Q: What was the first situation comedy on radio to have an African-American star in the lead role?
A: “Beulah”... about a loyal Negro maid and her white employers.
The Beulah character was created by Marlin Hurt, a white actor, in 1939. He voiced the role on various radio programs, including the hugely popular “Fibber McGee and Molly.”
Beulah got “her” own sitcom in 1945, with Mr. Hurt still voicing the part. Two years later, an actual black woman took over the role: Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel.
“Beulah” was so popular, it became a television series in 1950, starring Ethel Waters. Radio and TV versions of “Beulah” ran throughout the early ’50s, with various black actresses in the role.
I’m streaming a 7-minute clip from a 1953 radio episode. At this point, Beulah was played by Broadway and movie veteran Amanda Randolph, who would later play the loyal Negro maid on “The Danny Thomas Show.”
Click here to listen. (The role of “Oriole” was played by Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge’s mother.)
You can find episodes of “Beulah” for sale at the Old Time Radio Show Catalog. This particular episode, “Honorary Santa,” is downloadable for free.