WUMB September Program Guide

Hear the Grand Ole Opry on the Dixie Bee Line!

I got my hands on an Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry from Feb 18th 1950, starring Hank Williams, Sr.  Well, today he’d be recognized as the star, even though Opry management was carefully to equally weight their acts back in the day.  Which unavoidably brings up some other things that happened “back in the day.”  There was no time in Hank Williams’ brief career when blackface comedy was not a good possibility of being the “comedy” section of the program.  This wasn’t always the case, of course, but in the event of this particular episode of the Opry, comedian Rod Brasfield was on vacation, and, lo and behold, there was Jamup & Honey on the bill.  Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl had a pretty good act.  Well, in my humble opinion, it was Rod Brasfield that was funny and Minnie Pearl that was made to look ok.  I may be struck down for saying that, but there it is.  You’ll get to hear Minnie Pearl’s solo act in this episode, so judge for yourself. These two acts comprised the “comedy” section of this episode.

So this next part is getting awkward, but I think in the spirit of giving an accurate portrayal of the 20th century we need to talk about this head-on.  And that’s what we’re doing… having an historical record of the 20th century, literally.  We’re not celebrating racism, but we are sort of celebrating the century, so I’m bound and determined to make sure the warts don’t get swept under the rug.  You should hear this, especially if you’ve never heard blackface “comedy.”  The form started probably in the 1830’s and persisted through the minstrel shows of the late 19th century, and WELL INTO the 20th.  I mean, Jamup and Honey, pictured here in a very rare photograph with Hank Williams, Sr., performed their act until 1956!   Which is some four years short of the longevity of Amos’n’Andy, their far more famous counterparts on the more popular cultural venues (than the Grand Ole Opry.)  So, not that long ago.  You probably knew that Al Jolson appeared in blackface in film, but some names you may not have guessed include Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, Joan Crawford, Irene Dunne, Doris Day, Milton Berle, Myrna Loy, Betty Grable, Laurel and Hardy, Betty Hutton, The Three Stooges, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Donald O’Connor.  Yeah.  Mainstream.

So about an hour into the show on 9/26, probably somewhere north or south of 10pm I will air this program in it’s entirety.  Yes, with a listener discretion blurb.  And, as Opry shows go, it’s typical!   Remember, it’s a variety show… within limits!  Some of the acts were not blockbusters, to be sure, for example The Oak Ridge Quartet and the The Old Hickory Singers (both named for famous places in Tennessee) but they’re good solid, bread and butter harmony quartets all the same.  Hank sings one of his new-at-the time songs, and then toward the end sings his blockbuster “Lovesick Blues.”  Which, curiously, is the biggest hit of his that he did not write!  It was a Tin Pan Alley ditty dating back to 1923.

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.  Please write to me!

Sincerely,

~ jon g.
jon.gersh@umb.edu.

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