Ira Aldridge(1807-1867), Actor
Ira Frederick Aldridge
Sitter in 4 portraits
Born and educated at the African Free School in New York, Aldridge came to Britain in 1824, and first appeared in the lead role of Othello at the Royalty Theatre in the east end of London the following year. In 1833 he made his West End debut playing Othello again at Covent Garden, replacing Edmund Kean. Audiences were positive but reviews were mixed on the idea of a black actor in such a prestigious role. Aldridge continued to perform around Britain, seeking out various black roles as well as famous typically white roles, including Lear, Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III. He toured Europe, becoming one of the highest paid actors in the world. His subsequent reputation led to a triumphant return to the London stage in 1855. Aldridge is the only actor of African-American descent among the 33 actors of the English stage honoured with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Watch a film clip on the sitter from the BBC Archive in the Media section below