Are there shows other than Amos 'N Andy, There's A New World A
Coming, Destination Freedom, Brunswick Brevities, The Story of Ruby Valentine,
The Johnson Family, or Tales From Harlem that reflect the actual or the
perception of African American life?
I'd strongly recommend Freedom's People, a thirteen-week series done by
NBC in 1941-42 in cooperation with the Federal Radio Education Committee. This
was a documentary with each week's program tracing a different element of
African-American life, and many prominent personalities in pre-war-era black
America are featured, ranging from A. Phillip Randolph
to Paul Robeson to Fats Waller.
Each week's program was built around the
theme "Contributions To...." and subjects covered included Education, Military
Service, Industry, the Arts, Science, and the Theatre. After this program's
network run, transcriptions of the series were distributed by the FREC to
schools for classroom use, and all of the episodes exist at the Library of
Congress. Some of the episodes are in
limited OTR circulation, although they're not easy to find -- I'm hoping to
soon have access to several of them.
Another program worth looking for is an episode of the 1938-1939 CBS
educational series: Americans All, Immigrants All. This was a 26-week
series which spotlighted a different ethnic group each week and traced its
accomplishments and history in the United States. The Dec 18, 1938
episode discussed "The Negro In The United States." This was another series
distributed in transcription form for classroom use, under the
auspices of the Department of the Interior.
There was also a 1933 CBS serial called John Henry -- Black River
Giant. This was a program based on the works of white folklorist Roark
Bradford (best known for "Green Pastures). It was adapted for radio by the
Negro Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez, who also played the lead.
Stage actress Georgia Burke was his leading lady, supported by "an All Negro
Cast" drawn from the Lafayette Players of Harlem.
The format of the program was very unusual -- it was broadcast weekly,
in two discontinuous fifteen-minute segments. The first fifteen minutes would
establish the plot action for the week -- and then the program would go off the
air for half an hour, making way for an unrelated program. Then
after that program, John Henry returned for a second fifteen minutes, which
would be devoted to characterization and atmosphere -- with special
note given to "authentic voodoo lore," according to reviews of the day.
Critics loved this program, but ordinary listeners seem to have been
baffled by its "arty," non-linear structure, and it ran for eight months
without attracting a sponsor. No scripts or recordings have surfaced.
Jack L. Cooper was a very important figure in Black radio -- he
began The All Colored Hour (later The All Negro Hour ) over WSBC in 1929.
WSBC was a small Chicago station that sold time in blocks to a wide variety of
ethnic groups, and Cooper built up a thriving business buying blocks of time
and then reselling them to individual South Side sponsors.
Cooper himself produced the programs for these sponsors, and they
covered a wide range of topics -- in addition to The All Colored Hour, which
was a variety show, he did a very close imitation of Amos 'n' Andy which was
called Luke 'n' Timber (doing all the voices himself), and also worked
as a news and feature reporter, a disk jockey, and a comedy ventriloquist.
By the end of the 1940s, Cooper was taking out full-page ads in Variety
promoting himself as "The Highest Paid Negro in Radio," and he remained active
into the early 1960s. A few recordings exist of his later work, but none have
ever surfaced of his prime years in the 1930s.
There were a number of locally-originated programs similar to those of
Cooper during the 1930s and 1940s. Although at the start of the thirties the
African-American radio audience was very small -- less than eight per cent of
black families owned radios in 1930, according to the U. S.
Census Bureau -- that audience grew rapidly as the decade wore on, and by the
late 1930s, local stations in areas with significant Black populations were
experimenting with ways of reaching that audience, and Black-owned businesses
were taking the lead in sponsoring such programs.