Ira Aldridge Takes His Talents To Europe
The American actor found fame abroad
Most people probably haven’t heard about one of America’s earliest Black actors, Ira Aldridge. And there’s a reason — Aldridge found more acclaim overseas than in antebellum America.
Ira was born and raised in New York City in the early 1800s. He caught the acting bug when he was young and made his debut with the African Company, whose shows starred Black actors and were attended by Black audiences. This was unheard of during the time. Despite some success, Ira found America to be an inhospitable place for a Black actor. But rather than letting that stop him, he set off to pursue his dreams in Liverpool, England.
In England, Aldridge faced harsh and racist reviews from critics, but found a wider variety of parts for people of color. He even played characters that were traditionally white. He became known for his Shakespearean roles and earned the respect of contemporaries.
In his later years, Ira toured Europe, finding critical acclaim in Russia and Switzerland, where he earned awards for his art. He wasn’t forgotten in the States either, where after his death, he became a legendary figure among Black actors.
Check out other stories from the past:
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- Rebel poet Phillis Wheatley
- Unstoppable pioneer woman Mary Fields
- Media mogul John H. Johnson