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Clarice Vance (1870 – 1961)
Vaudeville’s “Southern Singer”
By Stirling Morris

A Publicity portrait photograph of Clarice Vance

Above - A Publicity portrait photograph of Clarice Vance

 

A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Clarice Vance headlining the Bill - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.Clarice Vance, billed as ‘The Southern Singer’ was a popular American vaudeville singing star and comedienne from the late 1800s to 1919. She was noted for her charming and understated delivery of Negro dialect songs referred to in those days as “Coon songs”. Contemporary reviews noted an absence of “roughness” in her song delivery. She instead achieved humor with subtle gesture and precise comic timing.

Right - A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Clarice Vance headlining the Bill - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.

Never appearing in black face, she claimed to be the first of the dialect singers to grace the London stages and her appearances in 1908, 1909 and 1910 are documented in the London and American trade papers of the day. Her several week Palace Theatre engagement in 1909 garnered such glowing reviews that she was held there for a 26 week stay.

Sheet music with her photograph on the cover was common in the United States during the years from 1897-1914. She appears tall, beautifully gowned and patrician in these cover photos and in reality she was slightly over six feet tall. Height was an asset when singing on stage over a 26 piece orchestra in days before amplification but a liability on the legitimate stage when most stage performers and most women were comparatively short. As a result she starred in only one legitimate production, “A Skylark”, a lavish but short lived 1910 Broadway musical... Continued below.

 

A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Clarice Vance headlining the Bill - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.A London revue of Clarice Vance's Palace Theatre appearance reprinted in 'Variety'.

Miss Clarice Vance's manner would strike the English hearer as somewhat strange at first. As she walks on, a staid, imposing figure, singing well, but apparently uninspired, as she relates her little commonplace stories with nothing but a little halt now and again to emphasize the meaning of what is coming, one wonders whence comes her immense popularity in the States.

Left - A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Clarice Vance headlining the Bill - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.

But when she imitates the Salome dances with contortions reduced to ridicule by the phlegmatic slowness, the festina lente of her movements, when with one expressive gesture she queries the need of doing all this in nudeness "and calls it dancing," we begin to understand.. This is the way of the whitewashed negro. She seeks a maximum of effect in a minimum of motion. And she often finds it. At first on hearing her one feels inclined to turn to one's neighbor as if to ask, "What's this'!" She does not strike one as funny or as clever, it is simply a mannerism, an affectation, this inertness of voice and limbs. But see her again and Clarice Vance becomes an acquired taste. You learn that there is a great deal of study, of observation, of intellect behind this blanc-mange manner, you try to imitate, and fail, and henceforth you look forward to Miss Vance's name in the program because she gives you a peculiar sensation. She is what the Germans call urgemuthlich, and she makes you feel easy and content. - 'A London Review reprinted in Variety'.

 

Victor Records

Make Christmas a Real Christmas

While the two rival vaudeville interests are vying with each other to star the leading popular artists, the Victor presents the best of both.

May Irwin, famous for her quaint witticisms; Vesta Victoria and Alice Lloyd, the famous English comediennes; that celebrated tenor, Richard Jose; clever Clarice Vance, with her irresistibly humorous song bits; Harry Lauder, the great Scotch comedian; and popular Eddie Morton, are some of the many artists who make records exclusively for the Victor.

Then there's Billy Murray, Harry Macdonough, Arthur Collins, Ada Jones, Harry Tally and other favorites who also sing for you on the Victor.

Ask any Victor dealer to play any Victor Record you want to hear.

Write today for catalogue.

Victor Talking Machine Company
Camden, N. J., U. S. A.

Berliner Gramophone Company of Montreal,
Canadian Distributors.

Right - A Victor Records Christmas promotional leaflet circa 1909, with images of May Irwin, Clarice Vance, Harry Lauder, Vesta Victoria, Alice Lloyd, and Richard Jose. Text transcribed above.

 

A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Yvette Guilbert headlining, and also staring Clarice Vance - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Yvette Guilbert headlining, and also staring Clarice Vance - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909....The third of at least four marriages was to Mose Gumble in 1904. As head of Remick Music publishing in New York he was known as exceptional ragtime pianist, music promoter and gave George Gershwin his first job as a song plugger for Remick.

Right - A programme for the Palace Theatre for May 17th 1909, with Yvette Guilbert headlining, and also staring Clarice Vance - From Clarice Vance's personal scrapbook kept from about 1897 to 1909.

 

A CD compilation of Clarice Vance and May Irwin’s recordingsDivorced from Mose in 1914, Clarice began a rapid retreat into obscurity save a few minor roles in movies. Tragedy followed with the suicide of her fourth husband in the mid 1920s. Her last years were spent in San Francisco and in a California state mental hospital where for ten years she resided unknown and unrecognized. Her final billing is an anonymous,”#31” in the indigent section of the St. Helena Cemetery in California’s scenic Napa Valley.

A CD compilation of Clarice Vance and May Irwin’s recordings, The High “Priestess of Jollity and The Southern Singer”, Archeophone 5015 (Shown Left and availiable here) has been recently released, accompanied by a generously illustrated 30 page booklet documenting the lives and careers of these two vaudeville sensations.

This article was written and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site by Stirling Morris in 2012. The article and its accompanying images are © Stirling Morris 2012.

 

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