Today is the birthday of Timmie Rogers (1914-2006). Originally from Detroit, as a boy he danced on the street for change. Gradually he worked up to singing and dancing in nightclubs and black vaudeville. In the early 30s he teamed up with Freddie Gordon; the dance duo of Timmie and Freddie stayed together until 1944. His first solo gig was with Nat King Cole’s traveling show, mostly dancing, but gradually he evolved into more of a singer and stand-up comedian, using the catch phrase “Oh Yeah”.
The clip of his act below is from 1961. It’s very cool to watch; he’s clearly a transitional figure. On the one hand he’s very vaudeville: opening with a song, using it for his theme, using a catch-phrase, and just skirting stereotype by making a lot of faces. On the other hand, he was one of the first to never use blackface, and to take a more conversational, natural and topical approach to his material. I think it’s that transitional nature that makes him obscure today. Times were changing so rapidly he was overtaken almost at once by newer comics who were even fresher and bolder in their approach. Yet he’s a happy discovery, is he not?
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc