January 27, 1888 was the birthdate of Harry Frankel, better known to audiences as Singin’ Sam, The Barbasol Man.
Born in Springfield, Ohio (hometown of Clark and McCullough), Frankel was raised mostly in Danville, Kentucky and Richmond, Indiana (all of which are within an hour or two of one another). Frankel was 20 when he joined Coburn’s Minstrels**, later becoming a member of Al G. Field’s company. After that he toured vaudeville with Joe Dunlevy in a team called Two Blackbirds, which sounds more than a little like Moran and Mack’s act. In 1930 he began performing on local Cincinnati radio (not far from his Richmond, Indiana home) as Singin’ Sam. For a time he tried New York, but his popularity allowed him to move back home and do his broadcasts from Cincy studios along with his wife, singer Helene “Smiles” Davis. Obviously, Barbasol shaving cream was his sponsor. He also did shows that were sponsored by Coca-Cola and a lawnmower company. He retired just a few months before his death in 1948.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.
For more on 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.
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