One of the first TV shows hosted by a Black man

Mon, 1948-07-26

On this date in 1948, Bob Howard became one of the first Black male hosts on television. The New York CBS affiliate hired the Black entertainer to star in The Bob Howard Show.

A 15-minute program that ran every weeknight, The Bob Howard Show was primarily a one-man operation in which Howard sang and played the piano. Even then, his material was a familiar mix of the old and the (relatively) new. On his very first program, he performed the tune that Black actor Dooley Wilson made famous in the movie Casablanca, "As Time Goes By," as well as the old minstrel favorite, "Dark Town Strutters' Ball." Aware of the demands of the then new medium, Howard knew how to play to the camera.

When he sang a number like "Them There Eyes," he widened his eyes exuberantly and smiled broadly. Between songs, he chatted and often promoted upcoming CBS shows. For later generations, Howard's act would hardly look offbeat or unusual. Here was one more Black song-and-dance man, selling his talents. Yet, strangely enough, The Bob Howard Show helped transform American living room and American culture. Americans sat in their homes and saw a Black man hosting the proceedings, being in charge, and literally running the show.

No one at CBS seemed particularly concerned about any adverse reactions, quite a contrast from what would happen only a few years later when another African American man, Nat "King" Cole, hosted his own show. Television in 1948 seemed to be just learning about itself as a medium. After 13 months, The Bob Howard Show went off the air.

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