San Francisco Minstrels

Event Information

San Francisco Minstrels Hall

Price: $.30 family circle; .50 parquet; .75 reserved parquet; $5 private boxes

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
2 May 2012

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

08 May 1865, Evening
09 May 1865, Evening
10 May 1865, Evening
11 May 1865, Evening
12 May 1865, Evening
13 May 1865, Evening

Program Details

Venue advertised as "Heller's Hall."

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Prisoner's hope; Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching
Composer(s): Root
Text Author: Root
Participants:  Ira [minstrel] Paine
Composer(s): Unknown composer
aka Imitations of famous actors; Imitations of popular actors
Participants:  Charley Backus
Composer(s): Bishop
Participants:  Billy Birch [minstrel]


Advertisement: New York Clipper, 29 April 1865, 22.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 29 April 1865, 22.

      “A new minstrel organization is shortly to appear before us, and, from the names of the leading men in it, we have every reason to believe that their entertainments will be inferior to none of that class in the country.  Although the troupe, as now organized, is new to us, nevertheless it embraces several of the most popular performers now in the business, some of them well and favorably known in this city, where they have repeatedly appeared.  In this category we may name Billy Birch, whose abilities as an Ethiopian comedian are of the highest order, and whose special acts and eccentricities are an entertainment in themselves; sweet William will be an end man; his vis-à-vis, another capital comedian, is Charley Backus – between these two great expounders of the black laws and profits, we shall have some lucid dissertations on general topics of the day and night; and between them, too, we shall have that great basso and interlocutor, W. Bernard, who will pave the way for the shots and squibs of his brethren at either end of the line.  To complete this nucleus for a great band, we have David Wambold, the sweetest ballad singer in the minstrel profession.  These gentlemen are now completing their organization, and expect to give their opening performance at Heller’s Salle Diabolique, Broadway, opposite Niblo’s Garden, on Monday evening, May 8th. They have but recently arrived from California, and are known here as Birch, Wambold, Bernard and Backus’ San Francisco Minstrels.”

Advertisement: New York Herald, 01 May 1865, 7.

     “The great original Birch, Wambold, Bernard and BackusSan Francisco Minstrels, surnamed the Emperors of Minstrelsy, will open at the above hall, Monday Evening, May 8, when they will present an entire new Entertainment of genuine humor, New burlesques and sterling music, combining all the pathetic and ludicrous traits in darkey life, portrayed by master hands, and pronounced by the elite of the Pacific, inimitable and unapproachable.”

Advertisement: New York Herald, 08 May 1865, 7.

     “Fifteen star performers.  The Californians triumphant!!  The entire band received with acclamation.  Crowded with the elite of the city.”

Announcement: New York Herald, 08 May 1865.

      “San Francisco Minstrels – Heller’s Saloon – This troupe, consisting of Birch, Wambold, Bernard and Backus, with extraordinary talented auxiliaries, will open this bijou this evening.  Their style is new in this region, and they will endeavor to deserve success.” 

Advertisement: New York Clipper, 13 May 1865, 39.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 13 May 1865, 40.

     “The original and only Birch, Wambold, Bernard & Backus’ San Francisco Minstrels, late of Maguire’s Academy of Music, have arrived, and will open at Heller’s Hall, 585 Broadway, on Monday evening, May 8th, 1865.”

Review: New York Clipper, 20 May 1865, 46.

     “The San Francisco Minstrels – under the management of Billy Birch, D.S. Wambold, W. Bernard and Charley Backus – lately returned from the Pacific Slope, gave their first performance in this city on the 8th inst., at Heller’s Salle Dabolique [sic], 585 Broadway.  The company gave three entertainments the previous week in Newark N.J. and got in good working order.  When the doors were opened for their first appearance in this city, the passage way from the entrance to the box office was one complete jam, and as soon as the ticket seller commenced work, there was a line out to the curb stone on Broadway, which continued so for at least twenty minutes.  When the curtain rose the house was crowded to its utmost capacity, and standing room was no where to be found.  Nearly the entire orchestra seats had been secured during the day, and at 75 cents a chair at that.  As the curtain rose, and the company – numbering in the first part, twelve – were seen, such a reception as greeted them has seldom been heard in any minstrel hall in this country.  The overture and opening chorus were very well given, the instrumental music being pretty fair.  C. F. Shattuck, the basso, sang ‘Sparkling Wine,’ in excellent style.  This gentleman, who has lately returned from the gold regions, is possessed of a good bass voice, which he knows how to use.  Charley Backus and Billy Birch are on the ends, and W. Bernard is the interlocutor.  Charley Backus sang ‘Old Messa’s Will,’ for which he received a hearty encore.  Then D. S. Wambold gave ‘Just Before the Battle, Mother,’ although he was laboring with an affection of the throat, he sang it sweetly and with good taste.  Mr. Wambold is one of the very best ballad singers in the business.  Billy Birch sang ‘I’d choose to be a baby,’ and although it is a new song in this city, there is not a doubt but that every one present would have preferred almost anything else.  It is not suited to a first class audience, composed principally of ladies, as was present on this occasion.  Ira Paine’s singing of the ‘Prisoner’s Hope’ was one of the features of the ‘first part,’ and was deservedly encored.  He has a very sweet voice, and is a pleasing ballad singer.  The ‘Anvil Chorus,’ the finale, was well done.  The second part commenced with a double song and dance by J. Cooper and W. Fields, two young men, who in this act were quite clever.  A ballad by D.S. Wambold came next on the list, but it was evident that he was suffering from a sore throat; nevertheless, he won great applause, and being encored, an apology was made by Mr. Bernard.  Billy Birch then gave one of the funny acts, called ‘Fat and Greasy.’  Billy created a great deal of laughter, and was called out, when he gave ‘If Your Foot is Pretty Show It,’ and was again called out, when he appeared in a manner hardly suited to a Broadway audience.  He made a large majority laugh, ‘tis true; but it made the judicious grieve.  Mr. Birch is possessed of considerable talent as a comedian, and can provoke as much laughter in a legitimate way as any one we know in the business; why need he then descend to vulgarity?  Confine yourself to the legitimate, William, and you will make more friends.  Backus’ imitations of several popular actors was the next feature, and here we must again find fault.  His imitation of Charles Kean as Hamlet, in the Ghost scene, was decidedly his best, and was one of the best imitations we ever heard.  As Charlotte Cushman in Meg Merriles, and Edwin Forrest in Spartacus, he was fair to middling; but when he undertakes to imitate a gentleman like Peter Richings, and turns him into ridicule, he certainly deserves censure.  Whatever his private opinion may be in regard to the talents of Mr. McKean Buchanan as an actor, we do not think it in place to give vent to them on the stage as he did on this occasion.  His imitations finished with James Stark as ‘Richelieu.’  Tim Hayes executed a medley clog dance, and did exceedingly well.  The balance of the programme embraced nothing new.  Taken as a whole, the performance seemed to please.  Birch and Backus are well known as two of the funniest end men in the business.  Mr. Bernard, the interlocutor, is a stranger among us, but as middle man he has no superior in burnt cork.  Gentlemanly in everything he does, well posted in the business, a good stage presence, and a commanding person, with a very clear voice, he will become very popular. The rest of the company are strangers to us.”