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Pigmeat Markham was far better known as a comedian than a musician, but in the 1960s he cut a series of novelty records in which he delivered his rhythmic, rhyming routines over frantic backdrops of bluesy funk that not only anticipated hip-hop by at least a decade, but landed him on the pop charts in the process. Born in Durham, NC, on April 18, 1904, as either David Markham or Dewey Martin (he was known to use both, and biographical sources disagree as to his true name), he began his career as a performer in 1917 as a dancer with a traveling show whose cast included Bessie Smith. Taking his name from a song in his act called "Sweet Papa Pigmeat," in time Markham began making a mark as a comic, and appeared on the burlesque circuit alongside such future stars as Red Buttons and Milton Berle. A large man with a gravelly voice, Markham's outgoing comic style in time won him a loyal following in African-American nightspots, and he worked the so-called "chitlin circuit" for years, and appeared in a handful of independent black-cast features. After appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, Markham was signed to Chess Records in 1964, and released several standup comedy albums.
One of his bits was about a short-tempered judge who had a low tolerance for foolishness in his courtroom. Called "Here Comes the Judge," the bit eventually found its way onto the television show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, at the time one of the most popular comedy shows of the day. After "Here Comes the Judge" became a nationwide catch phrase (and Shorty Long had cut a song of the same title), Markham cut a version of "Here Comes the Judge," with Pigmeat bellowing a rhyming version of his act and a hot R&B band (led by legendary producer and sideman Gene Barge) cutting the funk in the background. While such numbers had been staples on the "chitlin circuit" for years, this was something new on the radio, and "Here Comes the Judge" became a mainstream hit, rising to number 19 on the pop charts in the summer of 1968. 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 in time Markham returned to standup comedy, though the success of his records certainly raised his profile (and asking price) in mainstream venues. After a career that spanned seven decades, Markham died as a result of a stroke on December 13, 1981.
Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham (April 18, 1904 – December 13, 1981) was an African American entertainer. 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." He was sometimes credited in films as David "Pigmeat" Markham.Deming, Mark. "Pigmeat Markham Biography". Allmusic. All Media Guide. Retrieved 2008-02-03. "Pigmeat Markham, Comedian Extraordinaire.". The African American Registry. 2005. Retrieved 2010-05-10.
Early life and career
He was born in the community of Hayti, Durham, North Carolina. His family was the most prominent on their street, which came to be called (and later officially named) Markham Street in the Hayti District. Markham began his career in traveling music and burlesque shows. For a time he was a member of Bessie Smith's Traveling Revue in the 1920s. Later, he claimed he originated the Truckin' dance which became nationally popular at the start of the 1930s. In the 1940s he started making film appearances. In 1964 he recorded "Open the Door, Richard".
Markham was a familiar act at New York's famed Apollo Theater where he wore blackface makeup and huge painted white lips, despite complaints the vaudeville tradition was degrading. He probably played at the Apollo more frequently than any other performer. Starting in the 1950s Pigmeat Markham began appearing on television, making multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
His boisterous, indecorous "heyeah (here) come da judge" schtick, which made a mockery of formal courtroom etiquette, became his signature routine. Markham would sit at an elevated judge's bench (often in a black graduation cap-and-gown, to look more impressive), and deal with 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 the accused with an inflated bladder-balloon. He had hit comedy recordings in the 1960s on Chess Records, and saw his routine's entry line become a catchphrase on the Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In television show, as did his phrase "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls".
Markham's most famous routine was "discovered" by the general public only after Sammy Davis, Jr. had performed it as a guest on Laugh-In. Due to the years of racial segregation in the entertainment world, he was not widely known by white audiences, and had almost exclusively performed on the "chitlin' circuit" of vaudeville, theatres, and night clubs and appeared in several race films, including William D. Alexander's 1949 revue film Burlesque in Harlem, which documented the chitlin' circuit.
The success of Davis's appearance led to Markham's opportunity to perform his signature Judge character during his one season on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Archie Campbell later adapted Markham's routine, performing as "Justus O'Peace," on the country version of Laugh-In, Hee Haw, which borrowed heavily from the minstrel show tradition.
Thanks to his Heyeah come da judge routine, which originally was accompanied by music with a funky beat, Pigmeat Markham is regarded as a forerunner of rappers. His song "Here Comes The Judge" peaked at number 19 on the Billboard and other charts in 1968. He published an autobiography, Here Come the Judge!, in the wake of his Laugh-In success.
Markham has been cited as one of the progenitors of rap music.Cite error: The named reference registry was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Primary Source 45" (PDF). Jacob Lawrence and The Migration Series. Archived from the original on 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2008-01-20. "allmusic ((( Pigmeat Markham > Discography > Main Albums )))". www.allmusic.com. Retrieved 2008-03-08. Fox, Ted (1983). Showtime at the Apollo. Da Capo. p. 94. ISBN 0-647-01612-2 Check |isbn= value (help). "African American Legacy of The Woodlawn Cemetery". Retrieved 2008-01-20. Cite error: The named reference allmusic was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Watkins, Mel (1979). "Black Humor: On The Real Side". APF Reporter Vol. 3 #2. Retrieved 2008-01-20. (click on "Read More" once at the site) Mark Deming. "Pigmeat Markham at Billboard.com". All Music Guide. Retrieved December 2, 2012. Jones, Alistair (26 February 2011). "Reasons rhyme for a history under raps". www.theaustralian.com.au. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
Markham died of a stroke at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx at the age of 77. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx."Comic Pigmeat Markham Suffers Fatal Stroke In N.Y.". Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 61 (14): 13. 1982-01-07. ISSN 0021-5996.