Sam ‘n’ Henry

The boss’s worst nightmare and the radio listener’s companion through nearly 600 episodes, Sam and Henry were forerunners of Amos and Andy.

Sam ‘n’ Henry was the first radio show of Gosden and Correll, premiering on Chicago’s WGN on Jan. 12, 1926.

It was part of the transition of minstrel entertainment from stage to radio. The title characters were classic blackface fellas, down and out laborers just trying to get by. The first episode finds them heading from Alabama to Chicago looking for construction work, and soon the two would.

Henry was played by Correll, and was the leader of the two: strong-willed, confident in his knowledge of Northern, city ways. In his droll, glum voice, he’d take it upon himself to point out Sam’s mistakes and misconceptions and to calm him. Though Gosden’s Sam was loud and half-hysterical, he was the more upstanding of the two, an Uncle Tom to Sam’s Coon. While the fool to Henry’s straight man, Sam was virtuous and well-intentioned, if gullible.

A typical sequence is the “rollin’ the bones” sketch in which Sam tries to make some money shooting craps. He is excitable, at one point asking the men he’s playing with where they get these red bones (dice) from. Henry softly intones “don’t start no argument.” It’s the second time he uses that phrase, and the next admonition, for Sam to remember he owes his five dollars room and board, is also a repetition. The two thus kept up a steady rhythm, Sam’s dialogue staccato, Henry’s flatlined, with a pattern that provides continuity.

In Holy Mackerel, Bart Andrews and Ahrgus Juilliard write “[t]he humanness with which they (Gosden and Correll) imbued the characters made them palatable to audiences, a lot less offensive than their minstrel-show ancestors.”

While we know Sam ‘n’ Henry as a precursor to Amos ‘n’ Andy, Gosden and Correll didn’t begin producing the show with aspirations to greatness. In fact, they were looking for the radio exposure to serve as a gateway to thriving vaudeville careers. Remember, radio was so early in its infancy at that time that it was too soon to tell if it would fade into history in a few years.

But it didn’t take long before the show to gather a healthy audience, perhaps in part because of its serial format, with a continuing storyline. By ‘26, the show had grown big enough the G&S wanted to put it in syndication, recording shows and selling them to radio stations nationwide. The company that owned WGN, The Chicago Tribune, wouldn’t let the pair out of their contract.
When it expired, they didn’t renew, but weren’t able to take the name Sam ‘n’ Henry with them.

According to author and historian Robbie Stockman, when searching for a new set of names, Gosden and Correll first hit on Amos. They felt it matched Sam’s personality and clicked with his earnest demeanor due to its Biblical origins. They wanted a show title to roll off the tongue, which meant a name for the other character also beginning in A. Amos and Andy it was.