Showing posts with label Orpheus McAdoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orpheus McAdoo. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The incredible juggling life of Catherine Marshall Webb- Mrs Joe Jalvan.


This article was inspired by David Cain's article on Joe Jalvan. I wanted to concentrate on the Australian connection, in particular Catherine. Warning for offensive language.

In 1899 American juggler, Joseph O Bryan, known professionally as Jalvan married an Australian woman, Catherine Webb at a small church in Paddington in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. They remained married until her death. Catherine supported her husband on stage and off and together they were The Jalvans, a juggling duo who toured England, Australia, and the United States. 

Catherine Webb was born in Victoria, Australia in 1859. She was the eldest daughter of Catherine Webb (nee Smith) and her husband Christopher Charles Webb. Mrs Webb was Irish and Mr Webb was British (Born in Devon around 1825). The pair married in Liverpool England in 1853 and arrived in the Colony of Victoria sometime between then and Catherine’s birth in 1859, during the height of the Gold Rush era. They settled in Melbourne and two years after Catherine’s birth, they had a son, Charles jnr. Catherine’s father, Charles Christopher Webb died in 1874 and his widow remarried George Marshall the same year. The family then moved to the heart of Melbourne.

Little is known of their everyday life until daughter Catherine joined Orpheus McAdoo the famous African American impresario and former Fisk Jubilee singer in the 1890s. Catherine is first mentioned in December 1894, as Miss Marshall Webb, a contralto.

Catherine and Joe are probably both in this picture of McAdoo's touring Australian troupe, but neither are identified. (National Library of Australia)

From that time until her marriage to Jalvan in 1899, Catherine was part of one of the most famous African American entertainment groups in the world.

Orpheus McAdoo was an entrepreneur who began as a member of the famous Fisk Jubilee singers, a group formed from freed slaves in the 1870s. It started as a singing group to raise money for Fisk university, and soon became a world-renowned entertainment troupe that toured the world and performed for royalty and world leaders. McAdoo first toured Australia in the 1880s as part of a Fisk tour, but in the 1890s he decided to form his own group. 

Between 1890 and 1900, the McAdoos (Orpheus married Mattie Allen a member of the troupe) toured South Africa and Australia constantly. In 1894 on a stop in Australia, Catherine Marshall Webb was welcomed as a member of the group.

Catherine was a contralto singer and a good one. Her pure voice rang out through some of the most imposing and important theatres in Australia to great acclaim. One review of 1894 stated:

One of the treats of the evening was a contralto solo by Miss
Marshall Webb who sang with much purity of tone and refinement of expression
“the Holy City.”
 She also had a 'narrow escape' from a double encore.
Catherine travelled to South Africa with the Jubilee Singers and stayed for several years. Whilst there she witnessed the treatment of the African population but was exempt from curfews and the attendant humiliations
because she, and the troupe were considered ‘honorary whites.’ This did not stop McAdoo from reporting on conditions for newspapers and friends in the United States.

After several years in South Africa, McAdoo broadened the appeal of his group and incorporated vaudeville acts. He travelled to the US in 1897 and returned to Africa with Joseph Jalvan, a juggler. Jalvan was an accomplished performer who specialised in juggling plates and balancing objects on clay pipes. He was popular with South African audiences and remained with McAdoo when the group returned to Australia around

Joe is on the bottom left and also seen balancing on the upper right hand side. Catherine is probably in this photo but not identified. 

They started in Western Australia in September that year and then moved to Sydney in December. McAdoo rented the Palace Theatre in that city and the group performed daily.

At the Palace in early 1899, ‘Jalvan’s exceedingly clever juggling and balancing feats were in themselves an entertainment worth the admission fee.’ Whilst Miss Marshall Webb was acclaimed as, ‘a charming mezzo soprano,’ who met with a ‘cordial response’ and ‘undeniable encores.’

In January 1899, Joseph and Catherine married in St Matthias Church in Paddington in Sydney. Mr and Mrs McAdoo were witnesses to the event. ( The church still exists)

However, the Jubilee Entertainers rarely stayed in one place for too long. In March, the newly married couple travelled with the rest of the group to New Zealand for three months. The new bride still travelled under her maiden name. They returned to Sydney in late June.

McAdoo was ill, and the troupe fell apart. The Jalvans needed to work and in July, Jalvan, ‘the great juggler and oriental entertainer,’ advertised that he was ‘open for engagements at socials parties etc.’ Joe and Catherine were living at 430 Bourke Street Sydney at the time. Later that month, McAdoo died and was buried at a local cemetery on the cliffs of Sydney Harbour.

Socials and parties were not enough to pay the bills, so by October 1899, Catherine and Joe were in Country Victoria touring with a group called, Chillie and Jalvan’s Jubilee Entertainers and Cake Walkers. Catherine sang
‘Killarney’ and Joe juggled ‘plates, cards, feathers, tops, fans, lamps, and balanced pipes with a pigeon on top. 

The show included an early exhibition of the cake walk and both black and white performers.

However, they lasted only a brief time and primarily toured regional areas in Victoria. It is possible the couple stayed with Catherine’s family during the tour. By January 1900 Chillie and Jalvan’s Entertainers were
no more and the Jalvans were a duo act. One notable appearance that month was at the Australian Natives Association festival ‘celebrating’ foundation day. The ANA restricted membership to native born Australian white men, so it was a strange gig for the Jalvans. 

In April 1900 they caused a sensation at the Geelong Easter Fair. On the last evening, Joe ‘assisted by Madame Jalvan,’ ‘did some astonishing balancing feats which must be seen to be believed.’ They performed in an
‘oriental setting’ in front of a very large and appreciative audience. Catherine also sang some songs from the Jubilee Singers’ repertoire. They were enthusiastically applauded and were obviously the hit of the festival. By this time, it seems that Catherine was assisting her husband with his juggling feats on a regular basis. 

Joe and Catherine performed for various community organisations around Victoria until October 1900 when they got their biggest break in Australia, a contract with the famous Tivoli Theatre Circuit.

They first appeared at the Bijou in Melbourne, and a new person joined the act, Stri Webb Tokey Jarro, a lady dressed in Japanese garb. It was Catherine, now fully incorporated into her husband’s turn. The newspapers
reviewed them favourably.

Jalvan is a very fine conjuror, and the manner in which he
balances a lighted lamp on his head, while he bends down and finally drinks a
glass of water, is exceedingly clever. He receives well merited applause and
looks very fine in his gorgeous clothes and in his Indian boudoir.

The Jalvans on the Sydney Tivoli Programme

After Melbourne they moved to Adelaide and were there when the Australian states federated and became a country on January 1, 1901. By this time Jalvan’s billing as ‘the Oriental wonderworker’ and the Asian setting for
the show was well established.

The critics complimented Jalvan for his skill saying.

Jalvan, a clever juggler, is as popular as ever; he relies on
skill and not magic for his success. Balancing a feather perpendicularly on the
tip of his nose appears to be a second nature for him, and he seemingly
requires no more effort than his assistant does in blandly smiling.

From Adelaide they moved to Sydney for two months where they were tremendously popular. In Sydney, the Bulletin described Joe spinning ‘a top down the edge of a sabre’ and juggling with three blocks to the air of ‘Coming thro the Rye.’

The couple returned to Melbourne. The city was celebrating the arrival of The Duke of York, later George V for the opening of the first Australian parliament. Illuminations lit the streets, holidays were declared,
and fetes. festivals and parades were constant, thousands of people crowded the displays. The Jalvans performed for the Trades and Friendly Societies Council as part of the celebrations and appeared as headliners at the Friendly Society gardens as part of this, once in a lifetime, event.

However, it seems that Australia was too small for the Jalvans, and finally after almost three years it was time to leave. They travelled to England, and by July were advertising their services through newspapers and

In October 1901 Joseph popped into the offices of the trade paper The Showman and the editor wrote a front-page account of the visit which included racial stereotypes and slurs common to the time.

 Jalvan, the juggler, called in to have a chat with the
editor. Jalvan is a cull'ed gem'man, just come over from Australia., where he
has been " working." He is a South American really but makes. up as
occa­sion requires, either as a Jap or an Indian. THE SHOWMAN in Australia., he
tells us, is looked upon as the best paper of its kind in the world; and
although they do not get it regularly every Friday, the subscribers appreciate
it as an up-to-date, valuable journal. With his pretty wife-who. by the way is
a. "yaIler gal "---Jalvan has knocked up an act of dexterity and
mystery that he will introduce to London audiences at the Balham Theatre of
Varieties on November 4th. The novelty of Jalvan's act is that it is all
performed while the artistes are either dancing to rag-time music or walking
the "Cake Walk." We shall be there to see the show! 

It is tempting to suggest, as implied by ‘being able to make up as required,’ that Joe and Catherine, by now seasoned professionals, consciously manipulated racial stereotypes to enhance their popularity. Their performances in England included an appearance at the Palladium, one of the top theatres in the country.

Around 1908 the couple arrived in the United States and started a solid career on the vaudeville circuit. In 1910, they filled in the census in Chicago. Both claimed to be Australian.

 In 1914, Catherine’s mother died in Melbourne. The death notice stated that she was the mother of Mrs Jalvan, late of the Jubilee singers. Clearly Catherine’s family were proud of her connections to both the Jubilee singers and to Joe.

Unfortunately, Catherine did not live much longer. In 1919, Billboard Magazine reported that' Katherine', wife of Joe, of the Juggling Jalvans had died in Macomb Mississippi in the United States. She may have been a victim of the flu epidemic. She and Joe were working for the Hagenbeck- Wallace show at the time.

Joe continued performing regularly and passed away in 1955.