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

Young, William "Billy"

(born: October 31, 1860  -  died: January 27, 1914) 

William "Billy" Young and D. W. McCabe owned a minstrel company called Black Star Comedy Company. It was one of the few minstrel companies owned by African Americans during the 1880s, and one of the few owned by an African American from Kentucky. Billy Young was born in Lexington, KY, and it has been written that he grew up in Cincinnati, OH. His age is taken from the 1910 letter by Young that was published in a New York newspaper in celebration of his 50th birthday on October 31st. --Sources: "The Casino," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 07/11/1885, p.12; and "Celebrates 50th Birthday," The New York Age, 11/10/1910, p.6.

It is not known at this time if Billy Young or his parents were enslaved in Kentucky. His parents' names are not given in the 1904 newspaper article that mentioned Billy Young visiting his parents in Lexington, KY in 1904. Billy Young was taking a week-long vacation from his job as interlocutor of the Georgia Minstrels. -- Source: "Billy Young is in the city ...," Lexington Leader, 08/14/1904, p.2.

Billy Young's stage career began in the 1870s. At some point after that, he teamed up with D. W. McCabe and they played to audiences around the country, including the southern states and even Cuba. Young was equally talented at singing, dancing, and performing comedy and tragedy, and he was also a scriptwriter. His name and performance locations were frequently reported in the Lexington, KY, newspapers. He was sometimes referred to as "Clever Billy Young."

When between seasons, Billy Young would return home to Lexington, KY. During his down time, he organized benefit programs for African American organizations in Lexington. In 1896, he organized the Jubilee Day (July 15) program at Woodland Park to benefit St. Andrew's Church, and he also held a benefit for the Colored Orphans Home. There had been a change in Billy Young's professional career; he was no longer with the Young and McCabe company. In the fall of 1891, McCabe had ditched the company in Mexico, took off with the money, and was not heard from again until 1894 when he was head of a new company. After a stay in Lexington, in 1896, Billy Young joined the Wahanna's Mammoth Minstrels. This was only one of the many companies that he would perform with during his career on the stage. --Sources: "Billy Young," The Leader, 06/12/1896, p.7; "Billy Young, the well-known colored minstrel ...," The Morning Herald, 06/13/1896, p.5; and "Billy Young's Show," The Morning Herald, 06/18/1896, p.5. 

There are lots of newspaper articles that trace and document the careerpath of William "Billy" Young with McCabe and without McCabe. Young had played the straight man in the first production of the Smart Set with Kentuckians Billy McClain and Earnest Hogan. Young was also the straight man with the Black Patti Troubadours. His performances were in high demand. In 1895, Billy Young was heading Mahara's Minstrels, managed by William A. Mahara.

Billy Young remained with Mahara's Minstrels for several years. When in Lexington, he continued to organize benefits, and one of the last benefits was held at the Colored Odd Fellows Hall in 1901. His former business partner D. W. McCabe died in 1907. The years were starting to tell on Billy Young who liked his rye and bourbon. He continued to perform until 1912 when he developed lung problems. William "Billy" Young died of tuberculosis in St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, KY, on January 27, 1914. Henry Edson was the informant on his Kentucky Death Certificate File #8926, Registered #300 (Ancestry). According to his death certificate, Billy Young was buried in African Cemetery #2. -- Source: "Billy Young Benefit," Lexington Leader, 07/09/1901, p.8.

Billy Young had returned home when he became too ill to work. He was the husband of Lizzie Young. The couple was sued on a $250 promissory note in 1912 by Kathrine A. Mahara, administratrix of William A. Mahara. The promissory note was dated October 12, 1909. At the noon hour on April 8, 1912, Billy and Lizzie Young's home off of N. Upper Street was sold at a Master Commissioner's sale. The home went to the highest bidder at a public auction on the steps of the Fayette County Courthouse. -- "Sue on promissory note," Lexington Leader, 03/15/1912, p.2; and "Master Commissioner's Sale," The Lexington Herald, 04/05/1912, p.9.  

For more about Billy Young see Out of Sight: the Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, by L. Abbott and D. Seroff; and Father of the Blues, an autobiography, by W. C. Handy.

*Thank you to J. P. Johnson, Lexington Public Library, for pointing out William "Billy" Young's death certificate in Ancestry.

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“Young, William "Billy",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-02-20 21:26:53