Master Juba was an African-American dancer active in the 1840s. He was one of the first black performers in the U.S. to play onstage for white audiences. His real name was believed to be William Henry Lane, and he was also known as Boz’s Juba. He died in 1852 or 1853, likely from overwork and malnutrition.
About Master Juba in brief
Master Juba was an African-American dancer active in the 1840s. He was one of the first black performers in the U.S. to play onstage for white audiences. His real name was believed to be William Henry Lane, and he was also known as Boz’s Juba. Juba’s dancing style was percussive, varied in tempo, lightning-fast at times, expressive, and unlike anything seen before. He died in 1852 or 1853, likely from overwork and malnutrition, and was largely forgotten by historians until a 1947 article by Marian Hannah Winter resurrected his story. The dance likely incorporated both European folk steps, such as the Irish jig, and African-derived steps used by plantation slaves, like the walkaround. The stage name Juba probably derives from the juba dance itself, named for the central term giouba, or west African dancing or West African juba, which was common for slaves in this period, especially those rumored to have dancing or musical talent to have been working for food or theft in New York City in 1840s or early 1850s. For example, in 1840 a man named Lewis Davis was using the name ‘Master Juber’ and making his living ‘travelling through the states, dancing through the negro extravaganza’ He was arrested for theft in 1841 or 1842 in the anonymous Sunday Sunday Flashman for breaking into a saloon and stealing $10 from the owner. In 1848 he traveled to London with the Ethiopian Serenaders, an otherwise white minstrel troupe.
He became a sensation in Britain for his dance style and was a critical favorite and the most written about performer of the 1848 season. His American critics were less kind, and Juba faded from the limelight in the 1850s and 1860s and died from malnutrition and overwork. He is buried in the Bronx, New York, where he lived in a slum with Irish immigrants and free black people in the Five Points District. The Irish and black populations intermingled and borrowed elements of folk culture from each other. One area of exchange was dance, and theIrish jig blended with black folk steps. In this environment, Juba learned to dance from his peers, including \”Uncle Jim Lowe, a black jig and reel dancer who performed in low-brow establishments. In the mid-1840s Juba performed in dance competitions, min strel shows, and variety theaters in the Northeastern United States beginning in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His greatest success came in England, but he was next place Juba in both Britain and America in the early 1840s and 1850s, according to an item in the August 11, 1895 edition of the New York Herald. Juba had no family, and by about age 15 he was dancing for food and tossing coins by the early 1840s. It is believed he was born to free parents in 1825 or later.