Celebrating the Past to Inspire the Future… Legendary Theatre Maker Bob Cole

Musical Theatre is so desperately needed for the world at this moment in history. In times of pain & challenge, it brings happiness, hope, & healing. It reminds us of the potential of our dreams and the unlimited possibilities that can be seen on the horizon. It brings us together and gives us the courage to create a better world. Whether you have performed on Broadway or watched in awe as a kaleidoscope of brilliance brought a smile to your heart, we have all been transformed by the power of music & dance.

We need to look back to inspire the future. We need to celebrate the people that persevered and paved the way for us to experience this beautiful art form. Their ideas, dreams, & talents can motivate us to move forward with a kick ball-change & a sassy show tune that changes the world.

Join us for our “Celebrating the Past to Inspire the Future” Series. By learning about our legendary pioneers of theatre, we will recognize that it is our responsibility to transcend theatre to a new level in order to uplift all communities.

In honor of Black History month, we are celebrating Robert “Bob” Cole, “The Father of Black Musical Theatre.”

Bob (1868-1911) was born in Athens, Georgia. His parents were square dancers & his love of playing the banjo, piano, & cello led him to starting a family band with his sisters. He was a singing bell-boy, comedian, vaudeville headliner, composer, writer, stage manager, actor, playwright, producer, director, & the visionary behind “A Trip to Coontown” which some historians say is the first legitimate musical comedy written, staged, produced, and performed by African American artists. He wrote over 200 songs in his life, performed around the country with his wife, dancer Stella Wiley, and twice played the Palace in London. One of his biggest hits was “Under the Bamboo Tree” written with J. Rosamond Johnson. Judy Garland & Margaret O’Brien performed his song in the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis”. 

Bob chose not to be confined by the traditional use of blackface makeup which he found degrading. He dedicated his life to creating his own style of musical theatre that contributed to a movement aimed at eliminating the degrading, social characterizations of a black performer. He envisioned a more appreciative, dignified, & respectful entertainment world. 

We stand on the shoulders of giants like Bob Cole. Let his story inspire ALL of us.

We encourage you to learn more about this legend by reading Lester A. Walton’s article “Bob Cole: His Life and His Legacy to Black Musical Theater.” 

You can also check out a clip of Bob Cole’s work: “Under the Bamboo Tree” (Meet Me In St. Louis 1944)