Bert Williams
Visionary, Comedian, Vaudeville Performer
(November 12, 1874 - March 4, 1922)


Legendary comedian, a visionary of black theatre, & one of the greatest vaudeville performers of the American stage. His literary pursuits extended to such great writers as Darwin, Voltaire, Kant, and Goethe. With this interest in the universality of life, he integrated such observations in comical moments on stage that connected to both black & white audiences alike.

In an age when the "white vaudeville stage did not welcome black performers," Williams pioneered an important role for black performers who had so profoundly shaped the genre. With unfortunate regularity, he was often the only African American on stage. In the 1900s Williams was the toast of the cities he toured, and in 1904 he played a command performance in England for King Edward VII.

Though he was never a member of our lodge, upon his dying wish, Brother Williams wrote a letter requesting that he may have his Masonic funeral service conducted by St. Cecile, which was well-known as the lodge for theatrical entertainers in New York City. Thus, it was our lodge which became the first in the state of New York to conduct a Masonic funeral service for a black man. On March 8, 1922, the solemn & beautiful Masonic ritual was fulfilled. The auditorium at Masonic temple was filled & even more overflowed the streets to pay their respects to the late comedian. He was raised in Waverly Lodge of Scotland.

Courtesy of our lodge historian V:.W:. Ken Force & pbs.org