They arrived on board the RMS Tahiti in November 1926, billed as “America’s greatest aggregation of coloured entertainers”. Their visit brought laughter, music – and also tragedy. The Ferris Jazzland Revue Company wasn’t the first black troupe to visit New Zealand – we had been welcoming tours for almost 75 years – but it was among the first to billed as “a real jazz band” from the States. Bert Ralton’s Savoy band had been here two years earlier, but that was an amalgam of US and British musicians, all of whom were white.
The Jazzland Revue Company was more in the vaudeville genre, though it did include “four girls who are splendid musicians” – together the ensemble played the “jazziest of jazz”. The group’s pre-tour publicity suggests there were a blackface act without the makeup:
Plantation melodies and pastimes hold a high place in this show, as does the special dancing numbers which include the “Charleston” as only the dusky steppers can do it …
They included an “element of minstrelsy” in the show – the Cake Walk – and a female impersonator was in the cast.
The show offered “Southern Sunshine by Southern Stars” and toured throughout New Zealand in late 1926. However about two weeks into the tour, tragedy struck. Robert Murray, one of the performers, died suddenly in the Napier hospital on 6 December 1926. An inquest declared that the cause was heart failure, resulting from peritonitis, aggravated by an anaesthetic. (N Z Herald, 8 December 1926, p. 14.) However the troupe carried on with the show: there is an advertisement in the Herald of 29 December 1926 for a concert in the Auckland Town Hall that night.
These images are from a J C Williamson programme held in the Ephemera collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. The programme was for the Jazzland Revue’s shows at the Theatre Royal Christchurch – six nights from 22 November 1926. This was their repertoire: