You are here

Bessie McCoy Davis


Elevated to stardom on the power of one odd song--"The Yama Yama"--sung in pajamas of clownish proportions in the 1909 musical "The Three Twins," the much loved Bessie McCoy exemplifed the kind of charm to which every revue singer-dancer aspired. Trained as a dancing girl in New York in the early 1890s, she toured vaudeville with her sister as a dancing duo. Her skill with acrobatic dancing caused her to be hired as an ensemble dancer in that 1896 hit, "A Trip to Chinatown." The brilliant stage dancer Bessie Clayton, only a year older than McCoy, became her model for technique. Davis returned to the music halls with her sister, adding vocal performances to their routines.

When her sister's health failed, McCoy continued as a solo act, securing a dancing role in "Mam'selle Napoleon," a Gustav Luders musical sketch that went from vaudeville to a Broadway house in 1903.  She became a fixture at the Hippodrome Shows, occasionally performing a name part. By 1906 her singing skills had advanced to the point where she was offered a featured role in musicals, Rosalie in "The Spring Chicken," a modest hit. 1908's "The Three Twins" marked her ascent to fame. She was the toast of the town.

At this juncture novelist and newspaper journalist Richard Harding Davis wooed and won her, taking her away from Broadway to Mt. Kiskoe, Maine.  They enjoyed wedded bliss until diseases that Davis had contracted while reporting on trench warfare in World War I killed him. Bessie McCoy Davis returned to Broadway to support herself and Florenz Ziegfeld himself, who had featured McCoy in the 1911 Follies shortly before her marriage, gave her a vehicle for her return, in "Miss 1917." For three years she reprised the "Yama Yama Dance" in various revues before returning to the congenial world of vaudeville where she spent the remainder of her performing life. Her influence lived in on the person of Irene Castle who modeled her performing ethos on Davis. David S. Shields/ALS