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PHOTO ESSAY

Early Black Comedians

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Recording Amos 'n'

Freeman Gosden (Amos) and Charles Correll (Andy). Courtesy of Photofest.

Long a shorthand for racist caricature, Amos 'n' Andy has in recent years had somewhat of makeover as scholars have reexamined the radio show, a onetime "national obsession" that drew in 40 million Americans (Ely). The program, which depicted the lives of Alabaman transplants Amos Jones and Andy Brown to Harlem, was actually created and voiced by two white Chicagoans, Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll, and first premiered in 1926 as Sam 'n' Henry. It was an immediate hit, and after a contract dispute Gosden and Correll moved to a rival station, renaming their show Amos 'n' Andy. From the start, Sam 'n' Henry had been envisioned as minstrel radio show; though as the series progressed, the radio historian Elizabeth McLeod argues in The Original Amos 'n' Andy, the show became more universal in tone, "celebrating the virtues of friendship, persistence, hard work, and common sense." True or not, the show was harshly criticized by leading African American newspapers at the time of its airing. In 1951 a television version was produced, this time starring black actors. It lasted through 1953, but remained in syndication until 1966, when NAACP pressure on CBS forced Amos 'n' Andy off the air permanently.

Ely, Melvin Patrick. The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

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