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New Documentary In The Works On Actor & Gospel Composer Jester Hairston

by Sergio
September 10, 2013 12:24 AM
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Jester Hariston

I think it’s fair to say that when most people think of Jester Hairston today they usually think of his role as Rolly Forbes, the funny, sharp tongued old man on the NBC sitcom Amen with Sherman Hensley, back during the late 80’s to early 90’s.

But Hairston, who passed away in 2000 at the remarkable age of 99, led a much more interesting and complex life. Not only was he an actor, starting his film career back in 1936 with hundreds of movies and TV performances, including Amos and Andy, In the Heat of the Night and dozens of musical shorts made during the 40’s and 50’s, Hairston was perhaps more well known as a composer (with some over 300 gospel songs to his credit), conductor, arranger and singer.

Born during the height of Jim Crow segregation in North Carolina in 1901, he graduated from high school in Pennsylvania in 1919, and from Tufts University with additional graduate work at Juilliard and the University of the Pacific.

He directed the Federal Theatre Project, and was assistant conductor of the legendary Hall Johnson Choir for fifteen years, and trained choirs for radio, Broadway musicals and movies. He also conducted film background music, toured the world for the State Department during the 1960’s, and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.

And now a documentary is currently in the works about Hairston to be called Amen – The Life and Work of Jester Hairston, which is being developed by The African Diaspora Sacred Music and Musician Program of California State University Dominguez Hills.

The film is being directed by Dr. Hansonia Caldwell, professor emeritus of Music and Africana Studies at California State University, and documentary filmmaker and editor Lillian Benson.

As the filmmakers themselves say about their film, Hairston’s story “is one that is filled with triumphant highs and disparaging lows. But his journey has led him to far away lands, transcending stereotypes and blazing the trail for others who dare to follow.

The work has been in production for the past two years and there’s a website where you can learn more about Hariston and the film project, as well as donate money. Check it out HERE.

Here’s a video of Jester Hairston conducting what is, perhaps, his best known composition:

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  • CareyCarey | September 13, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    ADDENDUM: FLASHBACK SIXTY YEARS. Before the sitcom Amen there was the first all black cast TV program, the controversial Amos & Andy. The actor and gospel composer Jester Hairston appeared in 10 episodes as the Kingfish's brother-n-law and a few other characters. Here he is in Leroy Lends a Hand-->

    And... if the names Kingfish, Amos, Andy and Sapphire doesn't turn you off, here's Mr. Hairston in another episode, Kingfish Goes To Work--> ""


  • . | September 13, 2013 6:24 PMReply


  • CareyCarey | September 13, 2013 1:08 PMReply

    "I love Jester Hairston I've always watched every thing he is in even Amos and Andy "

    See, that comment alone makes me wonder how one could not love Shadow and Act? Its boundaries have the aroma of a delightfully sun-lit candy store, packed with sweet delectable morsels of pleasure.

    In one corner, for those who love the spices of voyeurism, there sits Ka'ramuu Kush's short film "And Then". YUM-YUM... eat it up... the brown butter cup... and more than one can play.

    In another corner, for those who love a little sour with their sweet, there sits Tanya Steele's Black Folks, It's Time To Stop Taking Care Of White People, post. But that post is presently off limits while the establishment tries to eradicate the recent infestation of European size cockroaches.

    Then, far off in a distant corner sits Sergio holding a sign. The sign is emanating the faint smell of past victories "DON'T FORGET THE PAST". Now Wayne (the quoted) wasn't attracted to the smell of sex nor racism, his nose widened on a blast from the past. Sergio had just what he needed, a post on one of our pioneers.

    I had to see the motivation behind ol' Wayne's excitement. I mean, I hadn't read the post before seeing his comment, so I had no idea Jester Hairston was in 10 episodes of the TV series Amos & Andy? Granted, most wouldn't know that, but for personal reasons, I thought I was a walking encyclopedia of that infamous program. Anyway, I was forced to right a wrong, I pulled out my Amos & Andy collection.

    Now I may not have been as attracted (as others) to the visions of other folks having sex, and Stormfront has never been my cup of tea, but re-visiting Jester Hairton's performances in that classic sitcom was as sweet as pumpkin pie.

  • Wayne | September 13, 2013 11:18 AMReply

    I love jester Hairston I've always watched every thing he is in even Amos and Andy
    I can't wait to see his documentary, looking forward to it.

  • ALM | September 10, 2013 12:30 AMReply

    Yes! Deacon Forbes......just seeing his picture makes me smile.

  • Peas and Tanks | September 10, 2013 12:58 AM


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