(Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
It is not clear whether Ira Frederick Aldridge's birth on July 24, 1807, took place in New York, Maryland or the continent of Africa. But one thing about which there is no question is his extraordinary acting talent.
Aldridge was educated in New York, at the African Free School and Schenectady College, where he is believed to have developed his interest in theater and acting. As a teen, he performed with the African Grove Theatre in New York City, which was reportedly the first U.S. theater managed by African-Americans.
He went on to study at the University of Glasgow in Scotland before making his stage debut in London in 1825. He performed the role of Prince Oroonoko of Africa in The Revolt of Surinam, or A Slave's Revenge.
Aldridge achieved true acclaim in the role of Othello, which he performed at the Covent Garden Theatre in 1833. He also has played King Lear and Macbeth.
The thespian performed throughout Great Britain, as well as in Berlin, Stockholm, Brussels, Vienna and St. Petersburg. According to writer Ben Arogundade, the French poet and novelist Théophile Gautier hailed Aldridge's performance in Russia as "Othello himself, as Shakespeare has created him…quiet, reserved, classic and majestic."
Aldridge died at age 59 while on tour in Poland, where he was given a state funeral.
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