"Ain’t dat sumpin’?"

“Don’t gimme no back talk, now. Do what I tell yo’ to do. I is de president o’ dis comp’ny.” That’s what Andy told his pal Amos when the blackface comedy team of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll was first heard on network radio back in 1929. The Presidency in question was that of the Fresh Air Taxi Company of America, Incorpulated; and its fictitious head was thick, black, and halfway in the clouds. Millions of Americans followed the adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy on their wireless sets each weekday, laughed at their then celebrated brand of English and their audacity to believe that, given their perceived and actual limitations of ethnicity, intellect, and education, they could succeed in their enterprise:

Yo’ see, Amos, no matteh whut bizness you is in, de business is gotta have a head man to tell ‘em whut to do and when to do it. So dat’s de way ‘tis wid us. I strains my brain an’ figgehs out whut you gotta do. Yo’ see de brain work is de most reportant thing.

They certainly were no role models, which is what made Amos ‘n’ Andy such a popular and financial success: Andy Brown and Amos Jones did not inspire blacks to achieve nor cause whites to perspire at the thought that they might. The status quo was never at stake.

On the eve of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration, as Arthur Frank Wertheim reminds us in Radio Comedy, Amos, Andy, and the Kingfish all expressed their confidence (or the confidence of their financially secure creators) that “ev’rything goin’ be alright pretty quick” with Depression-stricken America. To which Amos added,

Tonight ‘fore I go to bed I’se gonna pray dat Mr. Roosevelt will even do more fo’ de country dan he’s promised to do.

Amos and Andy never dared to pray for a black President; they were, after all, not the children of a utopian imagination. They were dreamed up before Martin Luther King Jr. had and expressed the dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” That dream, long deferred, is looking more like a reality today than ever before. Now, that really is “sumpin’”!

6 Replies to “"Ain’t dat sumpin’?"”

  1. One of the more surprising bits of misinformation came from a person that you would expect to know a lot about early Chicago radio came from Ward Quall, retired CEO of Tribune Broadcasting. I heard him say Gosden and Corell totally ad-libbed those Amos \’n\’ Andy shows. That would be an amazing feat if true.

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  2. Thank you, Doug. Amos ‘n’ Andy was a phenomenon without the mention of which no study of 20th-century American pop culture could call itself comprehensive. I have done just that in my study on US radio. I have acknowledged it—but I have done no more; and while I do not presume to be comprehensive or representative in my survey of canned pop, my silence about Amos ‘n’ Andy makes me as uneasy as does listening to the program. I chose this historical moment not only to come to terms with my silence, but also to remind myself why I should not wax nostalgic about my favorite subject.

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