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09 March 2012

Marshall S. Pike (1818 - 1901) performer, songwriter.

Marshall was born in Westborough, Massachusetts. By age 14 he was writing verses and music.

He started his female impersonation career in white-face and flaxen wig: in 1843 he was a member of a troupe called The Albino Family.

Thomas Dartmouth Rice had pioneered black-face performance but without cross dressing. Pike and his colleagues added the latter and became The Harmoneon Family, later The Harmoneons. As such they appeared in 1847 at the White House in Washington before President James Polk. Slide says that this makes Pike, who was playing Fanny, the first female impersonator to perform for the US President.

After his Washington triumph, Pike joined Ordway's Aeolians in Boston, and in 1857 left to form his own troupe, Pike's Harmoneons.

Pike in the 1880s
With the advent of the US Civil War, he became Drum Major of the 22nd Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry. He was taken prisoner in 1861 at the battle of Gaines’s Mill and sent to Libby Prison where he formed a Glee Club.

He was also active as a legitimate actor, and wrote more than one hundred songs.
  • Anthony Slide. Great pretenders: a history of female and male impersonation in the performing arts. Lombard, Ill.: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 160 pp. 1986: 16.
  •  William J. Mahar.  Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999: 316.

For whatever reason the Wikipedia article on Pike mentions neither that he was a black-face performer nor that he was a female impersonator.

And also, Pike is hardly mentioned in John Strausbaugh's otherwise excellent Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation, 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! Do you know if Marshall S. Pike wrote "The Grave of Washington," "The Villa of Mount Vernon and the Key of the Bastille," and "Banks of the Niagara"?


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