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James Baskett (February 16, 1904 – July 9, 1948) was an Americanmarker actor known for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, singing the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" in the 1946 Disney feature film Song of the South, for which he was given an Honorary Academy Award, making him the first male performer of African descent to receive an Oscar.

Biography

Career

After abandoning his studies of pharmacology for financial reasons, Baskett supported himself as an actor, moving from his home town of Indianapolis, Indianamarker to New York City, New Yorkmarker and joining the company of Bill Robinson, better known as Mr. Bojangles. As Jimmie Baskette, he appeared on Broadway with Louis Armstrong in the all-black musical revue Hot Chocolates in 1929, and was announced for Hummin' Sam in 1933, although it failed to open. Baskett also acted in several all-black films made in the New York area, including Harlem is Heaven (1932) starring Bill Robinson. He came to Los Angelesmarker and had a supporting role in Straight to Heaven (1939), starring Nina Mae McKinney, and bit parts in the films Revenge of the Zombies (1943) and The Heavenly Body (1944). He was invited by Freeman Gosden to join the cast of the Amos 'n' Andy radio show as lawyer Gabby Gibson, whom he portrayed from 1944 to 1948.

In 1945, he auditioned for a bit part voicing one of the animals in the new Disney feature film Song of the South (1946), based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Walt Disney was impressed with Baskett's talent and hired him on the spot for the lead role of Uncle Remus. Baskett was also given the voice role of Brer Fox, one of the film's animated antagonists, and even filled in as the main animated protagonist, Brer Rabbit, in one sequence.

Baskett was unable to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta, Georgiamarker because he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities in what was then a city racially segregated by law. On March 20, 1948, Baskett received an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus. He was the first black man to win an Academy Award, albeit a non-competitive one.

Death

On July 9, 1948, Baskett died of heart disease at the age of 44. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemeterymarker in Indianapolismarker, Indianamarker.

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1932 Harlem is Heaven Money Johnson Credited as Jimmy Baskette
1933 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang Uncredited
1938 Policy Man Credited as Jimmie Baskette
Gone Harlem Credited as Jimmie Baskette
1939 Straight to Heaven
1940 Comes Midnight
1943 Revenge of the Zombies Lazarus Alternative title: The Corpse Vanished
1944 The Heavenly Body Porter Uncredited
1946 Song of the South Uncle Remus/Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit (Voice)


See also



References

  1. James Baskett - Awards at Internet Movie Database
  2. Black Film Center/Archive Feature Presentation: African American Oscar Winners
  3. In a 15 October 1946 article in the Atlanta Constitution, columnist Harold Martin noted that to bring Baskett to Atlanta, where he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, "would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man's." The modern claim that no Atlanta hotel would give Baskett accommodation is false: there were several black-owned hotels in Atlanta at the time, including the Savoy and the McKay. Atlanta's Black-Owned Hotels: A History.
  4. Ronald H. Bayor, "Roads to Racial Segregation: Atlanta in the Twentieth Century", Journal of Urban History, Vol. 15, No. 1, 3-21 (1988).
  5. Awards, Sidney Poitier - Internet Movie Database. In 1964 Sidney Poitier became the first black male actor to win a competitive Academy Award, for Best Actor for his performance in Lilies of the Field.


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