Charles Gilpin

Charles Gilpin

Birth
Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Death 6 May 1930 (aged 51)
Eldridge Park, Mercer County, New Jersey, USA
Burial Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA
Plot Section 195, Canna Plot, Lot SW 16713
Memorial ID 10421258 · View Source
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Actor. Acclaimed by playwright Moss Hart as "the greatest actor of his race", he originated the title role in "The Emperor Jones", and was the first African-American performer to achieve mainstream stardom in the 20th Century. Born Charles Sidney Gilpin in the Jackson Ward section of Richmond, Virginia, he attended a segregated Catholic elementary school in that city, and at the age of 12 made his professional stage debut as a singer. He subsequently left home to begin a life on the road touring with musical troupes, and found employment between gigs as a printer, barber, boxing trainer and railroad porter. In 1903 he joined the Canadian Jubilee Singers, and by 1911 had begun to hone his talents in non-singing, dramatic roles. In 1916 he made an acclaimed New York City, New York appearance in whiteface, playing the slave-owning villain of Dion Boucicault's play, "The Octoroon", and his subsequent role as a slave character in John Drinkwater's "Abraham Lincoln" inspired Eugene O'Neill to cast him in the title role of his new play, "The Emperor Jones" in 1920. Gilpin's acting was universally acclaimed, earning him numerous awards, including recognition from President Warren G. Harding, but his steadfast refusal to pander to racial stereotypes included his changing certain lines in O'Neill's play, resulting in conflict with the playwright. O'Neill subsequently cast newcomer Paul Robeson in the London production of "The Emperor Jones", and it was Robeson who also starred in the film version. Gilpin had also begun to suffer from alcoholism, and in 1929 lost his voice, which ended his career. He died soon after at the age of 51, and was buried in an unmarked grave. A suitable memorial will be placed on his gravesite by Actors Equity Association in 2005.

Bio by: Nikita Barlow


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Nikita Barlow
  • Added: 2 Feb 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 10421258
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Charles Gilpin (20 Nov 1878–6 May 1930), Find A Grave Memorial no. 10421258, citing Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, Bronx County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .