Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

Sign up for Emails

Sign up now to receive an email alert for the Focus On feature!

GO

Privacy Policy

Previous Features

PHOTO ESSAY

Early Black Comedians

Back Arrow Previous

Photo 5 of 9

Next Next Arrow
Jackie "Moms" Mabley (1967)

Album cover for Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham's bestselling 1967 record.

Though he began his career in blackface, Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham lived long enough to see his nonminstrel work appreciated. Markham—who some sources claim ran away to join the circus at age thirteen—made a name for himself on the Chitlin' Circuit, the famed black entertainment tour that produced stars such as "Moms" Mabley, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and "Ma" Rainey, performing in various vaudeville, minstrel, and stand-up routines in the early 1900s. Markham's career spanned six decades, but it wasn't it until Sammy Davis Jr. copied a routine of his on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, in 1969, that he attracted the attention of white audiences. The skit, "Here Come de Judge," was a fan favorite of Markham's and had been developed in the 1920s. In it, a comically inept "judge" portrayed by Markham would dispense outrageous verdicts (and quips), inspired, according to the music historian Bill Dahl, "on the outlandish racism African Americans often faced in court, particularly from judges in the southern United States at that time." Markham, who died in 1981, was a prolific entertainer, having participated in practically every medium of the twentieth century: movies, television, recordings, and live performances.

Back Arrow Previous

Photo 5 of 9

Next Next Arrow