January 12, 1926 “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on Chicago’s WGN radio statio
Original “Amos ‘n’ Andy” debuts on Chicago radio
On January 12, 1926, a two-man comedy series “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on Chicago’s WGN radio station. Two years later, on a different radio station, it changed its name to “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” and went on to become one of the most popular radio shows in American history.
Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell, the creators of “Sam ‘n’ Henry” / “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” were vaudeville performers. They had a comedy act in Chicago in which they appeared in blackface make-up. Someone who had seen their act suggested they should try radio. They created “Sam ‘n’ Henry” and brought the act to Chicago’s WGN radio station.
“Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on January 12, 1926. The show became an instant hit. Sam and Henry were two black men from the deep south who had migrated to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell were white men playing black men. This might seem controversial in today’s climate, but Gosden and Carrell were respectful of black people. It was not their intent to promote a stereotype or to suppress a minority because ot their race. Their aim was to entertain. Their radio show was enjoyed by all audiences, black and white.
In 1928, Gosden and Carrell brought their act to a different radio station, WMAQ, in Chicago. Their new contract gave them the right to syndicate their program. But there was one snag. WGN owned the rights to the names “Sam ‘n’ Henry.” So they changed the names of the characters to “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Through syndication, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was able to reach households across the nation, attracting more than 40 million listeners for about 22 years.
In 1951, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” came to television. By that time, it was not acceptable to perform in blackface. Two black actors, Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams, took over for Gosden and Carrell. Other roles were filled by other black actors, making “Amos ‘n’ Andy” the first TV series to feature an all-Black cast, and the only one to feature an all-Black cast until 20 years later. Both the radio program and the television series became subject to criticism by African American advocacy groups, including the NAACP. Protests against the promotion of racial stereotypes led to the cancellation of the TV show in 1953.
The last “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show aired November 25, 1960. Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell attempted a television sequel, but the show was canceled after its first season.