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Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham
1904–1981

Dewey Pigmeat Markham 

Though best known as a comedian, Markham was also a singer, dancer, and actor. His nickname came from a stage routine, in which he declared himself to be "Sweet Poppa Pigmeat."

Dewey Pigmeat Markham was born in Durham, North Carolina. His family was the most prominent on their street, which was later officially renamed Markham Street. Running away from home in 1918, Markham began his career in traveling music and burlesque shows. He took up with a white showman he ambiguously referred to over the years as "Mr. Booker" owner of a "gilly carnival." Soon, Markham found himself in blackface. "Mr. Booker came over to us before the show with a can of Stein's burnt-cork and showed us how to put it on in front of the mirror. He also had some pink and white lip make-up." 

"You may wonder why a Negro had to do that, and all I can tell you is that's the way it was. Just about every Negro entertainer in those days worked in burnt-cork and lip make-up - even Bert Williams who was the greatest of them all. Matter of fact, I never went before an audience without my burnt-cork until 1943 - more than twenty years later."

For a time he was a member of Bessie Smith's Traveling Revue in the 1920s and later appeared on burlesque bills with such comedy legends as Milton Berle, Red Buttons, and Eddie Cantor. He claimed he originated the Truckin' dance which became nationally popular at the start of the 1930s. 

Markham performed regularly at New York's famed Apollo Theater where he wore blackface makeup and huge painted white lips, ignoring complaints from Black leaders that it was insulting and degrading. During his long career he appeared at the Apollo more frequently then any other performer. Starting in the 1950s, Pigmeat Markham began working on television, making multiple appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Dewey Pigmeat Markham in the 1930s
Dewey Pigmeat Markham in the 1930s 

His boisterous, "Here come da Judge" routine is what made him famous with both Black and White audiences. Pigmeat Markham would sit at an elevated judge's bench in a black cap-and-gown  and riff on a series of comic miscreants. He would often deliver his "judgments," as well as express frustration with the accused, by leaning over the bench and smacking them with an inflated bladder-balloon. He saw "Here come da Judge" become a catch phrase on the Laugh-In television show, along with "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's."

Ironically, Markham's "Here come da Judge" routine was "discovered" by the general public only after Sammy Davis, Jr.  performed it as a guest on Laugh-In. The success of Davis's performance on Laugh-in led to Markham receiving a one-year contract to perform his signature Judge character on the show. During this period (1968) his song, "Here Come the Judge" peaked at number 19 on the Billboard and other charts and is considered by many in the music industry today to be an early form of rap music. Markham cut a handful of follow-ups, including "Sock It to 'Em, Judge," "The Hip Judge," and "Your Wires Have Been Tapped," but none enjoyed the same success as "Here Come the Judge," and he returned to standup comedy.

Pigmeat Markham published an autobiography, Here Come the Judge!, in the wake of his Laugh-In success. After a career that spanned seven decades, Pigmeat Markham died from a stroke on December 13, 1981.


Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham at the Apollo.
This burlesque comedy sketch co-stars George Wiltshire and "the Voice of the Apollo," Vivian Harris.

 

HERE COME 'DA JUDGE
Pigmeat Markham

Hear ye, hear ye
This court is now in session
His Honor, Judge Pigmeat Markham presidin
Hear ye, hear ye, the court of swing
It's just about ready to do that thing
I don't want no tears, I don't want no lies
Above all, I don't want no alibis
This Judge is hip, and that ain't all
He'll give you time if you're big or small
All in line for this court is neat
Peace brother, here comes the Judge
Here comes the Judge
Everybody knows that he is the judge

Everybody near or far
I'm goin' to Paris to stop this war
All those kids gotta listen to me
Because I am the judge and you can plainly see
I wanna big 'round table when I get there
I won't sit down to one that's square
I wanna lay down the law to them that brought it
I'll bust some head because I am the judge
He is the judge, he is the judge

Who's there? I is. I is who?
I is your next door neighbor
Order in this courtroom, order in this courtroom
Judge, your Honorship, Hi sir
Did I hear you say "Order in the Court?"
Yes I said order in the court
Well, I'll take two cans of beer, please
He is the judge, he is the judge
Everybody knows that he is the judge

I had a chat with Ho Chi Min
With cheap rice wine and chased with gin
Won't take long unless I miss my guess
I'll have you out of this doggone mess
I sent a cable to Bob and Mac
Let them know I'm comin' back
Sit right down with Rock and Nick
Teach them boys some of Pigmeat's tricks

Oh, oh judge, your Honor, Pigmeat said
"Don't you remember me??"
No, who are you, boy
Well, I'm the feller that introduced you
To your wife... to my wife?
Yeh, life! You son-of-a-gun you
Come November, election time
You vote your way, I'll vote mine
Cause there's a tie, and the money gets spent
Vote for Pigmeat Markham, President
I am the judge, vote for Pigmeat
I am the judge, vote for Pigmeat
Now, everybody knows I am the judge

 



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Blackface! -- Contents

History of Blackface

Blacks in Blackface

History of Minstrel Shows

Minstrel Show Female Impersonators

Stephen Foster

Origins of Jump Jim Crow

Blackface Origins in Clowning

Blackface History Prior to Minstrel Shows

Excerpts from Monarchs of Minstrelsy (1911)

Famous Blackface Minstrel Performers

Blackface Around the World

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