Sunday, January 13, 2013
Amos 'n' Andy
It was on this day in 1926 that a two-man black-face comedy series "Sam 'n' Henry" debuted on Chicago's WGN radio station. Two years later, after changing its name to "Amos 'n' Andy," the show became one of the most popular radio programs in American history. The show later became one of the first television series to depict black people as something other than maids and servants.
Though the creators and the stars of the radio show, Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell, were both white, the characters they played were two black men from the Deep South who moved to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Black-face performances by whites were normal for the time. This was the result of the famous Jim Crow character popular around the Civil War that white actors performed in the "black-face" tradition. Gosden and Carrell, both vaudeville performers, were doing a Chicago comedy act in black-face when an employee at the Chicago Tribune suggested they create a radio show.
By 1951, when "Amos 'n' Andy" came to television, changing attitudes about race and concerns about racism had virtually wiped out the practice of black-face With Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams took over for Gosden and Carrell, the show was the first TV series to feature an all-black cast and the only one of its kind for the next 20 years. This did not stop African-American advocacy groups and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from criticizing both the radio and TV versions of "Amos 'n' Andy" for promoting racial stereotypes. These protests led to the TV show's cancellation in 1953.
The final radio broadcast of "Amos 'n' Andy" aired on November 25, 1960. Fast forward to the trash we see depicting African Americans in television shows today. Was Amos 'n' Andy really a negative upon society? Imagery is very important and in my opinion the show should be praised for showing a people long denied the spotlight represented as professionals in a time of separate but equal. The truth of the matter is that this show in large part contributed greatly to removing the horrible practice of “ black-face”.
When "Sam 'n' Henry" debuted it became an immediate hit. In 1928, Gosden and Carrell took their act to a rival station, the Chicago Daily News' WMAQ. When they discovered WGN owned the rights to their characters' names, they simply changed them. As their new contract gave Gosden and Carrell the right to syndicate the program, the popularity of "Amos 'n' Andy" soon exploded. Over the next 22 years, the show would become the highest-rated comedy in radio history, attracting more than 40 million listeners.
Could it have been that the society at large did not want the African American to think they could live the American dream? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…