AVM

American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.† Page 54

Williams & Walker

Bert Williams 1874- 1912

 

George W. Walker 1873-1911

 

Aida Overton Walker 1880-1914

 

†Bert Williams is often written of as the finest African American comedy of his day, a reputation based on his association with the Ziegfeld Follies, his many sound recordings and a couple of films, all made during the decade between 1910 and 1920. There are no recorded performances to support the legacy of comedians of contemporary reputation equal to Bertís, like Ernest Hogan, and Bertís partners, George Walker and his wife Aida Overton Walker, are too often ignored for their talents and their singular contributions to the growing respect for African American performers in America and England.

Ms. Overton Walker was one of the first Negro women to attain stardom, and her early death deprived her of greater glory as a lovely dancing-and-singing comedy actor. Her husband, who was Bertís primary partner, George W. Walker, was the man who pushed Williams & Walker from wagon shows to success in vaudeville and Broadway musical comedies before dying in his late thirties.

Onstage, George Walker was a superior dancer and straightman; offstage he was the most effective voice of his time in the struggle to win artistic and social recognition for black actors and performers. A founder and first president of the Frogs, a fraternal and protective association for African American performers and actors, Walker wrote and spoke eloquently for his race. Bert Williams was more reclusive and relatively inactive in civil rights.

Until the demise of George and Aida Overton Walker, the Williams & Walker act was a top comedy song-and-dance act in African American show business. Bert Williams worked solo for most of the final decade of life except for his ground-breaking pairing with white Australian comedian Leon Errol in four Follies.