CBS Radio – Blueberry Hill (preview/audition broadcast) – March 1943 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Had there not been World War 2, this program might have gone unnoticed and largely forgotten. Why it came about isn’t clear, but it marked one of the first times, if not the first time a radio variety program was made up entirely of African-American talent and aimed primarily at the mainstream audience. This was a preview broadcast, aired to CBS Radio affiliates, almost in the middle of the night (the announcer at the end says it was almost 2 am on the West Coast) and there only seemed to be two such broadcasts, or previews that were pressed and made available to affiliates who didn’t dial in at the time.
This program represented some of the greatest Black talent of the day, and gives some clue as to the extent this largely undiscovered reservoir of talent was which went unnoticed by most White audiences. Save for Benny Carter, The Charioteers and Hattie McDaniel (who had won an Academy Award for Gone With The Wind, the first African-American actor to do so), everyone else is either unfamiliar or relegated to minor roles in films.
The irony is that the program concept was shopped to other networks at the time (NBC and Mutual) with no takers – we were still right in the middle of segregated radio and broken color barriers were rarities in network Radio.
However in 1942, as the war shifted priorities and necessities, The Armed Forces Radio Service came into being as a morale booster and a communication link to front lines and remote outposts for the military. Because it was aimed specifically at the Armed services and not the mainstream audience, having a program that was directed at African-American service personnel was perfect.
And so Blueberry Hill was rechristened Jubilee and became one of the most popular broadcast series during World War 2.
The casts and musicians rotated, but the content was consistent; a showcase of some of the greatest African-American entertainers and artists to be assembled in one place and broadcast exclusively to the Military all through the War and into the post-war years.
This preview is pretty much identical to the Armed Forces Show – the emcee is Ernie “Bubbles” Whitman and he is the constant throughout. Bands and artist included Benny Carter, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Savannah Churchill, Dinah Washington and so many others. Ironically, towards the end of the war the show became more integrated with more White artists taking guest spots.
To get some idea of what the original concept was, here is that preview/audition show, as it was broadcast in March of 1943, somewhere around 2 in the morning, West Coast time.