Bob Cole, Rosamond Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson wrote The Shoo-Fly Regiment. For several nights, the musical comedy came to Albany to the Harmanous Bleecker Hall in 1907. It was not the first time Rosamond or Bob Cole performed in Albany. They had taken the two-person show of Cole and Johnson to Albany a year prior. Cole and Johnson’s brothers had a successful history working together, writing and performing vaudeville acts, and traveling across the US, London, and Paris.
This performance shows a changing scene in popular acts. They had created the first Black operetta, which was more structured than their vaudeville act. It has an all-Black cast, including Cole’s comedy stylings and Rosamond’s singing. Shoo-Fly tells the story of Hunter Wilson, who puts aside a teaching career to fight in the Spanish-American War, a decision that is disapproved of by his fiancé’s father. Wilson goes on to the Philippines and returns alive a military hero, earning him the respect of his fiance’s father. After her father’s blessing is given, his fiancé takes him back. This work was likely an introduction to many Albany audiences to the real Tuskegee Institute, fictionalized as Lincolnville Institute in the play. It is also an opportunity for audiences to engage with how Black people were interacting with foreign military conflicts despite fighting for a country that didn’t treat them equally.
At this time, much like today, there were differences in how some journalists covered these artists. In the Albany Argus, the Cole and Johnson had their show advertised, for sure, but the words chosen are interesting compared to how Black newspapers covered them. Essential details like show dates, times, and prices are there-- but no pictures. There is also language indicating surprise at the quality of the work and additional kudos to their White manager. Compare this to The Freeman, which had a full interview and deep dive into their creative process and inspirational location, like Tuskegee. They also had a set photo of Cole and Johnson in the article. The first article is from Indianapolis’s The Freeman, and the second two articles shown here are from Albany’s The Argus newspaper.
Another significant difference with this work was that this was the last piece that James Weldon Johnson would write with them before focusing on his political and literary career. Nationally, Johnson wrote the lyrics of/composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” popularly known as the “Negro National Anthem.” John Rosemond Johnson composed the music, and James Weldon wrote the lyrics, and it became a well-known protest song from the 1960s through today.