January 18 - Revival without Royalty

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On January 18, 1901, a Massachusetts newspaper mentioned that a musical comedy created by Paul Laurence Dunbar and composer Will Marion Cook was playing in Boston.

The bill at Music Hall this week is an unusually good one.  Ernest Hogan is in his fourth and last week at this house with his capable company.  He presents for the first time here his comedy, "Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cake Walk," for which Paul Laurence Dunbar furnished the lyrics.

"Boston Music Hall."  The Journal (Somerset, Massachusetts).  January 18, 1901.

The Boston production was a revival of Clorindy, which premiered in New York City in 1898.  The original production had a successful run and Paul received a share of the earnings (although not as much as the composer).  Will Marion Cook wrote a contract by hand on stationery from M. Witmark & Sons, a music publishing company in New York's Tin Pan Alley.

The following signifies that Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will M. Cook hereby agree to divide the royalty from Clorindy as follows.  For the first four (4) weeks Paul Laurence Dunbar shall receive (15) fifteen dollars and Will M. Cook (25) twenty five.  For consecutive weeks in America and Canada Mr. Dunbar shall receive (20) twenty dollars and Mr. Cook (30) thirty dollars or on a basis of 40 and 60 percent.  For England and foreign countries Mr. Dunbar shall receive 27 percent and Mr. Will M. Cook 73 percent.

Clorindy contract, July 15, 1895.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 2).

After the New York premiere of Clorindy, unauthorized productions apparently attempted to capitalize on its popularity.


I will prosecute to the full extent of the law any companies or theatres who allow the public presentation of musical numbers from Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will Marion's latest novelty, Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cake Walk, the sole and exclusive rights of which I hold by contract with the composer and author, and several of the important numbers of which I understand are now being rehearsed by companies about to start on the road.



Advertisement.  The New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York).  August 20, 1898.  Page 6.

However, by the time Clorindy was revived in Boston, Paul had already severed his connection to the show, so he received no royalties.  He explained his decision in a despondent letter to his wife Alice (and also mentioned The Cannibal King, another joint project with Cook).

I know I have been long in writing but I have been rushed to death signing contracts etc.  I am very much discouraged and down in the mouth.  There was nothing to do in New York except to turn over my right in Clorindy to Will Cook and sell The Cannibal King outright which I did.  Two hundred cash and two hundred more on production.  I am glad to get out of it.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, August 31, 1898.    Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

When Alice questioned Paul about what he was paid for his share of Clorindy, he gave more details.

Now for your questions:  I reached New York about two o'clock Saturday, too late to sign a contract and so had to stay on until Monday, left Monday night.  Telegraphed me (did Mr. Cook) to sign a contract.  I have got nothing as yet from my share in Clorindy -- except a contract for a ten days option to try it for four hundred dollars.  Sold Cannibal King to McConnell and Lederer, got two hundred down and contract for 200 more on production or 200 forfeit if it is not produced.  Thank you ma'am, I got my truth.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 3, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).