History – Jester Hairston

June 30th, 2009 by Black Gospel Choir

Jester Hairston was born on July 9 in 1901. He was an African-American choral composer and actor. The grandson of slaves from the Hairston plantation at Belew’s Creek, North Carolina, Jester Hairston often had to suffer the indignities of Hollywood racism. Graduating with a high level of academic distinction from Tufts University, with a major in music, he also studied music at the famed Julliard School. He spent thirteen years as assistant conductor of the Hall Johnson Negro Choir where he often arranged and conducted choirs for Broadway.

He first came to Hollywood in 1936 to conduct the choir work and spent fifteen years on radio and TV’s Amos ‘n’ Andy despite the fact that the other black characters were played by white actors. Hairston’s early acting roles included playing a “Witch Doctor” in the 1955 film, Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle. TV fans perhaps best recognize Hairston as “Rolly Forbes” on the 1986 series Amen; his presence in Hollywood was often hidden on the other side of the camera. As one of the greatest choral music directors, Hairston composed or arranged more than 300 gospel spirituals in films such as Green Pastures and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. One of the first black actors in the Screen Actors Guild, among his notable works was the song “Amen” from the Sidney Poitier film, Lilies of the Field. Hairston died January 18, 2000, at the age of 98.


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History – Juneteenth

June 18th, 2009 by Black Gospel Choir

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, June 19, 1900. PICA 05476,
Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas, which was almost entirely under Confederate control. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. Legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”.

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