The Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, also known as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, A Rabbit’s Foot Comedy Company, Rabbit Foot Company, or simply the Foots, were established in 1900 by Patrick Henry Chappelle (1869–1911) in Tampa, Florida. The name came from the title of a traveling comedy show, A Rabbit’s Foot, created by Chappelle; his business partner, R. S. Donaldson; and writer Frank Dumont. Over the next several years, the show rapidly gained widespread recognition, leading the touring company to become known as the Rabbit’s Foot Company. Within three years, the troupe had its own specialized railcar. The company featured comedy routines, singers, brass bands, jugglers, wrestlers, and contortionists; the Rabbit’s Foot Company even had its own baseball team.
When Chappelle died in 1911, Fred Swift Wolcott (1882–1967) took over. Wolcott, a white man from Michigan, was a bit of a change for the Foots, since Chappelle had prided himself on having “successfully run a Negro show without the help of a single white man.” Chappelle had avoided calling the company a minstrel show, but Wolcott embraced the idea in advertising, and the troupe generally became known as F. S. Wolcott’s Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels.
The company performed extensively throughout the southern United States and in 1918 established its headquarters in Port Gibson, at a building on Carroll and Market Streets that served as the company’s main office until 1950. Wolcott purchased the Glen Sade Plantation and declared his occupation as “farmer” when registering for the World War I draft in September 1918.
The Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels performed as late as 1959, though audiences had declined rapidly over the preceding decade. Among the performers who got their start with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels were Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Butterbeans and Susie, Sleepy John Estes, Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Williams, and Louis Jordan.
- Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, “Coon Songs,” and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz (2007)
- Paul Oliver, The Story of the Blues (1998)
- Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (1982)