It really seems like teenagers these days can do anything. Rajon Lynch might be just a college student, but he’s already got a packed resume from work as a magician, a show organizer, a teacher, and a TEDx Talk speaker. Soon he’ll add playwright and historian.
After a childhood where he was known as both the funny guy and a casual magician, Lynch started taking magic more seriously when he was asked to teach the craft at French Woods, a New York performing arts camp. Although he was an instructor, Lynch told The Journal Times that his stint at French Woods was critical in improving his own performance skills, which he know showcases under the name RJ the Magician.
“They really taught me how to take the tricks and turn them into acts that people want to watch,” he said. “I can be the loudest person in the room or the funniest person in the room, and people pay me for it now.”
Lynch is a member of the International Association of Black Magical Artists, and has since drawn inspiration from the history he has learned about from that group, including performers Richard Potter and Benjamin Rucker. His next project is writing a play about four black magicians. “They were the first black entertainers that paved the way for me,” he said. Lynch hopes to complete the play by Black History Month in 2019.
If the name of Richard Potter doesn’t ring any bells, then check out his biography by John A. Hodgson. Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity is an important story for any and all interested in magic history. And if you want to see RJ the Magician in action, he’s currently performing a restaurant show called Now Serving Magic around Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
When it comes to early magicians, it can feel like a nigh impossible task to separate fact from fiction. In the case of Richard Potter, though, we’re pretty sure he didn’t actually throw a ball of yarn into the air, then climb up the tail end of string and disappear into thin air as the legends once claimed.
Author John A. Hodgson is pretty sure it didn’t happen either. Hodgson has written a new biography about the performer titled Richard Potter: America’s First Black Celebrity. The fantastical rumors about the country’s first native-born magician are certainly wild, but his real life was pretty dang compelling too.
He lived from 1783 to 1835, the son of a white man and an enslaved black woman. Potter spent time in Europe as a teenager where he apprenticed in some circus arts before returning to the States. After his return, Potter built up an act that blended sleight of hand with acrobatic balancing and ventriloquism. His unique skill set led him to become “the most famous and beloved entertainer in all of America,” according to Potter. His achievements and success are all the more impressive for happening in the decades leading up to the American Civil War.
The biography is due out in February 2018 from the University of Virginia Press. It’s available on Amazon for pre-order.