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*"Slappy" White was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black comedian and actor.
Melvin Edward "Slappy" White was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His official biography reported that he "ran away to join the circus" as a child. White was born near the old Royal Theatre in Baltimore, by the age of 10, he used to dance outside for coins and sold candy at the theater. He left Baltimore at the age of 13 because he was in danger of being sent to reform school because of his school absences. White joined a traveling carnival and made a living as a tap dancer with the troupe. He was eventually picked up by police and returned to his family but chose trade show business for school.
He received his nickname from the manager of a local theater where he entered a talent contest with a friend; the manager billed them as "Slap and Happy". He began his career as a dancer and did not turn to comedy until 1940 when he joined with a fellow hoofer in the "Two Zephyrs". They made the circuits together for over four years appearing with such notables as Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and many others. With his team "Slappy" was first introduced to Californians, making his West Coast debut in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre along with Louis Armstrong. After "Two Zephyrs" came "Lewis and White" his second successful comedy team. "Lewis and White" traveled together for several years and appeared with such greats as Johnny Otis and made a television appearance on The Morey Amsterdam Show.
The team with which he is best known is "Redd Foxx and 'Slappy' White". Foxx and White met in Harlem in 1947 and formed a comedy team. They toured from coast to coast with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra for more than four years. Some years before, White had met and married Pearl Bailey, when both of them were still relatively unknown professionally. Bailey's career was on the way up. She was performing in the better nightclubs while White was still struggling in lesser venues. The marriage was in trouble at the time White and Foxx first met. The couple divorced. Years later, when White and dancer Bill Bailey, who was Pearl's brother, teamed up for an act, White joked that the act would be billed as "Rev. Bill Bailey and his ex-brother-in-law". He was once also married to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and blues belter, LaVern Baker.
His solo career started in 1951 when Dinah Washington requested him to introduce her act at the Black Hawk in San Francisco. White started out as a chauffeur to the singer, entertaining her with jokes as he drove. When she was late arriving on stage one evening, Washington, worried about the waiting audience, asked White to go on stage and "say something funny" while she prepared for her performance. He was such a hit with the patrons, she kept him on as her opening act. White was a performer in Las Vegas for many years. In the 1950s while he was on the bill with Washington, he spent four years with her before establishing himself as a solo act.
White wrote and performed a comedy routine called "Brotherhood Creed" using one black and one white glove while reciting his poem about equality between men. White performed the routine many times during the civil rights movement in America, and President John F. Kennedy once gave it a personal commendation. In 1965, White was invited to perform the "Brotherhood Creed" before the Massachusetts State Senate. He was also well known as a comedian who eschewed offensive material in his nightclub act.In 1969, he formed a new comedy team called Rossi and White with Steve Rossi, who formerly worked with Marty Allen.
Later in life, he performed under his given name on his friend Redd Foxx's TV show Sanford and Son as Fred's friend, also named Melvin, and had a million-dollar contract to perform at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1973. He also appeared on the television shows That's My Mama, Blossom, and Cybill and in the films Mr. Saturday Night and Amazon Women on the Moon. White was best known in later years for the Friars' Club roasts, where he routinely appeared along with other comedians. Slappy White died of a heart attack at his home in Brigantine, New Jersey on November 7, 1995. He had no children from either of his marriages. White enjoyed a minor renaissance after his death owing to bootleg recordings of Friars' Club roasts that became available through comedy record outlets. His name was used on an episode of Seinfeld entitled "The Money", in which Seinfeld uses "Slappy White" as his own name. On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Slappy White among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.