27 December: A jubilant “Jubilee”

Writing in American Quarterly in 2004, Laura Rebecca Sklaroff wrote of AFRS Jubilee that the staffers of the Armed Forces Radio Service only thought the show could or would present predominantly black entertainment, or bills featuring black and white performers in equal measure, without stirring the racial pot. They didn’t count upon or necessarily understand the subtleties black performers could and did deploy in an era well before a time when less subtle conveyances could or would be accepted:


Louis Armstrong was an AFRS Jubilee favourite. (Photo: CBS.)

Louis Armstrong was an AFRS Jubilee favourite. (Photo: CBS.)

[R]adio paradoxically provided many black artists with the opportunity to relay political messages. Here, politics and entertainment were not so clearly separated, as musical and comedic performances featured on Jubilee made both subtle and overt references to American racial tensions. With black participation more central to the development of federally sponsored programs than to commercial films and radio, the state offered a unique cultural arena.

Although black artists understood that cultural programs such as the Jubilee radio show could not directly secure racial equality in the most important areas of their lives, they nonetheless used all cultural media to critique the status quo and to possess their own representation. The pervasiveness of minstrelesque iconography, endemic to most areas of American popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not only shaped white perceptions of black people, but ratified white Americans’ belief in their own racial superiority. Thus, more so than the white administrators that shepherded these projects, black participants understood that Jubilee could reduce the perpetuation of racial stereotypes in favor of a more honest discussion of the issues they faced in their daily lives.

Broadcast to both white and black servicemen, the show legitimated music by black performers that in other settings had been “cleaned up” and covered by white artists. Furthermore, as music occupied a central position in black political consciousness, Jubilee‘s popularization of jazz bands and vocalists endowed the show with special meaning for black servicemen.

Says it better than I ever could.


AFRS Jubilee: Ain’t Misbehavin’ Nohow (AFRS, 1943)

You could almost envy the men at war, black and white alike—the only ones to hear this series as it’s aired—when they have a listening lineup like tonight: Louis Armstrong (“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Bessie from Basin Street,” “The Peanut Vendor”); the Mills Brothers (“Paper Doll”); Duke Ellington’s longtime clarinet star Barney Bigard (“Rose Room”); a recording by the freshly-deceased Fats Waller (“Feets Too Big”) played in his memory; and, Thelma Middleton (“Slender, Tender and Tall”).

Host: Ernie Woodman.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

Lux Radio Theater: Beloved Enemy (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1937)
The Fred Allen Show: Dr. Allen’s Clinic (comedy; NBC, 1939)
The Abbott & Costello Show: Costello’s Beauty Shop (comedy; NBC, 1945)
Suspense: Pink Camellias (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1945)
Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209: Valley of the Moon (crime drama; NBC, 1949)
Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks Writes About a Hobo (comedy; CBS, 1953)
The Six Shooter: Cora Plummer Quincy (Western; NBC, 1953)

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