Theater Owners Bookers Association
Theater Owners Booking Association, or T.O.B.A., was the
vaudevillecircuit for African Americanperformers in the 1920s and 1930s. The theaters all had white owners and collaborated in booking jazz, blues, comedians, and other performers for black audiences. The organization started in 1909 with 31 theaters and had more than 100 theaters at its peak in the 1920s.
Often referred to by the black performers as Tough on Black Artists, the association was generally known as Toby Time ("Time" was a common term for vaudeville circuits). It booked only black artists into a series of theatres on the East Coast and as far west as
Oklahoma. TOBA venues were the only ones south of the Mason-Dixonline that regularly sought black audiences, according to one reference. [ [http://www.musicals101.com/vaude2.htm Vaudeville - Part II ] ] TOBA paid less and generally had worse touring arrangements than the white vaudeville counterpart. But like white vaudeville, T.O.B.A faded from popularity during the Great Depression.
Its earliest star favorites included singers
Ethel Waters, Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Minto Cato, and Adelaide Hall; top comedian Tim Moore with his Chicago Follies company (which included his wife Gertie); the Whitman Sisters and their celebrated Company; musicians Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Joe "King" Oliver, and Duke Ellington; comics Sandy Burns, Salem Whitney Tutt, and Tom Fletcher; future Paris sensation Josephine Baker; songwriter and pianist Perry Bradford, beloved mime Johnny Hudgins; dancers U.S. Thompson, Walter Batie, Earl "Snakehips" Tucker,and Valaida Snow; popular comic monologuist Boots Hope; and many others. In addition, later well-known names such as Florence Mills, Lincoln " Stepin Fetchit" Perry, Hattie McDaniel, Mantan Moreland, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Dewey Pigmeat Markham, Johnny Lee, Marshall "Garbage" Rogers, Amanda Randolph, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, a young William Basie (before he came to be called "Count") and four-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr., all performed on the T.O.B.A circuit.
The most prestigious black theaters in
Harlem, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.were not part of the circuit, booking acts independently; The T.O.B.A. was considered less prestigious. Many black performers, such as Bert Williams, George Walker, Johnson and Dean, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Tim Moore, and Johnny Hudgins also performed in white vaudeville, often in blackface.
*Nadine George-Graves, The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville: The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender, and Class in African American Theater, 1900-1940, in "
Dance Research Journal", Vol. 33, No. 2, Social and Popular Dance (Winter, 2001), pp. 134-138.
*David Krasner, A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance.
*Bernard L. Peterson, Jr., Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816-1960.
*Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Blackface: A Source Book on Early Black Musical Shows
* [http://vaudeville.org/index_page0093.htm American Vaudeville Museum pages] on T.O.B.A.
* [http://www.sfmuseum.org/sunreporter/fleming2.html Thomas Fleming on Black vaudeville and T.O.B.A. in Jacksonville, Fla.]
* [http://theater2.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?res=9506E4D91E39F93AA15752C0A96F958260 New York Times review of the play, "Rollin' on the T.O.B.A."]
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