Fabulous Facts About Aida Overton Walker, The Forgotten Drag King

You might have heard of vaudeville—musical comedy popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But one vaudeville superstar, Aida Overton Walker, is usually forgotten, and this look at her tumultuous life might explain why.

1. She Came Out Of Nowhere

Aida Overton Walker’s background is super mysterious. Records show that, though her parents both grew up in North Carolina, they birthed Overton Walker in New York in 1880. But maybe being born in the Big Apple said it all, considering the shockingly dramatic life ahead.

Aida Overton Walker 1907 in sparkly dress

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Picryl

2. She Started Young

Aida Overton Walker first burst onto the entertainment scene at 15 years old. She performed in the Octoroons, only the second major stage show ever including Black chorus girls. This may sound like all fun and games for a girl that age. But when you take a closer look at the time of her debut, you’ll see the insidious circumstances that surrounded her.

Scene from The Octoroons

John W. Isham, Wikimedia Commons

3. Her Life Was Unfair

At the time, life in the US looked very different for people depending on the color of their skin. Segregation remained the law of the land. Thus, Overton Walker lived with less resources and opportunity across the board, as well as the hatred and disdain of many. Luckily for her, someone who knew just how to live with that pressure spotted her just in time.

Aida Overton Walker, studio shot in wearing jewels and flowers in hair

Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Got Discovered

Reports claim that, just a year or so after her work in the Octoroons, superstar performer Sissieretta Jones found Overton Walker and took her under her wing. Though she faced much discrimination herself, Jones carved out quite a singing career, making herself a household name. Their time together changed the girl’s life.

Sissieretta Jones in dress

Napoleon Sarony, Wikimedia Commons