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Radio Stars Get Big Ovation From Gang
--Chicago Defender August 22, 1931
When Correll and Gosden took their Amos n' Andy act to the stage, they appeared in blackface like other acts but they often ended the show with a big and rather unique finale. Melvin Ely explains:
Gosden and Correll pulled off their black, wiry-haired wigs and, with a single tug on a special drawstring, jettisoned the baggy, ill-matched clothing of Amos and Andy to reveal the formal attire they always wore for their singing performances. As the two men walked to the front of the stage, a change of lighting played on a new kind of makeup they wore, turning the blacked-up pair instantly white. The metamorphosis drew an excited buzz of surprise and then a burst of laughter and applause. Someone rolled out a piano; Correll sat down and began playing, and the duo, abandoning all traces of "black" speech, sang one of their standard songs.
Now Gosden and Correll offered one more surprise. They presented another favorite Amos 'n' Andy bit, reverting to their usual "black" stage dialect--but without abandoning their now-white faces and formal garb. (p 61-2)
This description is very similar to Nahum Daniel Brascher's account of the duo's appearance at the children's picnic in Chicago on August 15, 1931 that was sponsored by Chicago Defender, the city's black weekly:
Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, otherwise known as "Amos 'n' Andy," took a big spot in the events of the day. Arriving at the park incognito...they sat in their car...viewing the parade....
The party then walked slowly to the stand under police escort. Some few recognized--perhaps by intuition--the radio funmakers, but not many.
....Bud then told the band to strike up the "Perfect Song," the signature selection of "Amos 'n' Andy.' You thought it was lively before! You ain't heard nothin' yet! The crowd went wild--they did--they did. Amos 'n' Andy mounted chairs with megaphones, but you couldn't hear your ears. The radio boys waved greetings, smiled, laughed, tried to talk but in vain. It couldn't be done. Then Bud had a happy thought. "Band boys, play 'Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here.'" They did. Amos 'n' Andy led the chorus, waving vigorously their megaphones. It got so good toward the end that Andy jumped down from his chair and danced a jig. When it was over the crowd let out a salvo of applause that could be heard for miles. (8/22/31)
Correll and Gosden did not appear at the picnic in blackface makeup or Amos 'n' Andy costumes. Rather, in these two examples and all other public appearances, the makeup usually worn by blackface performers was unnecessary. The visual cues of the minstrel show were replaced by the auditory cues of the radio.
In the first performance, the duo demonstrates how they can move from their song-and-dance routine to a comedy bit simply by the inflections of their voice. The second example is far more powerful because this audience was expecting Amos 'n' Andy to appear but they did not know the duo was sitting among them until the proper cue arrived--the band's performance of the "Perfect Song," the signature theme that started the show nightly. As Brascher points out, the visual anonymity of the radio made it impossible to identify Correll and Gosden as the comic duo except through intuition. In fact, it seems possible that if the two had been unable to appear at the picnic that day, any two white men in suits would have made an adequate substitution as long as the band struck up the tune.
The fact Brascher identifies the duo as "Amos 'n' Andy" once the music starts demonstrates the blurring of the comic personas with the private figures (even without the benefit of makeup) and emphasizes the power the new medium had over its audience. There was no need for a performance from the duo but rather, just simply their appearance. It is the visual aspect that was lacking from the radio broadcast and so, that filled the need of the awe-struck crowd.
This difference in the medium is representative of the changes Amos 'n' Andy brought to the performance of blackface. While a comic duo such as Moran and Mack (aka "The Two Black Crows") stepped behind a microphone to perform their vaudeville routine--and therefore, were dependent upon the constraints and expectations of the stage--Correll and Gosden created a radio serial that was based on blackface techniques but was ultimately free of the constraints placed upon the traditional minstrel show--and the vaudeville sketches appearing on the radio.
Radio was developing its own cues that worked because of the aural medium. And so, when Correll and Gosden ventured into other types of performances, they either had to borrow their radio techniques (as in the striking up of the "Perfect Song") or properly adjust to the demands of the new format. This might be one explanation as to why Amos 'n' Andy, for all of its popularity, only made one feature-length film.