Rudy and Fredy Walker, c.1903 French S.I.P. postcard series #142, “Le Cake-Walk”
originally published on 1 Mar 2012; latest edit on 7 February 2017
See my index on the juvenile sibling cakewalk dancing team, Rudy and Fredy Walker:
(above) Complete set of ten c. 1903* French S.I.P.** postcards, series #142: “Le Cake-Walk, Dansé au Nouveau Cirque, Les Enfants Nègres,” featuring juvenile brother and sister dance team the Walkers. The pair was photographed in various cakewalk dancing poses, perhaps poses found in, or representative of, the routine they were then performing at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris. All images edited digitally by doc.
The dancers, who were known professionally as The Walkers but billed as Les Enfants Nègres at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris, are identified as siblings Ruth “Rudy” and Frederick “Fredy” Walker in an article about them I found in the Oxford African American Studies Center.
[At last check, 19 June 2012, this article was not found, having evidently been moved or removed. However, it is available at a primary source. See the relevant exchange of comments at the bottom of this page with the author of the piece, Dr. Rainer E. Lotz.]
From the biographical sketch of the Walkers by Dr. Lotz (Oxford AASC article):
Ruth “Rudy” and Frederick “Fredy” Walker (31 Aug. 1891–after 1928) and (9 Nov. 1893–May 1977) [respectively], known as The Walkers, song and dance entertainers and actors, were both born in Chicago. It appears that at some time in 1902 the two juvenile dancers, brother and sister, traveled to Europe in the company of their mother, Ella Walker, herself an artist, born in Chicago in [1860 or 1864], according to her own conflicting statements.
That they traveled with their own mother is mentioned in June 1903 and again in the winter 1904/1904 in Vienna, December 1906 in Stockholm, in November 1907 in Berlin, and again in February 1908 in Copenhagen. Billed as “Les Enfants Nègres,” their presentations of the cakewalk dance attracted a lot of attention at the Nouveau Cirque at Paris and paved the way for a long career in Europe. They became so popular that they inspired a composer, a sculptor, and a movie film director, as well as cartoonists.***
Their portraits appear on many postcards; in fact, they might well be the most often photographed black entertainers of the period. The cards show them in various dance poses—sometimes together and sometimes solo. Mostly they wear tall, calf-length socks and white dance shoes. The boy wore a white dance costume or gymnast’s suit with a black sash, whereas the girl wore a short skirt.
In his brief biography of the Walkers, Dr. Lotz indicates that there was a short film produced featuring Rudy and Fredy Walker (as “Les enfants nègres”), and several other cakewalk artists, performing on the stage of the Nouveau Cirque:
It was presumably the French Pathé company that produced a short film featuring the cake walk performances by both black and white artists on the stage of the Nouveau Cirque. All the artists that can be seen in the film also had a series of postcards devoted to them. They are “Les enfants nègres,” with ten postcards in series 142 (by early 1904 motifs of the original French series 142 were marketed in the United States by Franz Huld, Publisher, New York, in their series III “Cake Walk—Negro Dance”), “Les Soeurs Pérès” from Spain (postcard series 143), “Les Nègres” from the United States (series 144), and “The Elks”, also from the United States (postcard series 145). Charles Gregory also had his own series of postcards, but he is not identified by name and the cards simply state “Nègre Joyeux.”
Clips from the “short film” described by Dr. Lotz above are combined in a video I recently found. Except that the clips come from a series of five short films, not one, and they were made by Louis Lumière, not the French Pathé company as suggested by Dr. Lotz. Also there are five teams of cakewalk dancers in the series, not four.
See the following Songbook page, containing the aforementioned video:
- Le Cake-Walk au Nouveau Cirque (1903) Louis Lumière: five short films of cakewalk dance teams performing on stage, including Rudy and Fredy Walker
In 1903, an illustration by Lucien Faure (signed “L.Lucien Faure”) for the sheet music cover of a cakewalk titled Joyeux nègres (right), by French composer Rodolphe Berger, featured a cakewalk dancing pair closely resembling the Walkers as they appeared while performing at the Nouveau Cirque in that year.
The Dr. Lotz article also notes that at least two more series of postcards featuring Rudy and Fredy Walker were issued in 1904:
A further set of postcards was soon issued as giveaways by a French journal, Le Sans-Souci in 1904, and in that year yet another set of cards were marketed, on which the Walkers demonstrated “Le Trans-Atlantic. Nouvelle Danse américaine au Nouveau Cirque”—the novelty of the cakewalk had worn off with regular patrons of the Nouveau Cirque and a new dance had to be introduced and new costumes tailored.
Images of four of the cards from the “Le Trans-Atlantic“ set may be found on the following Songbook page:
(above) A composite image containing two covers and a page of the music review Paris qui Chante, c.1903, reflecting the cakewalk fashion of the season. The rightmost panel, a copy of page 7 of the 31 January 1903 issue of the revue Paris qui Chante (1ère année, n°2), includes a montage of photos featuring Rudy and Fredy Walker, possibly from a postcard series issued by the French journal Le Sans-Souci in 1904. In these images, the siblings appear to wear the same outfits worn in the c. 1903 French S.I.P. series #142 set of ten postcards. While performing at Le Nouveau Cirque in 1903, the Walkers were billed as Les Enfants Nègres.
(above) A 1903 poster created by French artist Maurice Mahul advertises performances of Le Cake-Walk at Le Nouveau Cirque in Paris. The poster features an illustration depicting Rudy and Fredy Walker cakewalk dancing. Showtime: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays, and holidays, matinée at 2:30 PM.
Another excerpt from the Dr. Lotz profile of the Walkers (Oxford AASC article):
The “Enfants Nègres” moved from Paris to Belgium, perhaps also the Netherlands, and back to France. In publicity they are henceforth referred to by their first names and variations thereof: Fred, Fredi, Fredy, or Rudy, Ruddy, Rudi, Roudy, and Ruth, respectively, and on one occasion Pandy & Fredy. A reviewer at Antwerp, Belgium, noted that they sang as well as danced. If they briefly returned to the United States, as they later stated in a passport application, they left no trace on passenger lists and resurfaced in Scandinavia in 1906
* Evidence supporting a date of c. 1903 for the French S.I.P. postcard series #142, “Le Cake-Walk, Dansé au Nouveau Cirque, Les Enfants Nègres”:
- The great similarity of the costumes and physical appearance of the pair in the #142 series of postcards to that in the short film of the Walkers by Louis Lumière, which is dated “[hiver 1902-1903] – 15 mars 1903” in the “Le Cake-Walk” page on the series at Catalogue Lumière, tends to support a date for the postcards not very distant from the span December 1902-March 1903.
- A 1903 poster created by French artist Maurice Mahul (see above) includes an illustration of the Walkers wearing costumes very similar to those worn in the French S.I.P. postcard series #142.
- An illustration resembling the pair, by Lucien Faure, in which the dancers are depicted wearing costumes very similar to those worn in the French S.I.P postcard series #142, and in the 1903 Mahul illustration, appears on the cover of sheet music for a 1903 cakewalk titled Joyeux nègres, by French composer Rodolphe Berger (see above right).
- The Helen Armstead-Johnson theater photograph collection of the NYPL Digital Gallery has copies of three of the cards. One of the three is tinted and retouched. The two otherwise apparently unaltered images are each inscribed with the date 1903.
** S.I.P. — Societe industrielle de photographie, the publisher
*** “They became so popular that they inspired a composer, a sculptor, and a movie film director, as well as cartoonists.“
- composer: Rodolphe Berger (see above); possibly also Debussy (see the article “Debussy’s Cakewalk: Race, Modernism and Music in Early Twentieth-Century Paris,” by James Deaville, volume 2, n° 1, janvier 2014 of La Revue musicale OICRM)
- sculptor: Carl Kauba — see the page
- movie film director: Louis Lumière — see the page
- Le Cake-Walk au Nouveau Cirque (1903) by Louis Lumière: five short films of cakewalk dance teams performing on stage, including one featuring Rudy and Fredy Walker
- cartoonists(?): — Perhaps Dr. Lotz means illustrators such as Lucien Faure and Maurice Mahul (see above).