Chittlin' Circuit

Jerry Zolten
Tue Jul 15 08:43:17 EDT 1997

The term "chittlin' circuit" goes back a long way to the days when
vaudeville reigned and black performers were denied general access,
especially those whose performance styles catered to African American
tastes.  Early on, performers like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith worked out of
tents, setting up in each new Southern town as they went along. But tents
didn't cut it in the winter in the North especially. There was a need for a
more reliable type of venue. The Theater Owners Booking Association was the
black equivalent of the vaudeville circuit and the root of the chittlin'
circuit. The performers called it the TOBY circuit, and, though it provided
steady work all year round for black performers, it was a tough grind.
"Tough On Black Asses" is what the performers called it.  Tom Morgan's
"From Cakewalks to Concert Halls" provides good insight into the subject and
there are wonderful interviews with folks like Danny Barker, Doll Thomas,
and Sam Price in the film documentary "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues."
(Forgive if I've got the title a bit wrong)

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