Reference Entry

Amos ’n’ Andy.

Frank E. Dobson

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780195167795
Amos ’n’ Andy.

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Amos ’n’ Andy, both the radio show and the television show that followed, is a name that conjures up racial stereotypes. Amos ’n’ Andy was one of the twentieth century's most popular and controversial comedy shows depicting black characters.The show was the creation of two enterprising white actors and musicians, Freeman F. Gosden and Charles J. Correll. In 1925 Gosden and Correll debuted as musicians on WGN radio in Chicago. After discussions with station management regarding a new radio show, the pair suggested a blackface minstrel show in which they would play black characters. The original names of the characters were Sam and Henry; Sam ’n’ Henry debuted on 12 January 1926. The show used stereotypical representations of black speech and black urban life.Sam ’n’ Henry ran on WGN for two years and was quite successful. Some critics such as Mel Watkins suggest that the characters Sam and Henry owed much to material borrowed from prominent black comedic acts in contemporary Chicago. The show became so popular that Gosden and Correll suggested that it be recorded and that the rights to rebroadcast the shows then be sold to other radio stations throughout the country—a concept that is now known as syndication. WGN did not like the idea, so Gosden and Correll quit the station and eventually went to WMAQ, a rival station, where the renamed Amos ’n’ Andy show—WGN continued to own the rights to the name Sam ’n’ Henry—first aired on 19 March 1928. Using the syndication network of the Chicago Daily News, the parent company of WMAQ, Gosden and Correll succeeding in distributing their show to interested stations, with each episode airing simultaneously nationwide. Though the names of the characters had changed, little else had; Sam (Godsden) and Henry (Correll) were now reborn as Amos Jones and Andrew Hogg Brown.Cast of Amos ’n’ Andy. Alvin Childress as Amos Jones (left), Tim Moore as George “Kingfish” Stevens (center), and Spencer Williams as Andrew Hogg Brown (right) of the Amos ’n’ Andy show (CBS), 1951–1953. CBS/PhotofestAmos ’n’ Andy was the most popular of the minstrel-style shows common on radio during the 1920s and 1930s, a genre that included such shows as the Burnt Cork Review, the Sealy Air Minstrels, George and Rufus, Aunt Jemima, and Plantation Party. These shows featured blackface acts such as Honey Boy and Sassafras and Molasses ’n’ January (Showboat), Moonshine and Sawdust (the Gulf Show), Buck and Wheat (Aunt Jemima), and Watermelon and Cantaloupe (Corn Cob Pipe Club).For the program's entire run as a nightly radio serial, Gosden and Correll portrayed all the male roles. At first Amos Jones and Andy Brown worked on a Georgia farm not far from Atlanta, and during the episodes of the first week they made plans to travel north to Chicago. With four ham-and-cheese sandwiches and twenty-four dollars, they bought train tickets and headed for Chicago, where they lived in a State Street roominghouse and experienced some rough times before launching their own business, the Fresh Air Taxi Company.With the advent of commercial success and a national audience, the serial's central characters—Amos, Andy, and George “Kingfish” Stevens—relocated from Chicago to Harlem. Other characters included John Augustus “Brother” Crawford, an industrious but long-suffering family man; Henry Van Porter, a social-climbing real estate broker and insurance salesman; Frederick Montgomery Gwindell, a hard-charging newspaperman; Ruby (Taylor) Jones, Amos's fiancée and later wife; William Lewis Taylor, her well-spoken, college-educated father; and Lightnin', a slow-moving, “Stepin Fetchit”–type character. The show was an incredible national success, listened to by both whites and blacks. Based on the popularity of the show, Correll and Gosden starred in an Amos and Andy film in 1930, Check and Double Check, in blackface. In 1943 the radio program went from a fifteen-minute CBS weekday dramatic serial to an NBC half-hour weekly comedy. At this point some African American comedy professionals were brought in to fill out the cast.The show's caricatures of African American life and its perpetuation of racist stereotypes led to national protests by outraged African Americans. Leading the protest efforts against the show were the African Methodist Episcopal bishop W. J. Walls, the publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier Robert Vann, and the scholar Benjamin Brawley. In the December 1930 issue of Abbott's Monthly, Bishop Walls wrote an article that sharply criticized the show. From the pages of the Pittsburgh Courier, Vann began a petition to get the program pulled from the air, with a stated goal of a million signatures.CBS Television bought the rights to Amos ’n’ Andy in 1948, and the show was produced from 1951 to 1953 with seventy-eight filmed episodes. Although Gosden and Correll wanted to play the title roles themselves, the producers were able to convince them to use black actors to play the black characters on television. So the TV series did use African American actors in the main roles, although the actors were instructed to keep their voices and speech patterns as close to Gosden and Correll's as possible. Amos was played by Alvin Childress, Andy by Spencer Williams, and Kingfish by Tim Moore. Many of the shows were devoted to Kingfish as head of the Mystic Knights of Sea Lodge. Ernestine Wade played Sapphire, Kingfish's wife. Ramona Smith, Sapphire's mother, was played by Amanda Randolph, and Lightnin’ was played by Horace Stewart.Shortly after the television program debuted in 1951, the NAACP mounted a formal protest, including publishing an article entitled “Why the Amos ’n’ Andy Show Should Be Taken Off the Air.” Pressure from the organization helped to force the show's cancellation at the end of the 1953 season. However, the show remained in syndication until 1966 when CBS, under continued pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights groups, finally canceled it again.

Reference Entry.  1112 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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