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J. Hartford Armstrong

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J. Hartford Armstrong
BornJohn Hartford Armstrong
circa 1886
Spartanburg, South Carolina
DiedJune 16, 1939 (age 52)
Resting placeSteven Foster Grove Cemetery in Charleston

Prof. J. Hartford Armstrong (1886-1939), who developed his act for church and school performances, was one of the most successful black magician performing outside minstrel and vaudeville shows in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Around 1886 Armstrong became an apprentice to an unnamed Haitian magician who was touring the American South. With his brother Joseph, he began performing throughout the Carolinas as the Armstrong Brothers. After Joseph lost interest, Armstrong teamed up briefly with a comedian named Jordan as "Armstrong and Jordan". Eventually Armstrong decided to work solo.

He married around 1909 to Mabel White who joined him in the act as his assistant. Developing a full evening show, they expanded their territory to the entire East Coast and were particular favorites at colleges. They also later found success working the black Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits.

He became respected in black communities becoming known as the "King of the Colored Conjurors."

Mabel died in 1914, shortly after giving birth to their daughter Ellen. Armstrong later married Lily Mills, who joined the act as an accomplished musician. They developed a Second Sight act. Ellen, by the age of six, was assisting her father as he presented his illusions. By the time she was in her teens, she had taken over the Chalk Talk part of the show.

Armstrong died from heart failure in June of 1939 and Ellen carried on with the show, soon billing herself as the "Mistress of Modern Magic". [1] [2] [3] [4]

He was elected to the Society of American Magicians Hall of Fame and Magic Museum.


  1. A History of Blacks in Magic, by Jim Magus - King of the Colored Conjurors, in The Linking Ring, Vol. 64, No. 1, January 1984, page 35
  2. The King of Colored Conjurers, by Jim Magus, in GENII, Vol. 55, No. 4, February 1992, page 260
  3. Conjure Times : Black Magicians in America by Jim Haskins, Kathleen Benson (2001)