“Radio for Negroes is a very hard field to get into . . . very hard! But the returns are so great that it’s worth the try.”
This is a quote from my father, Eddie Green, the gentleman sitting in the above picture (for those of you new to my blog). This quote appeared in a 1947 newspaper article for which Eddie was interviewed. Eddie had actually started radio work back in the late 20s. He said this in an article from The Negro Digest in 1949 stating, “It was during the year 1929. I was living in New York and trying every kind of theatrical job that was available. I had already played all kinds of vaudeville, burlesque, musical comedy and a few small radio programs.”
His radio popularity started, however with the Fleishman’s Yeast Hour Rudy Vallee Show, as shown here in this line from a local newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier, the article is about Eddie’s inclusion into yet another radio program in 1935, it said, “this was nothing new to Eddie Green, who worked several seasons very successfully with Rudy Vallee, in fact, so successfully he was returned three times by popular demand.” Eddie went on to become Eddie the waiter on the very popular Duffy’s Tavern Radio Program from 1941-1950.
When I started this blog and began writing a biography of my father, until about 2 weeks ago, it hadn’t sunk in just how rare a Black man’s performances or contributions to radio in the early 1900s were. Probably because I wasn’t coming from a Black point of view but from a personal inspirational and hopefully, motivational point of view. Using Eddie to show my grandson how one can accomplish their goals despite obstacles, and then to show the same to anyone who is doubting their abilities. I have been sharing on Old Time Radio (OTR) blogs with much success in regard to meeting people who are genuinely interested in Eddie’s OTR life. However, what dawned on me is that yes, he was on the radio, but the radio show’s themselves were White produced programs.
Duffy’s Tavern and Amos n Andy. Today these two programs are not talked about a lot on the groups I follow. These groups talk about the Gildersleeves, The Shadow, the Gildersleeves (no, this is not an error), Jack Benny, Johnny Dollar, Groucho Marx and other similar programs. While sharing about my father’s appearances on the first two programs I realized interactions with those other OTR fans is very limited because there were not many Blacks on the radio back then. Period. My brain said “as a matter of fact, how come no one ever talks about Black old time radio?” That’s when I woke up.
I began to research African-American OTR. I found a lot of articles, such as this one from J. Fred MacDonald that says: “Certainly, there were black radio performers like Eddie Anderson, Lillian and Amanda Randolph, Eddie Green, Hattie McDaniel, Ruby Dandridge, and Juano Hernandez, but their roles were either stereotypically comedic or insubstantial. And there were so many areas where African Americans never participated: No black men or women reported the news; there were no black sportscasters, no black soap operas; and no substantial black roles appeared in romances or dramas or Westerns or detective shows.
Tens of millions of citizens tuned in thousands of stations to hear news, sports, drama, comedy, and the various other formats by which broadcasters had adapted radio to aural entertainment. To staff such operations, moreover, the stations and networks employed countless numbers of writers, directors, actors, and technicians. Thus, aside from its popularity, the radio industry was a massive commercial operation. Despite its tremendous need for personnel, however, the industry in its so-called Golden Age offered only limited opportunities for black men and women to develop.”
This was borrowed from J. Fred MacDonald who died while I was writing my book in 2015 and whose archives by the end of the 20th century, were termed by the Library of Congress to be “the most important archive in private hands in the United States.”
I did find Richard Durham. Richard Durham was born September 6, 1917 in Raymond Mississippi and was raised in Chicago. He died April 24, 1984. Durham developed an interest for radio during the depression as a young dramatist with the Writers Project of the WPA. Durham studied at Northwestern University in Chicago and was the editor of the local black newspaper, The Chicago Defender. His first major radio experience came in Chicago with the series “Democracy USA”, which he wrote for the CBS station WBBM and with Here Comes Tomorrow, a black soap opera he wrote for WJJD. His radio program Destination Freedom premiered on June 27, 1948 on Chicago radio WMAQ and consisted of 91 different scripts produced solely by Richard Durham. Destination Freedom was a provocative half-hour show that showcased the lives and accomplishments of prominent African Americans. Did you notice he wrote a Black soap opera?
My father obviously knew what he was talking about when he said radio for Negroes was a very hard field to get into way back in the day. I am beginning to understand how much effort it took for my father to achieve his dream of becoming a show business personality, as a Black man. How truly difficult it was for a Black person to step into certain positions in the early 1900s in America. Eddie’s success was unusual, then. And it is still unusual for some to discuss today. This is just a reality. I am going to delve a bit more into this Black radio thing because it interests me very much.
It fits right in with my decision to become a Cheerleader for Trailblazers (this is going to be my twitter hashtag). So many people have done so much in this world that no one talks about or acknowledges. Not just Black trailblazers, though we have become more of a priority for me-but also of young trailblazers, female trailblazers, piano-playing trailblazers. Send me a trailblazing subject, I love research.
Thanks, for stopping by
Title of this post provided by Brian Beasley, my brother 🙂
My Book: Eddie Green The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer
6 thoughts on “Black Way Back Radio”
Elva, your father truly was a trailblazer – one who inspires all of us now to blaze trails wherever (& whoever) we are!
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I absolutely love that you’re learning and sharing so much about your legendary father and trailblazers like him. I imagine every discovery is like a treasure for you.
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You imagine correctly. I get so fired up when I learn brand new information. I’m glad you are enjoying this journey with me.
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I can remember as a young boy sitting in my grandmother’s living room with my brother and two uncles, listening to many of these programs on her radio. At that time, as young Blacks, we were oblivious to the fact that we were left out of these stories and now I know it was deliberate. That is why I am now dedicated to creating stories about the great culture we have always had, of which your father played an important role. This is an excellent post. Congratulations.
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Thank you sir, very much.
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