Ira Aldridge: Theatrical Trailblazer

Ira Aldridge, Possibly in the Role of Othello
William Mulready (Irish, 1786–1863)
ca. 1826
oil on panel, 151516 × 1134 in.
Ira Aldridge is believed to have been born in New York City around 1807 (though some early biographies say he was born in Bel Air, Maryland), the son of a free Black preacher named Daniel and his wife Luranah. Although there were some theatre opportunities for African-Americans in New York, including The African Company, which is considered this country’s first black troupe, acting was not a financially feasible career choice for a young Black man in America, so Ira Aldridge moved to England. Artist William Mulready painted this oil painting around 1826, when Aldridge would have been around 19 years old, about one year after Aldridge’s first performances in England.

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