hull Daily Mail, 20 April 1937, p. 12
- Hull Daily Mail, 8 October 1939, p. 12
- Hull Daily Mail, 8 October 1939, p. 12 and Hull Daily Mail, 9 October 1937, p. 7
- Hull Daily Mail, 18 February 1938, p. 11
- Hull Daily Mail, 13 February 1943, p. 4
- Stephen Bourne, Black in the British Fame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television (London: Continuum, 2001), p. 2
- Ibid, p. 2
- Ibid, p. 2
- Hull Daily Mail, 27 November 1914, p. 6
- Hull Daily Mail, 1 December 1914, p. 3
- Hull Daily Mail, 26 October 1915, p. 3
- Hull Daily Mail, 14 September 1917, p. 5
- Hull Daily Mail, 1 December 1931, p. 8
- Hull Daily Mail, 27 December 1934, p. 7
- Ibid, p. 7
- Nelson George, Elevating the Game: Black Men and Basketball (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p.43
- Chicago Tribute, 5 June 1988, article entitled ‘Ex Jazz Singer Thomas Brookins, 81’
- Hull Daily Mail, 3 September 1935, p. 5
- Hull Daily Mail, 5 September 1935, p. 5
- Tim Brooks, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2005), p. 463
- Hull Daily Mail, 31 March 1936, p. 9
- Hull Daily Mail, 27 March 1936, p. 14