Biography:Billy Whitlock

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Billy Whitlock

 Given name:     William
 Middle name:     "Billy"
 Family name:     Whitlock
 Place of birth:     New York City
 Place of death:     Long Branch, New Jersey
 Year of birth:     1813
 Year of death:     1878
 Profile:     Composer, Musician
 Source of information:     Monarchs of Minstrelsy

Biographical notes

"Billy Whitlock was a typesetter on the New York Herald, and appeared at various theatres in the evening while retaining his position during the day. He made his first appearance in New York City in 1855, as Cuff in "O, Hush." He resigned from the Herald in 1837, and went with a circus; he returned to New York, and in the Winter of 1839 was engaged by P.T. Barnum to play the banjo for John Diamond, the great dancer.

[The Virginia Minstrels are credited with being the first minstrel troupe, and the founders of the minstrel show.] There has always been considerable discussion as to the exact date when this interesting event took place; two things are certain, and have never been disputed; that it actually did occur, and that the initial presentation was in New York City, between January 31 and February 17. 1843.

That the idea of amalgamating the respective talents of the original four, Emmett, Brower, Pelham and Whitlock, was conceived by the latter, there is no doubt; the following was furnished by him many years before his death. "The organization of the minstrels I claim to be my own idea, and it can-not be blotted out. One day I asked Dan Emmett, who was in New York at the time, to practice the fiddle and the banjo with me at his boarding-house in Catherine Street. We went down there, and when we had practiced, Frank Brower called in by accident. He listened to our music, charmed to his soul! I told him to join with the bones, which he did. Presently Dick Pelham came in, also by accident, and looked amazed. I asked him to procure a tambourine and make one of the party, and he went out and got one. After practicing for a while we went to the old resort of the circus crowd—the `Branch,' in the Bowery —with our instruments, and in Bartlett's billiard-room performed for the first time as the Virginia Minstrels. A program was made out, and the first time we appeared upon the stage before an audience was for the benefit of Pelham at the Chatham Theatre. The house was crammed—jammed with out friends; and Dick, of course, put ducats in his purse."

The house on Catherine Street was No. 37, and was kept by a Mrs. Brooks. The "Branch" was a hotel opposite the Bowery Amphitheatre.

On January 31, 1843, Dick Pelham did have a benefit, but the performance was of the ordinary nature; nothing unusual, such as a quartet of black-face per-formers appearing at one time, which would have caused considerable stir; thus may we eliminate January 31, 1843, as the date of the first performance in public.

[In April they decided to try their luck in England, and boarded a steamship. However they only played some 6 weeks in London before breaking up, perhaps due to lack of attendance at performances.]

Mr. Whitlock was the first to return to the United States after the dissolution of the original company; he arrived about August, 1844, subsequently appearing with various small organizations and circuses. For many years he traveled as a Yankee comedian, and was also an acotr at the Bowery Theatre about 1853; he was the composer of "Lucy Long", one of the great songs of early minstrelsy. His last appearance was with Dan Rice's Circus in 1855.

His daughter married Edwin Adams, the great actor.

It is a strange thing that no one seems to know where Mr. Whitlock is buried. Billy Whitlock was born in New York City, 1813; he died at Long Branch, N.J., March 29, 1878.