Michelle R. ScottDec 18, 2023
Black Vaudeville and the Theater Owners' Booking Association in Jazz-Age America
University of Illinois Press 2023
Black vaudevillians and entertainers joked that T.O.B.A. stood for "tough on black artists." But the Theater Owner's Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) played a foundational role in the African American entertainment industry. T.O.B.A. Time: Black Vaudeville and the Theater Owners’ Booking Association in Jazz-Age America by Michelle R. Scott (University of Illinois Press, 2023) examines this circuit of vaudeville theaters active between 1920 and 1930 which booked blues singers, comedians, dancers, and many other kinds of entertainers into Black-serving theaters throughout the United States. T.O.B.A. launched and nurtured the careers of many Black performers including Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Hattie McDaniel. Scott traces T.O.B.A.’s antecedents in the first decades of the twentieth century and documents the ten years of its existence. She contextualizes T.O.B.A. within the politics of segregated America, the Black communities served by its theaters, and its effect on the lives and careers of thousands of Black performers.
Kristen M. Turner is a lecturer in the music and honors departments at North Carolina State University. Her research centers on race and class in American popular entertainment at the turn of the twentieth century.