Johnson & Dean

Johnson and Dean Johnson & Dean were the most famous cakewalk artists at the turn of the century. They claimed to have introduced that high kicking dance to Broadway in 1895. Four years earlier, Dora Dean, along with her partner and future husband, Charles E. Johnson, got their start in Sam T Jack's Creole Company. This was the first African-American show to break from the strict minstrel tradition of all male performers and allow women on stage as performers. Dora Dean's first job on stage was to pose as a statue. Johnson eventually became the company's leading man after starting as singer and banjo player. Bob Cole was also a member of this troupe.

In 1893, Johnson and Dean got married and left the Creole Company. Soon after, they put together an act for the Chicago World's Fair that was described as eccentric dancing. Later, after joining the vaudeville circuit, they became known as the King and Queen of Colored Aristocracy. Twice during these years they played from coast to coast, doing 52 weeks of continuous business. In 1901, they traveled to Berlin, Germany, where Dean was asked to sit for a life-size painting by Ernest Hellman, then one of Germany's foremost artists. During this tour they also entertained in England and France, bringing the cakewalk and "coon" songs to the Continent.

A review of their performance in London appeared in The Era.:

"They call their dance a kinetoscope rag time dance, which is performed against a black background amid intermittent flashes of light. The ballet-like movements of the clever couple are thus illustrated in a way that give them something of the effect of a cinematograph picture. The audience on Monday evidently were interested in the graceful exhibition of both Miss Dean and Mr. Johnson, who did not lack encouragement, which came from all parts of the house."

After returning to the United States they began to bill themsleves as the Colored Fashion Plates. At this time, they were described as "the best entertainers of their race", giving the Broadway duo of Williams & Walker serious competition. In 1904, Johnson & Dean traveled back to London where they topped the bill at the Palace Theatre. During what eventually became a seven year tour, they performed in Austria and Hungary as well as in Germany, France, and Russia. When they returned to the U.S. in 1909 they incorporated some of their favorite overseas material into their act but were criticized by the press for not being black enough. Dora Dean's diamonds and elegant clothing as well as Johnson's pantomimes of "foreign" characters were a shock to American reviewers who expected them to be a typical black act of the period. Johnson and Dean continued to perform across the country entertaining enthusiastic crowds wherever they went.

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