Master Juba, Illustrated London News, 1848 Pictured: Illustrated London News, 5 August 1848. Master Juba was the stage name of William Henry Lane. His performances received extensive discussion in the press of his time.


Born William Henry Lane, Master Juba (c.1825-c.1852) combined quick footwork with powerful African rhythms in an extraordinary style that evolved into American tap dance. Lane was born a freeman in Rhode Island and began his early career in Manhattan's Five Points neighborhood, mastering the dances of Irish immigrants and free blacks. In this antebellum era, when blacks were not allowed to perform with whites, Master Juba was the first African-American to obtain international prominence as a minstrel entertainer, performing with four well-known early minstrel companies. Music historian Eileen Southern has noted that Master Juba was "a link between the white world and authentic black source materials, whose dancing contributed to the preservation of artistic integrity in the performance of black dances on the minstrel stage." In 1848 he performed to high critical praise in London with Pell's Ethiopian Serenaders and writers of the time noted that Master Juba's dancing utilized a potent mixture of jig, clog dancing, and African-American styles with unique rhythms. Because Europe was more accepting of Lane and his dancing, he became one of the first expatriate black dancers, never returning to the United States.

Learn more in William Henry Lane, an essay by Constance Valis Hill.