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Black Entertainers
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Isabel Sanford
Topic: Actors & Actresses

born:August 29,1917
death:July 12, 2004

Born in August 29,1917 in Harlem, New York, Isabel (born Eloise Gwendolyn) Sanford was the youngest of seven children and the only one to live past infancy. As a child, Sanford found respite from her poverty-stricken life by making people laugh. As a teen, she won rave reviews at an amateur night at the Apollo, but her performing dreams were put on hold when her mother fell ill. Although Sanford wanted to be an actress, she was forced to take over her mom's job as a cleaning lady. Sanford married housepainter William "Sonny" Richmond during this tough time, and shortly after tying the knot, they brought daughter Pamela into the world.

Between the births of her next two children, Sanford finally made her stage debut, in the 1946 production of "On Striver's Row" at the renown American Negro Theater. In 1960, Sanford decided to leave her unhappy marriage and take her three children to Los Angeles. The single mother was barely off the bus before legendary actress Tallulauh Bankhead asked her to join the national production of "Here Today." Sanford appreciated the break, although she encountered discrimination during the tour. The actress's next stint was in the all-African-American production of James Baldwin's "Amen Corner." The hit show moved to Broadway, where Sanford captured the attention of film director Stanley Kramer, who immediately cast her in the 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Her performance in the movie dazzled critics and showbiz insiders.

In 1971, TV producer Norman Lear hired Sanford to play neighbor to the Bunkers on the sitcom "All in the Family." Four years later, the spin-off series "The Jeffersons" debuted, and America's first black sitcom family was born, with Sanford as matriarch Louise ("Weezy"). In 1981, Sanford became the first African-American to win an Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Sanford made guest appearances on other shows and specials and appeared in the 1979 film Love at First Bite. Other film roles include Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Original Gangstas (1996). The show's 10-year run ended abruptly when the network cancelled it in 1985. Since then, Sanford and co-star Sherman Hemsley have teamed up for numerous guest-star appearances on other sitcoms, including "The Parkers" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," giving them the opportunity to work with fellow African-American actors who consider the two veteran performers as role models. Isabelle Sanford died on July 12, 2004.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 3:27 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 3:40 PM EST
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Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Slappy White
Topic: Black Comedians

Born:September 21,1921
Death:November 7,1995

Born Melvin White in Baltimore, Maryland, he was raised in poverty and started out dancing on the streets for small change.  Slappy White's official biography reported that he actually "ran away to join the circus" as a child. White's most notable success in later years was his being a fixture at the infamous Friar's Club "Roasts" where he routinely delivered memorable performances that stood toe to toe with roast legends like Milton Berle, Jackie Vernon, Pat Buttram and Dick Shawn. White was very well known as a reliable "heavy hitter" by the roast organizers, capable of "saving" a roast that had lost momentum due to lesser comics bombing.

In contrast to the ability to hold his own in the off-color humor world of the Friars Roasts, Slappy White also wrote and performed a highly respected and innovative "straight" routine using one black and one white glove while reciting his poem about equality between men. Performed many times at the height of the civil rights movement in America, White once recounted that President John F. Kennedy gave it a heartfelt standing ovation.

Although not as well known today, Slappy White was one of several unsung heroes who paved the way for the enormous success of the generations of black comedy performers who followed him. White has enjoyed somewhat of a minor renaissance after his death owing to some select "bootleg" recordings of the Friars Club Roasts becoming available through outlets of comedy records.

At one time, he partnered with Redd Foxx. Many years later, after both had become famous comics, they would sometimes perform together. White often drew upon the hardships of his early life to create his comedy. The wearing of a white and a black glove on either hand to symbolize the need for racial harmony was one of White's special trademarks.

At the Royal Theatre, he opened for people like Dinah Washington, Willie Mae "the gal who gave you Hound Dog" Thornton and Johnny Ace, a doomed singer who may have cut the first rock 'n' roll record.

In 1969, White teamed with Steve Ross and they became one of the first successful racially mixed comedy acts. White made his feature-film debut with Ross in the silly sexploitation film The Man from O.R.G.Y. (1970). White sometimes appeared on television. In 1972, White played "Melvin" on Red Foxx's sitcom Sanford and Son. He also had a regular role on the 1995 children's series Fudge. He made his last film appearance in the Billy Crystal vehicle Mr. Saturday Night (1991). White was an honor board member and inductee in the National Comedy Hall of Fame. Slappy died of a heartattack in 1995.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 10:46 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, December 27, 2008 2:40 PM EST
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Nipsey Russell
Topic: Black Comedians

Born:October 13, 1925
Death:October 2, 2005

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Nipsey attended Washington High School there and the College Conservatory of Music, now affiliated with the University of Cincinnati. A student of classical literature as well as foreign languages, Russell matched his distinguished credits in college with meritorious service during World War II. After the war, Captain Russell spent 1946-1948 working in Montreal, and in 1949 joined "The Show Goes On," a TV series. Through the fifties, fashionable East Side residents of New York journeyed to Harlem's "Baby Grand" club to see Nipsey's stand-up act. Billed as "Harlem's Son of Fun," Nipsey wore a white straw hat and tended to tell a lot of light-hearted adult gags. He issued several albums of what now would be considered GP-rated material. His risque patter included a rhyme about a tattooed lady.

Nipsey did just enough political material to maintain his own integrity, such as the one about the integration problems in Little Rock. After appearing at a 1959 Carnegie Hall benefit for Martin Luther King Jr., Jack Paar booked Nipsey for "The Tonight Show." This major television exposure led to more club dates and more record albums. Russell's one-liners tended to be sunny. But at the start of the 60's, it was Dick Gregory, with a far sterner delivery and stronger political commentary who captured white liberal audiences . For Nipsey, it was an indignity to be considered an "also ran" in Gregory's shadow. In the New York Post in 1964, three years after Gregory's rise, Russell was still burning. Russell did have a few "firsts" in the 60's -- the first black to host a quiz show ("Missing Links,") and one of the first to have a co-starring role in a sitcom (he played an officer on 1961's "Car 54 Where Are You?").

In the radical late 60's and early 70's, when Dick Gregory gave up comedy for the lecture circuit and Richard Pryor was blowing audiences away with reverse-racism, Russell's kindly comedy and rhymes seemed out of touch. He got little respect from critics. Even his name bothered some, since it seemed to go back to burlesque black names: "Mantan" Moreland, "Slappy" White or "Pigmeat" Markham. He insisted Nipsey was his real name, and that was that: "My mother just liked the way it sounded." Over the years Russell starred in several touring comedies, including "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in Atlantic City in 1990. Russell was always a favorite in casinos, always including his trademark little poems along with the jokes.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 8:01 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2005 1:09 PM EDT
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Tim Moore
Topic: Black Comedians

October 30,1888
Harry Roscoe "Tim" Moore was the son of Harry and Cynthia Moore. He grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, where he began his show business career as a child shuffling and singing for passersby on street corners. At the age of 12, Moore and partner Romeo Washburn left Rock Island to join a vaudeville troupe, appearing in an act called Cora Miskel and Her Gold Dust Twins. Moore talents and his skills soon took him to the British music halls. Returning to the States, he joined a medicine show that played vacant lots all over the Midwest.

There, Moore began developing his "con-man" person selling a cure-all potion to gullible customers. His varied career then included a stint as a carnival "geek," and in Hawaii he posed as a native tour guide, taking carloads of tourists around Oahu. At 15, he returned home and worked as a fly-shooer in a stable and a fight manager eventually touring as a professional boxer named "Young Klondike" and earning $110,000, winning 84 of 104 fights. Following this Moore developed a one-man version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." He portrayed both Simon Legree and Uncle Tom, performing with one half his face made up with white chalk and the other with burnt cork. Moore also toured on the black vaudeville circuit, commonly appearing with his wife Gertrude.

In the '20s, Moore teamed up with Mantan Moreland, working with Blackbirds of 1928. Moore appeared in a number of black musical revues over a period of 15 to 20 years including Fast and Furious, Take the Air, Shuffle Along, Harlem Scandals, and Rhapsody in Black. He also appeared on a radio series Westinghouse program in 1934. Moore wrote nearly all of his own material as well as skits for other performers, W. C. Fields bought one of his sketches, ?Not a Fit Night for Man nor Beast.? Some of Moore films were, His Great Chance 1923, Darktown Revue Oscar Michaeux Films, 1931, and the Donald Heywood Choir 1950.

Moore made some appearances on Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" television program and appeared at the Apollo Theatre. By the beginning of the 1950's, he had retired to his native Rock Island, Moore had already been in show business for 50 years when he was chosen to play the role of George "Kingfish" Stevens in the television version of the wildly popular "Amos 'n' Andy" radio show. The show ran from June 28, 1951, on CBS through June 11, 1953. The Amos 'n' Andy Show was the 13th highest rated show during its first year on the air. For that same season the top-rated show was Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Tim Moore died in December 1958.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 7:53 PM EST
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Willie Best
Topic: Black Comedians

He was born in Sunflower, Mississippi on May 27, 1916. 

Best was a native of Sunflower, Mississippi. LA Times obituary mentioned that Best had arrived in Hollywood as chauffeur for a vacationing couple. He began his performing career with a traveling show in California, then became a regular character actor in Hollywood films after a talent scout discovered him on stage. Best was alternately loved as a great clown, then reviled, then pitied, finally virtually forgotten.  Unfortunately, much like his contemporary "Stepin Fetchit", he was typecast as the dimwitted, slow-speaking black man so often that he took on the name "Sleep n' Eat" for a time. 

This did not diminish his natural talent for comedy. He built up a fine list of film and TV credits and worked with some of the best talent including: the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Laurel & Hardy and Shirley Temple. He was often criticized by Black Civil Rights groups for his portrayals as were most black actors of the times.
He died on February 27, 1962 of cancer in Hollywood, California.  Hal Roach called him one of the greatest talents he had ever met. He appeared in over a hundred films of the 30s and 40s.

He died on February 27, 1962 at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, CA of cancer, at age forty-five. He was buried (by the Actor's Fund) on March 5, 1962 in an unmarked grave in Lot #22, section 999 at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.


Among his impressive film credits are: "Deep South" (1930) his film debut; "Little Miss Marker" (1934) as Dizzy Memphis and "The Littlest Rebel" (1935) as James Henry, both with Shirley Temple; "Blondie" (1938) as a Porter; "The Ghost Breakers" (1940) with Bob Hope, as Alex; "High Sierra" (1941) with Humphrey Bogart, as Algernon; "Cabin in the Sky" (1943) as Second Idea Man; "A Haunting We Will Go" with Laurel & Hardy, as a Waiter; "The Adventures of Mark Twain" (1944) as George; "Hold That Blonde" (1945) as Willie Shelley and "South of Caliente" (1951) his final film. On TV he was a regular on "My Little Margie" (1952-55) as Charlie, the elevator operator; "The Stu Erwin Show" (1950-55) as Willie and "Waterfront" (1953-56) as Willie Slocum.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 7:42 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, December 27, 2008 2:49 PM EST
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TOBA Circuit
Topic: Black Comedians
TOBA and Blacks in Vaudeville

Vaudeville did much to to teach audiences of different ethnic and social backgrounds to get along. Defying the racist norm that dominated American society, vaudeville had black and white performers sharing the same stage as early as the 1890s. But managers had to deal with the legal and social realities of their time. Most southern states did not allow blacks and whites to sit in the same theatre, and even most Northern cities barred blacks from the best seats as late as the 1920s.

The TOBA Circuit ("Theatre Owners Booking Agency," which performers re-named "Tough On Black Asses") were the only venues below the Mason-Dixon Line that welcomed "colored" customers in the early part of the 20th Century, offering all-black bills for all-black audiences. For midnight performances on Saturdays, some TOBA houses allowed whites to sneak into the balcony. Admission was twenty five cents in most TOBA houses, so production budgets were tight. Many black performers accustomed to top pay in big-time vaudeville performed this circuit for a fraction of their usual fee. It was the only way they could reach the appreciative black audiences of the deep South.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 7:35 PM EST
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Pigmeat Markham
Topic: Black Comedians

Pigmeat Markham (April 18, 1904 - December 13, 1981) was an entertainer from the United States of America, best known as a comedian; Markham was also a singer, dancer, and actor.

"Pigmeat" was born as Dewey Markham in Durham, North Carolina. He was sometimes creditied in movies as David "Pigmeat" Markham. Markham began his career in traveling African American music and burlesque shows. For a time he was a member of Bessie Smith's traveling review. Markham became better known in Vaudeville in the 1920s. He said he originated the Truckin' dance which became nationally popular at the start of the 1930s. In the 1940s he started making film appearances.

Starting in the 1950s Pigmeat Markham began appearing on television, making multiple appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

His boisterous, indecorous "heyeah (here) come duh judge" shtik, which made a mockery of formal courtroom etiquette, became his signature routine. Markham would sit at an elevated judge's bench (often in a black graduation cap-and-gown, to look more impressive), and deal with a series of comic miscreants. He would often deliver his 'judgments,' as well as express frustration with the accused, by leaning over the bench and smacking the accused with an inflated bladder-balloon. He had hit comedy recordings in the 1960s on Chess Records, and saw his routine's entry line become a catch phrase on the Laugh-In television show, as did his phrase Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

Ironically, Markham's most famous routine was 'discovered' by the general public only after Sammy Davis, Jr. had performed it as a guest on Laugh-In. Due to the years of racial discrimination in the entertainment world, Markham had almost exclusively performed on the African-American "Chitlin' Circuit" of vaudeville, theatres, and night clubs; thus, he was not widely known by white audiences.

The success of Davis's appearance led to Markham's opportunity to perform his signature Judge character during his one season on Laugh-In. Archie Campbell later adapted Markham's routine, performing as "Justus O'Peace," on the country version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw, which borrowed heavily from the African-American minstrel tradition.

Thanks to his Heyeah come duh judge routine, which originally was accompanied by music with a funky beat, Pigmeat Markham is regarded as a forerunner of rappers.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 7:31 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, June 6, 2006 2:49 PM EDT
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Marsha Warfield
Topic: Black Comedians

Tall, husky voiced comedienne Marsha Warfield, born March 5, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois,Marsha's mother was a phone operator. Her stepfather worked for the Chicago Public Library. After graduating from Calumet High,she went to work for the phone company, got married, and settled down. Then she was divorced at 20.

Her fortunes changed the night at "The Pickle Barrel" she opened with the shock laugh line, "I'm a Virgin." Before long, she was signed to Laff Records for an album by that title, and won a comedy competition in San Francisco in 1979. She was one of the few black women in comedy, but looking back, she was too busy trying to make it to really care. Back in the 80s Warfield was a television staple on a variety of shows. The comedienne is best remembered for playing the caustic bailiff Roz on the popular sitcom "Night Court" and Maxine on "Empty Nest." She also had a brief talk show (The Marsha Warfield Show)in 1990. But Warfield's television debut came in 1981 as a star in the movie, "The Marva Collins Story," however she launched her comedy pedigree as a member of the cast on the short-lived, though controversial "Richard Pryor Show" in 1977. While she has made recent guest appearances on shows like "Touched by An Angel" and "Moesha," Warfield is often now found keynoting at a variety of events where she mixes her speeches with her cutting comedic flare.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 7:24 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, December 7, 2004 9:54 PM EST
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Friday, November 26, 2004
Flip WIlson
Topic: Black Comedians

Clerow Wilson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on December 8, 1933. The tenth of 24 Flip was extremely poor and he ran away from several reform schools, ultimately being raised in foster homes. His comedic talents first surfaced while he was serving in the Air Force overseas. While in the Pacific, Wilson entertained his buddies with preposterous routines, upon his return to civilian life he had to settle for a day job as a bellhop along with part-time showmanship. Opportunity found him in 1959 when a Miami businessman sponsored him for one-year for $50 per week, enabling him to concentrate on the work he loved. For the next five years Flip Wilson appeared regularly at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

As his name traveled the comedy circuit and his reputation preceded him, Wilson was invited in 1965 appear on "The Tonight Show," as Johnny Carson's guest. He was a huge success and almost instantly developed a national following. For the next several years, he made regular appearances on Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In," "The Ed Sullivan Show,". This was followed by long term contracts and a number of hit records. With The Flip Wilson Show in the early 1970?s, he became the first blackBlack American to have a weekly prime-time television show under his own name. Many of his original character creations (such as Geraldine), became household conversation pieces. Wilson made the cover of Time Magazine in 1972 and made his dramatic debut on the Six Million Dollar Man in 1976. Other television credits include People Are Funny (1984) and Charlie & Co. (. (1985). Flip Wilson died of cancer in 1999.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 6:59 PM EST
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Lester Young
Topic: Musicians

Young was born on August 27, 1909. As a child he drummed in his family's band, but quit the group in 1928 and switched to tenor saxophone. Young first played tenor with Art Bronson, and then several other bands. In 1932 he joined the Original Blue Devils, led by Walter Page. By 1933 he joined Bennie Moten group in Kansas City and also played with King Oliver, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, and others. Young joined Basie's group for four years in 1936. His first recording session was in 1936 with a small group drawn from Basie's band, Jones-Smith Inc. Young recorded many solos with Basie, including "Honeysuckle Rose," "Taxi War Dance," and "Every Tub." He also began playing with Billie Holiday and played on many of her classics. She nicknamed him "Pres" or "Prez", and Young gave her "Lady Day." In the early 40s Young played with Basie, Red Callender, Nat "King" Cole, Al Sears, and Dizzy Gillespie. He also appeared in the short film Jammin' The Blues.

In 1944 the US Army conscripted him. He spent part of his time in a hospital and part in an army prison. Young was discharged in 1945. His playing style changed after the Army, but he continued to have some great sessions. Young toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic throughout the '40s and '50s. He made a series of classic recordings for Aladdin. Some other highlights include a 1956 session with Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones. He had a triumphant reunion with Billie Holiday on The Sound Of Jazz television special in 1957. He also reunited with Count Basie at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Young developed a severe alcohol problem and died on March 15, 1959.

Posted by crazy3/nyashia at 6:30 PM EST
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