Biographies Bob Cole, 1868-1911

Image: Portrait of Bob Cole
[Bob Cole] detail from "Pliney come out in the moonlight" (New York : J.H. Remick and Co., c1910. ). African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920, American Memory, Library of Congress.

Robert Allen Cole was born on July 1, 1868, in Athens, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Like Will Marion Cook and James Reese Europe, he became one of the most important composers of his generation, creating a model for other African-American musicians and composers. By 1891 Cole was a member of Jack's Creoles, a black minstrel company based in Chicago. Within two or three years, however, Cole began to hammer out his own vision of black theater.

After publishing his first songs in 1893, Cole formed his own company of performers, The All-Star Stock Company, in 1894. This company included luminaries such as the Farrell Brothers, Billy Johnson, Stella Wiley (by then Cole's wife), Will Marion Cook, and Gussie Davis. In 1896 Cole joined forces with the Black Patti Troubadours. He and Billy Johnson left the Troubadours, however, and formed a new company which produced the landmark musical, A Trip to Coontown (1898)--the first New York musical written, produced, and performed by black entertainers. This show's run was successful; it also toured off and on until 1901.

After the initial production of Trip, Cole broke with Billy Johnson. He soon began a partnership with J. Rosamond Johnson, and occasionally with Johnson's brother, James Weldon Johnson--a collaboration that lasted until Cole's death. In 1900 J. Rosamond Johnson and Cole formed a vaudeville act which was noted for its elegance and broad range of material, including many songs that they had written.

Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson continued their musical collaboration. They joined the Klaw and Erlanger production staff and began writing songs for white shows. In 1901 their success was rewarded with an exclusive contract with Jos. W. Stern and Sons for the publication of their music. The song "Under the Bamboo Tree," from the musical Sally in our Alley (1904), was one of their biggest hits in both black and white musical circles. Some people claim that around 1905 Cole and Johnson were the most popular songwriting team in America.

Cole and the Johnson brothers wrote and helped produce two musicals, The Shoe-Fly Regiment (1907) and The Red Moon (1909). Both shows were successful, but lost money, so Cole and Johnson returned to performing in vaudeville. Cole's health began to fail in 1910 and in April 1911, he collapsed. Shortly thereafter, Cole drowned in what many believe to have been a suicide.

James Weldon Johnson later referred to Cole as "the single greatest force in the middle period of the development of black theatricals in America." Although he is still not well known today, history bears out much of Johnson's claim. Cole was one of the handful of truly pioneering black composers and performers of his time.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress

About this Item

Title
Bob Cole, 1868-1911
Subject Headings
-  Cole, Bob -- 1868-1911 -- -- composer
-  Popular Songs of the Day
-  Songs and Music
-  Parlor and Concert Stage
-  Social Change
-  Progressive Era to New Era (1900-1929)
-  Biographies
Genre
biography
Online Format
online text
Description
Biography. Biography. James Weldon Johnson later referred to Cole as "the single greatest force in the middle period of the development of black theatricals in America." Although he is still not well known today, history bears out much of Johnson's claim. Cole was one of the handful of truly pioneering black composers and performers of his time.
Additional Metadata Formats
METSXML Record

Rights & Access

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes and makes no warranty with regard to their use for other purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as holders of publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. There may be content that is protected as "works for hire" (copyright may be held by the party that commissioned the original work) and/or under the copyright or neighboring-rights laws of other nations.

Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item. Users should consult the bibliographic information that accompanies each item for specific information. This catalog data provides the details known to the Library of Congress regarding the corresponding items and may assist users in making independent assessments of the legal status of these items as related to their desired uses.

Items included here with the permission of the rights holders are indicated as such in the bibliographic record for each item.

In some cases, the Library was unable to identify a possible rights holder and has elected to place some of those items online as an exercise of fair use for strictly non-commercial educational uses. The Library of Congress would like to learn more about these materials and would like to hear from individuals or institutions that have any additional information or know of their history. Please contact:  Performing Arts Reading Room.

Suggested credit line: Library of Congress, Music Division.

More about Copyright and other Restrictions

For guidance about compiling full citations consult Citing Primary Sources.

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Bob Cole, 1868 to 1911. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038836/. (Accessed July 27, 2017.)

APA citation style:

Bob Cole, 1868 to 1911. [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038836/.

MLA citation style:

Bob Cole, 1868 to 1911. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038836/>.