IRA FREDERICK ALDRIDGE (1807-1867)
19th century black American actor, known as the African Roscius
Born in New York City on 24th July 1807, son of Reverend Daniel and Luranah Aldridge, poor citizens of class known as "Free Negroes". Educated at New York's African Free School and briefly at University of Glasgow, Scotland. Active in New York amateur theatre. Made his professional stage debut as the first black actor at Royal Coburg Theatre, London on 10th October 1825 playing role of Prince Oroonoko of Africa sold into slavery in melodrama The Revolt of Surinam, or A Slave's Revenge. Toured established theatre circuits in provinces of British Isles for 27 years as star of about 60 roles in melodrama, romantic drama, operetta, comedy and Shakespeare. Appeared at Theatre Royal Covent Garden in 1833 as Othello. First white role Dirk Hatteraick in Guy Mannering. First tour of Continent in 1852. In last 15 years of life appeared in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Russia and Ukraine. Performed by royal command. "Crowded houses greeted him everywhere, princes and people eager to see him...Honors, orders and medals were showered upon him..."
Became first actor to be knighted when Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Meiningen bestowed on him Royal Ernestinischen House Order in 1858. Repertoire in final Continental phase winnowed to Shakespeare - the black Othello, the white Macbeth, the hurt and maddened old king, Lear, the splenetic villain, Richard III, his sympathetic portrayal of vilified Jewish patriarch, Shylock - and Mungo, West Indian house slave, in operetta The Padlock by Bickerstaffe, singing, dancing, playing guitar, mixing protest with comedy of the oppressed. Described as "a star of the first magnitude" and "the most beautiful male artist that one can imagine". Aldridge performed in English with fellow actors speaking their languages but his classical style of restrained realism and expressive body language triumphed : "You listen,...
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