Singer and dancer, Maude Russell Rutherford was billed the “Slim Princess, during the glory days of black theater in the 1920s. She has been credited with introducing the Charleston on Broadway.
Rutherford was born in Texas to a black mother, Margaret Lee, and a white father, William McCann. While a teenager, Rutherford worked as a ticket taker. During this time, she met Sam Russell who was a star of black theater at the time, and soon to be her husband. Russell persuaded her to go with him on the road, however, Rutherford wanted him to marry her first. The marriage was a violent one and short. With a 100 dollars, Rutherford left her husband and struck out in the entertainment business on her own.
She worked with Josephine Baker, Pearl Bailey, and Fats Waller. During this time she was billed as the Slim Princess. Although she was never a star, she was one of the favorites at Harlem’s Cotton Club.
Rutherford led the chorus line in the Charleston in 1922 in a show called “Liza,” an all-black revue with lyrics and music by Maceo Pinkard. The dance became a rage the following year when it was performed in “Runnin’ Wild,” which is usually credited as the show that brought the Charleston to Broadway.
Rutherford often played the happy, good-time girl in film roles. Offstage, she had a no-nonsense personality and spoke her mind. Her theater credits included ”Dixie to Broadway” (1924), ”Chocolate Scandals” (1927) and ”Keep Shufflin’ ” (1928). She left show business in the 1950’s and in 1953 married her fifth husband, Septimus Rutherford, chief steward for the Moore-McCormack Lines. She worked as a switchboard operator in an Atlantic City hotel.