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Fri, 11.09.1917

Butterbeans and Susie, Vaudeville Pioneer Performers

Susie and Jody

*Butterbeans and Susie are celebrated on this date in 1917. They were a Black 20th-century comedy Vaudeville team.

They were comprised of Jodie Edwards and Susie Edwards (née Hawthorne). They married in 1917 and performed together until the early 1960s. Their act, a combination of marital quarrels, comic dances, and racy singing, proved popular on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) tour. They later moved to vaudeville and appeared with the blackface minstrel troupe, the Rabbit's Foot Company. Edwards began his career in 1910 as a singer and dancer. Hawthorne performed in the Black Theater. The two met in 1916 when Hawthorne was in the chorus of the show Smart Set. They married onstage the next year. 

The two began performing as a comic team. Butterbeans and Susie's act played up the differences between the two. Susie wore elegant dresses and presented an air of composure and sexiness. Butterbeans, in contrast, played the fool with his too-small pants and bowler hat, bow tie, tailcoat, and floppy shoes. He was belligerent: "I'd whip your head every time you breathe; rough treatment is exactly what you need." However, his pugnaciousness was belied by a happy demeanor and an inability to resist Susie's charms.

One of their more popular numbers was "A Married Man's a Fool If He Thinks His Wife Don't Love Nobody but Him." The act was risqué at times. One of their more popular comic songs was Susie's saucy "I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll."  The song accompanied Susie's provocative dancing and Butterbeans’ call-and-response one-liners: "My dog's never cold!" "Here's a dog that's long and lean."

The act usually ended with a song by Susie that showed that the two were happily married, followed by Butterbeans’ trademark song-and-dance number, "The Heebie Jeebies" or "The Itch." Butterbeans thrust his hands into his pockets during this dance and began to scratch himself in time with the music. As the tempo increased, he pulled the hands back out and scratched the rest of his body. According to Stearns, this was the moment when the audience "flipped." As a comedy duo, they discovered Mom’s Mabley.

Their act endured for more than 40 years, and after the death of Susie in 1963, her daughter stepped in to keep the act going well up into the 1960s until finally, Butterbeans walked on stage to begin his routine in 1967 and fell over dead. It was quite a fitting finale for someone so captivated to perform. They lived long enough to perform with Motown recording artists on Showtime at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.

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