Dora Babbige Dean

Dora Dean was born in Covington in 1872, and got into show business as the "Black Venus."  She was born as Dora Babbige; Dean was evidently her stage name.  Her initial job in show business was as a "statute girl" - essentially striking dramatic poses and looking pretty.  She eventually took on a partner, a tap dancer named Charles E. Johnson, and together they became a major act.  They took an obscure dance from the south, The Cakewalk, and popularized it in America.  They toured an African American Tour circuit with The Creole Show, but eventually joined a White circuit, The Orpheum Circuit, one of the few Black acts to do so.

Johnson and Dean were a song and dance act, but unlike most such Black acts, they avoided self deprecation and ragged clothes in favor of elegance sophistication, and dignity. They appeared in full formal evening wear.  They were one of the first acts to make use of a strobe light, and Johnson was one of the very first dancers to put meat taps on his shows.  Neither Johnson nor Dean actually sang, but "talked" their songs.  Dean was famous not for her singing nor her dancing, but for being able to communicate warmth and personal charm from whatever she did on stage.

There was a popular song that amplified their fame, that went:

Say have you ever seen Miss Dora Dean
She is the finest girl you have ever seen.
I'm a-goin' to try and make this girl my queen
Next Sunday morning I'm goin' to marry Dora Dean.

From 1901 to 1914 they performed almost exclusively in Europe, where they were an even bigger hit than they were in America.  1914, and the World War ended their European tour, and they split professionally.  She went on the act on stage, and did some movies, and in 1930 re-united with Johnson, where he had settled in Hennepin. Minnesota.  She died there on December 13, 1949.


The above information is condensed from a much longer piece in the African American National Biography, Vol. 2