G.H. Elliott (1884–1962)
G.H. Elliott was one of Britain’s best-loved blackface entertainers in the days before such things became unthinkable. Like Gracie Fields, he was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, and as a child was taken to the United States, where he learned his craft with the Primrose West Minstrels.1 Among the songs particularly associated with him are I Want To Go To Idaho, I Used To Sigh For The Silvery Moon, and Sue, Sue, Sue. Elliott’s long career carried him well into the 1940s. He retired to a house in Rottingdean, East Sussex, that he called “Silvery Moon,” and is buried in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, Rottingdean.2
Elliott’s blackface persona was not meant to parody. He was elegant and sophisticated — Peter Honri relates, perhaps a bit facetiously, that, in blacking up, he always used champagne corks.3 Music Hall historian W. Macqueen-Pope calls him “the nearest approach to the wonderful Eugene Stratton the Halls ever knew”4 — although S. Theodore Felstead accords that accolade to another blackface performer, Dubliner Tom E. Finglass.5 In a country with few non-white people to be offended by it, as Britain then was, minstrelsy, though undoubtedly racist in origin, did not have quite the problematic history as in America, where, in the 1920s, slavery was still a living memory. In any case, the borrowed entertainment form would soon be replaced by genuine British affection for actual black performers such as Louis Armstrong, to whom Fred Godfrey introduced his daughter Peggie backstage at the London Palladium during Satchmo’s 1932 visit, and the Grenadian pianist and singer Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, a mainstay of London café society who had plenty of enthusiastic female admirers — a later era would call them “groupies” — of whom Peggie most certainly was one.
Elliott recorded three Fred Godfrey songs: You’ve Got Me And I’ve Got You (with his wife Emilie Hays; Zonophone 1518, 1914); There’s A Little Baby Up In The Moon (Zonophone Twin 1468, 1915); and Mammy’s Mississippi Home (Zonophone 2110, 1920). In addition, on stage he performed Godfrey’s I Want You To See My Girl (January 1909).
1 Peter Gammond, The Oxford Companion to Popular Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 176.