Vaudeville Vingettes: The Original Rabbit’s Foot Company

The Original Rabbits Foot Company

        A very specific Vaudeville show toured the south in Vaudeville’s golden age. This company toured all throughout the south and was responsible for paving the way for future entertainers. Pat Chappelle was an African-America performer and businessman from Jacksonville, Florida. With his background in entertainment, he opened the first black-owned theater in the South which was called Excelsior Hall and sat 500 audience members.

With his partner R.S. Donaldson, they came up with an idea to create a traveling vaudeville show

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

with all African-American performers. In an age where hotels would sometimes not allow a person of color to stay the night even if they were a member of a traveling show, this was a bold mission. The partners commissioned a writer, Frank Dumont, and set to accomplish this feat on their own terms. What they hoped to accomplish was also no small show.

With up to 75 performers of all ages, the company traveled with their own train cars and performed both on stages as well as in tents across the south. The traveling circuit ran between 12-14 weeks a year and would sometimes draw parades in the cities they visited. The shows later would include week long performances in a major cities and also created another traveling company called the Funny Folks Comedy Company. Performers would flow between the two shows leading to variety for every show.

The performers included a wide variety of acts and skill levels. From opera singers to aerialists to dancers, there were acts to entertain everyone.

The show encountered several setbacks in their years, including an instance where a horse’s stray kick began a fire destroying several carriages. With the show traveling from the southwest all the way to Coney Island, The Rabbit’s Foot was a resounding success. The traveling show lasted until 1911, when Chappelle passed away from illness.

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