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William H. West (June 18, 1853 – February 15, 1902) was known as the "Progressive Minstrel", who emulated the British minstrel owner Sam Hague and became one of the first white owners of a minstrel troupe composed of black performers in the United States.[1]

William H. "Billy" West
Harvard Theatre Collection - William West TCS 1.1069.jpg
Born(1853-06-18)June 18, 1853
DiedFebruary 15, 1902(1902-02-15) (aged 48)
Other names"Billy" West
Known forMinstrel Shows
Spouse(s)Fay Templeton (annulled)
Lizette Morris (her death)
Emma Hanley (his death)


He was born on June 18, 1853, in Syracuse, New York.[1]

He often produced and played minstrel shows with George Primrose, first with a minstrel troupe owned by J. H. Haverly, and later in a show known as Primrose and West starring entertainers Milt G. Barlow and George Wilson, under the management of Henry J. Sayers.

Primrose and West had a hit, and they came to be called "The Millionaires of Minstrelsy".[2] He became the sole producer of the supposedly Richest and Costliest Minstrel Organization in Existence: West's Big Minstrel Jubilee, which featured some of the leading performers of the day, always ending with the cast, in blackface, singing songs of the period.

He died on February 15, 1902, in Chicago, Illinois, of cancer.[1] He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. On his grave marker are these words: "None Knew Him But To Love Him. None named him save in praise."


  1. ^ a b c "William H. West Dead. The Well-Known Minstrel Passes Away in Chicago After a Long Illness" (PDF). New York Times. February 16, 1902.
  2. ^ 1882. Newspaper clipping from "How Burnt Cork Pays." Quoted in Toll 154.