Today is the birthday of Melvin “Slappy” White (1921-1995).
Comedian White was a little too young to have come up through black vaudeville, but he did spend much time in its successor, the chitlin’ circuit. A native of Baltimore, he started out in show business as a child tap dancing on streetcorners for change, and briefly toured with a carnival. White performed with a succession of partners, gradually morphing from dance into comedy: Slap and Happy, then the Two Zephyrs (with whom he appeared on The Major Bowes Amateur Hour), then Lewis and White (with whom he appeared on The Morey Amsterdam Show), and then Redd Foxx and Slappy White. He went solo in 1951 as an opening act for Dinah Washington. In the 60s during the Civil Rights movement, he became famous for his symbolic comedy routine The Brotherhood Creed (the one in which he wears one white glove and one black one). He also briefly teamed with Steve Rossi in 1969 in an interlude when he separated from his usual partner Marty Allen. In the 70s, he was a frequent presence on tv, on Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts, guesting on Sanford and Son with his old comedy partner Redd Foxx, and appearing on other shows such as That’s My Mama. In 1974 he was in the film Amazing Grace with Moms Mabley. In his last years he was a reliable presence at Friar’s Club roasts.
To learn more about show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.