What Happened to Lottie Gee?  Historic Podcast Proposal

What Happened to Lottie Gee?  Historic Podcast Proposal

What Happened to Lottie Gee? is a proposed podcast series that will address the career of singer/dancer/actress Carlotta “Lottie” Gee (1886-1973).  The star of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along (1921), Gee had established herself in the teens as a performer on the vaudeville circuit at home and touring Europe with Will Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra.  Fair skinned, with straight hair, she was the ideal person to play the ingenue role in a production that sought to go beyond typical Black stereotypes to present a realistic love story.  However, after the success of Shuffle Along, Gee’s star faded, so much so that by the end of the 1920s she was struggling to find work.  Never recorded in her heyday, she faded from the scene and today is barely remembered as one of the first stars of the Black theater.

The podcast will address several questions based on Gee’s career:

  • How difficult was it for Black creators to get their work mounted in mainstream (white) venues?
  • What obstacles did women of color face to establish themselves as actresses? What kinds of sexism and racism did they face?
  • Why were some Black performers recorded while others, like Gee, weren’t?
  • How did black managers of shows take advantage of their female actors?
  • How do these practices continue today? Is the theatrical world a better place for Black performers to work?

What Happened to Lottie Gee? will draw on several historic assets to tell this important story.  These include:

  • 78 rpm recordings from the period by Sissle, Blake, and members of the Shuffle Along cast and privately made recordings
  • Historic materials from the Eubie Blake Archives at the Maryland Historical Society; and archival materials from the Schomburg Collection (Edith Spencer, Flournoy Miller, and Noble Sissle collections), , Emory University’s Rose Library (Flournoy Miller papers), and private collections.
  • Interviews with Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, and others from public and private collections
  • New interviews with Black performers, directors, theater historians, and cultural critics
  • Historic newspaper reviews and commentary from newspapers.com and the Library of Congress Historic Newspaper collection.
  • Performance footage from the Library of Congress Film Archives and other private sources
  • Personal papers, diaries, scrapbooks, letters, and other sources

Digital technologies to be used include online databases of recordings, newspapers, books, and journals; archival databases and collections of images and documents; newly recorded digital sound files; MP3 audio files; TIFF and JPEG image files.

The target audience will include:

  • Devotees of musical theater
    • According to the Broadway Theater League, 14.8 million people attended Broadway performances in New York alone in the 2018-19 season; 11.64 million attended musicals (78.6%), with the rest attending plays. Of those, 3.8 million were nonwhite (25.6% percent, an all-time high)
    • The average age of a theatergoer was 42.3 years
    • 81% had completed college, with about half of those having a graduate degree
    • The average musical theater fan attends 4 shows a season.[1]
  • African-American Women Interested in Their History/Culture
    • African-American women represent 12.9% of the US population; 11.4% hold college or advanced degrees[2]
    • Median age is 36.1 years
    • 27% are heads of their households (more than twice the rate of all women)[3]
    • African-American Women are leaders in their religious and political communities
  • Fans of Early Jazz/Blues/African-American Music/Archivists of Recorded Sound
    • A study of record collectors[4] showed that there were predominantly male and in their 40s
    • They shared a passion for sharing knowledge about the records they collected, and were particularly interested in the study of individual performers

[1] https://www.broadwayleague.com/research/statistics-broadway-nyc/

[2] https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-of-color-in-the-united-states/.  Posted Feb. 1, 2021; accessed Feb. 21, 2021

[3] https://blackdemographics.com/population/black-women-statistics/.  Accessed Feb. 21, 2021

[4] Margree, P, MacFarlane, A., Price, L. & Robinson, L. (2014). Information behaviour of music record collectors; Information Research, 19(4), paper 652. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/19-4/paper652.html (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.Webcitation.org/6UUjqB0d3)

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