Moms Mabley was born in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894 to James Aiken and Mary Smith, who married on May 21, 1891, in Transylvania County, North Carolina. She was on...
Moms Mabley & Pigmeat Markham
Moms Mabley was born in Brevard, North Carolina in 1894 to James Aiken and Mary Smith, who married on May 21, 1891, in Transylvania County, North Carolina. She was one of a family of 16 children. Her father owned and operated several businesses, while her mother kept house and took in boarders. Her father, a volunteer fireman, died when a fire engine exploded when Loretta was eleven. In 1910, her mother took over their primary business, a general store. She was run over by a truck while coming home from church on Christmas Day.
By age 14, Mabley had been raped twice and had two children who were given up for adoption. At age 14, Mabley ran away to Cleveland, Ohio, joining a traveling vaudeville show, where she sang and entertained.
She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony in a 1970s interview that he'd taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as "Moms" because she was indeed a "Mom" to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s. She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first triple-X rated comedians on the comedy circuit.
During the 1920s and 1930s she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of The Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson) and recorded several of her early "lesbian stand-up" routines. Mabley was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.
Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin' circuit, earning US$10,000 a week at Harlem's Apollo Theater at the height of her career. She made her New York City debut at Connie's Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she became known to a wider white audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962, and making a number of mainstream TV appearances, particularly her multiple appearances on the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new Boomer audience.
Mabley was billed as "The Funniest Woman in the World". She tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the time, including racism. One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old "washed-up geezers," and she got away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes, and her cover version of "Abraham, Martin and John" hit #35 on the Hot 100 on 19 July 1969. At 75 years old, Moms Mabley became the oldest person ever to have a US Top 40 hit.
Pigmeat Markham was born in the community of Hayti, Durham, North Carolina. His family was the most prominent on their street, which came to be called (and later officially named) Markham Street in the Hayti District. Markham began his career in traveling music and burlesque shows. For a time he was a member of Bessie Smith's Traveling Revue in the 1920s. Later, he claimed he originated the Truckin' dance which became nationally popular at the start of the 1930s. In the 1940s he started making film appearances. In 1964 he recorded "Open the Door, Richard".
Markham was a familiar act at New York's famed Apollo Theater where he wore blackface makeup and huge painted white lips, despite complaints the vaudeville tradition was degrading. He probably played at the Apollo more frequently than any other performer. Starting in the 1950s Pigmeat Markham began appearing on television, making multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
His boisterous, indecorous "heyeah (here) come da judge" schtick, which made a mockery of formal courtroom etiquette, became his signature routine. Markham would sit at an elevated judge's bench (often in a black graduation cap-and-gown, to look more impressive), and deal with a series of comic miscreants. He would often deliver his "judgments", as well as express frustration with the accused, by leaning over the bench and smacking the accused with an inflated bladder-balloon. He had hit comedy recordings in the 1960s on Chess Records, and saw his routine's entry line become a catchphrase on the Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In television show, as did his phrase "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls".
Markham's most famous routine was "discovered" by the general public only after Sammy Davis, Jr. had performed it as a guest on Laugh-In. Due to the years of racial segregation in the entertainment world, he was not widely known by white audiences, and had almost exclusively performed on the "chitlin' circuit" of vaudeville, theatres, and night clubs.
The success of Davis's appearance led to Markham's opportunity to perform his signature Judge character during his one season on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Archie Campbell later adapted Markham's routine, performing as "Justus O'Peace," on the country version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw, which borrowed heavily from the minstrel show tradition.
Thanks to his Heyeah come da judge routine, which originally was accompanied by music with a funky beat, Pigmeat Markham is regarded as a forerunner of rappers. His song "Here Comes The Judge" peaked at number 19 on the Billboard and other charts in 1968. He published an autobiography, Here Come the Judge!, in the wake of his Laugh-In success.