From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Kersands, William "Billy"

(born: 1842  -  died: 1915) 

Billy Kersands was a blackface minstrel and vaudeville performer known for his comedy, dancing, singing, musical performances, and acrobatics. He was about six feet tall, weighed nearly 200 pounds, and had a large mouth, which he filled with various objects during his stage performances. He was one of the most popular African American entertainers of his time.

Kersands began as a minstrel performer in the 1860s. His exact birth location is not known but has been given as Baton Rouge, LA in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, New York is listed as his birth location. (Kersands was living in Louisville, KY at the home of Carrie Jackson at the time of the census, listed as Jackson's son-in-law.)

According to a newspaper article, Kersands had been enslaved in Kentucky and was freed after the Civil War [source: Iowa State Reporter, 12/4/1878, p. 8]. In 1895, Billy Kersands married Louisa Strong in Ascension, LA; the couple later owned a vaudeville company.

Billy Kersands performed with a number of groups:  the Charles Hicks Minstrels, the Harvey Minstrels, Richards and Pringle's Georgia Minstrels, and others, including his own company Kersands' Minstrels, as well as Louisa and Billy Kersands' vaudeville company.

Billy Kersands performed throughout the United States and in England for Queen Victoria.

For more see The Ghost Walks, by H. T. Sampson; Historical Dictionary of American Theater: beginnings by James Fisher; and Staging Race, by K. Sotiropoulos.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Kersands, William "Billy",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-08-10 17:55:54