Minstrel star appeared at city theatre

Our columnist and esteemed delver in the historic directories of Sheffield, Vin Malone, has come up with some information about the old Empire Theatre.

Monday, 18th February 2019, 18:07 pm
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 18:12 pm
The old Sheffield Empire Theatre in Charles Street c 1920

Vin wrote: “I found this bit of information in the 1911 Kelly's directory about J P McDougall & Co next door to the theatre, in fact it looks like it had offices in the Empire itself.”

He added: “The top act was Eugene Stratton and below is the other acts on the bill for that performance on  Monday, November 11, 1902. As you can see his description of his act is now not correct but then there was no PC to object.”

Music hall performer Eugene Stratton

Eugene Stratton was described as “”the Ideal Coon”.

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Also on the bill were Wedburns, “instrumentalists, Vocalists and Patterers”, Ida Kessanly and her Royal Fox Terriers, Russell Wallet, Happy Tom Parker, comedian George C Doughty, male impersonator Madge Osmond, American Bioscope, dancer Mdlle (presumably Madamoiselle) De Dio, 

Genial Pat Rafferty, described as “One of the Irish”.

Vin adds some information about Eugene Augustus Rühlmann, who was born in Buffalo, New York State on May 8, 1861 and died on September 15, 1918. Vin said he adopted the stage name Eugene Stratton and first performed at the age of 10 in an acrobatic act, arriving in England in 1880.

“In England, he worked his way up to the main song and dance man in the Moore & Burgess Minstrel Show, and in 1883 he married Moore's daughter, Bella. He left the minstrels to go on the music hall circuit in 1887, first as a double act, then solo.

“Although at one time he used an Irish voice, he mainly appeared as a ‘black-faced’ singer. He also performed in pantomime, for the first time in 1896. His friendship & association with Leslie Stuart gave him many of the songs for which he was known. During the period 1899 to 1911 he made records of most of Stuart's songs.

”In James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922) in the15th episode Circe, there are references to Stratton, as well as the adoption of a faux Negro dialect. One of his more famous songs was Lilly of Laguna, fondly remembered by the older generation of today.”