Have you ever heard of Black Herman? Born in Virginia in 1892, the stage magician, entertainer and hoodoo dabbler, whose original name was Benjamin Rucker, was one of the most prominent of his time. Learning his skills from Prince Herman (Alonzo Moore), Rucker took Herman’s name in honor of him after he died in 1909, and became popular in Harlem.
In 1925, Rucker published “Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain,” which contained semi-autobiographical account, instructions for simple illusions for amateur magicians, advice on astrology and lucky numbers, and a sampling of African American hoodoo folk magic customs and practices. An announcement on the book’s title page, “Black Herman Comes Through Every Seven Years”, referred to Herman’s pattern of returning to venues on a regular basis; the book was sold at his performances, although it has been determined that he was not the author.
Rucker died in 1934 while doing a stage act in Louisville, Kentucky. Known for his “buried alive” act, audience members refused to believe he died. His assistant, Washington Reeves charged admission to view Rucker’s corpse in the funeral home, bringing a dramatic end to the entertainer’s life. Rucker lived on through musician Sun Ra, who was named after him because Ra’s mother liked Rucker’s performances, and as the detective-sidekick in Ishmael Reed’s 1972 novel “Mumbo Jumbo.”