T.O.B.A. Time

Black Vaudeville and the Theater Owners' Booking Association in Jazz-Age America
Author: Michelle R. Scott
A portrait of the famed entertainment company
Cloth – $110
Paper – $28
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 02/28/2023
Cloth: 02/28/2023
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About the Book

Black vaudevillians and entertainers joked that T.O.B.A. stood for “tough on black artists.” But the Theater Owners' Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) played a foundational role in the African American entertainment industry and provided a training ground for icons like Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Sammy Davis Jr., the Nicholas Brothers, Count Basie, and Butterbeans and Susie.

Michelle R. Scott’s institutional history details T.O.B.A.’s origins and practices while telling the little-known stories of the managers, producers, performers, and audience members involved in the circuit. Looking at the organization over its eleven-year existence (1920–1931), Scott places T.O.B.A. against the backdrop of what entrepreneurship and business development meant in black America at the time. Scott also highlights how intellectuals debated the social, economic, and political significance of black entertainment from the early 1900s through T.O.B.A.’s decline during the Great Depression.

Clear-eyed and comprehensive, T.O.B.A. Time is a fascinating account of black entertainment and black business during a formative era.

About the Author

Michelle R. Scott is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is the author of Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South.

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"In clear and precise prose, Scott chronicles the coalescence of Black vaudeville and how T.O.B.A. helped establish and nurture the initial flowering of what became the incalculably influential Black entertainment industry. Readers who enjoyed Entertaining Race by Michael Eric Dyson and Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib will find Scott’s unique history compelling." --Booklist

"Clarifies the important role African American entrepreneurs played in promoting entertainment by and for Black people during a transitional period in American show business history. . . .T.O.B.A. Time is an excellent addition to [the University of Illinois Press] catalogue." --NewCity Lit

"Michelle R. Scott's T.O.B.A. Time: Black Vaudeville and the Theatre Owners' Booking Association in Jazz-Age America is a scholarship of the highest order. It provides an in-depth analysis of an organization that played an important role in providing a space for entrepreneurs and talented individuals to forge an independent role for themselves in segregated America. Scott effortlessly combines the minutiae of a multifaceted activity such as vaudeville with the broader currents which were operating in America in the early decades if the twentieth century." --British Journal of Industrial Relations


“Scott’s meticulously researched and exquisitely detailed account reveals the broad impact of the T.O.B.A. circuit and the complexities of its organization and operations. The discussions of individual performers--famous and obscure--and their experiences as they worked the circuit are riveting. This is a benchmark book in theater studies and the definitive account of this fascinating institution.”--Allyson Nadia Field, author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity