Pioneers of the Air: African-American Kansans on Early Radio, Pt. 5

The onset of the Great Depression did not hurt Jessye’s radio opportunities. Though Aunt Mandy’s Children left the air in 1930, the choir continued to make multiple appearances in 1931 and 1932 on NBC. These broadcasts include a December 29, 1931, concert and a special Lincoln Day program on February 12, 1932. Jessye’s choir sang over several Sundays during the fall of 1932 in addition to holiday broadcasts on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. The Christmas feature included a nativity dramatization which starred Frank Wilson, one of the busiest African-American stage and radio actors of the era.11

For a change of pace Jessye took an acting role in April, 1933, on a comedy-drama called The Townsend Murder Mystery which aired on NBC. This Octavus Roy Cohen-penned series also featured African-American actors Frank Wilson, Ernest Whitman, and Tim Moore. Cast as the character Magnesia, Jessye did not become a regular on the program (which only aired a few months), nor did she become involved in other dramatic radio programming.12

During the last months of 1933 and into 1934 Eva Jessye and her choir made most of the rest of their known radio broadcasts. These appearances included A Tribute to Negro Soldiers, July 4, 1933, The Capitol Theatre Family, November 5, 1933, and a weekly Sunday afternoon program of spirituals and quiet philosophy, all on NBC. During 1934 Jessye’s singers were guests on the Hudson Motor Company’s Terraplane Travelcade in May and again on The Capital Theatre Family with Etta Moten and Bob Hope later in the year. A notable performance came on July 8 when the choir broadcast to Russia alongside radio singers Eva Taylor and the Southernaires.13

Two broadcasts from later years are known, one from 1937 and another from 1943. On August 31, 1937, Jessye’s choir were guests on Ben Bernie’s show which was sponsored by the American Can Company. In the 1940s, when black programming was increasing, the choir provided music for the National Urban League’s March 20, 1943 episode of Heroines in Bronze, a series on WABC.14