From Durham, North Carolina, Dewey Pigmeat Markham began his long career in 1917, dancing in traveling shows. He traveled the southern ‘race’ circuit with blues singer Bessie Smith and later appeared on burlesque bills with Milton Berle, Red Buttons, and Eddie Cantor. By the 50s, Markham was one of Black America’s most popular entertainers through his shows at the Regal in Chicago, the Howard in Washington, and in particular, New York’s famed Apollo.
Despite being Black, he applied burnt cork make-up to his face, a device that caused many of his fans to believe he was actually white. He later made several successful appearances on the influential Ed Sullivan television show and was signed by Chess during the 60s. The Chicago-based label issued several in-concert albums and his 1968 novelty hit, ‘Here Comes The Judge’. This tongue-in-cheek recording was inspired by the artist’s catchphrase, which was used extensively on the American television comedy series Rowan And Martin’s Laugh-In.
Although hampered by a competitive version by Shorty Long, Markham enjoyed a Top 20 hit in the USA and England. Pigmeat Markham remained a well-known figure until his death on December 13, 1981.