May Henderson

December 27, 2012

May Henderson (1884-1937), English music hall comedienne, billed as ‘The Dusky Queen’ or ‘The Dusky Comedy Queen’ (photo: unknown, probably UK, circa 1900)

This real photograph cigarette card from one of the Ogden’s Guinea Gold Cigarettes series was published in England about 1900.

May Henderson, daughter of Billy Henderson of the Henderson & Stanley Quartette, was born in Liverpool on 13 November 1884. Having appeared on stage as a child with her father and mother, her debut as a single turn occurred at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1897. She subsequently appeared at most of the leading London and United Kingdom provincial variety theatres and also in pantomime. She ‘has made a speciality of negro life studies, and her entertainment as a negro comedienne is very popular.’ (John Parker, compiler and editor, Who’s Who in Variety, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd, London, 1916, p.37)

Hammersmith music hall, west London, week beginning Monday, 26 February 1900

‘“I Love a white man” is a coon essay which Miss May Henderson treats meritoriously, the same lady submitting a big-boot dance with good results.’ (The Entr’acte, London, Saturday, 3 March 1900, p.7b)

Empire, Brighton, Sussex, week beginning Monday, 3 March 1902

Tuesday, 4 March 1902 – ‘May Henderson is the greatest favourite. She is always sure of a hearty welcome here, and she was greeted this evening with every manifestation of delight. The programme describes her as ”The Dusky Comedy Queen,” and as a coon impersonation [sic] she is unrivalled. She has a good voice, has a genuine gift of humour, and is a clever dancer. On her first appearance she is dressed as a society belle, and sings just how she has rejected all her nigger suitors because she’s ”gwine to have a white man.” She next assumes the guise of a dandy coon who sings of his lady love, with all the ardour of a Spanish troubadour, but in a panegyric far more fanciful. Her third effort is by far the best. ”My Sweetheart is the Double-Bass Viol,” she sings, and she indulges in amorous gestures to members of the orchestra who is playing the instrument to which she refers. The discomfiture of the latter as the song proceeds, provides much merriment, and an encore invariably results at the close.’ (Brighton & Hove Society, Brighton, 8 Marcy 1902, p. 305b/c)


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