Baskett as Uncle Remus in Song of the South
|Born||February 16, 1904|
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||July 9, 1948 (aged 44)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Crown Hill Cemetery (Indianapolis, Indiana)|
|Other names||Jimmie Baskette|
James Baskett (February 16, 1904 – July 9, 1948) was an American 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. In recognition of his warm portrayal of the famous black storyteller he was given an Honorary Academy Award, making him the first black male performer to receive an Oscar.
After abandoning his plans to study pharmacology for financial reasons, James Baskett supported himself as an actor, moving from his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana to New York City, 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. Mr. Baskett also acted in several all-black films made in the New York area, including Harlem Is Heaven (1932) starring Bill Robinson. He went to Los Angeles, California 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. This was one of the first Hollywood portrayals of a black actor as a non-comic character in a leading role in a film meant for general audiences.
Although Baskett was occasionally criticized for accepting such a "demeaning" role, his acting was almost universally praised, and columnist Hedda Hopper was one of the many journalists who declared that he should receive an Academy Award for his work.
Illness and death
Baskett had been in poor health around 1946 during the filming of Song of the South due to diabetes and suffered a heart attack. His health continued to decline, and he was often unable to attend the Amos and Andy show he was in. On July 9, 1948 during the show's summer hiatus, Baskett died of heart failure resulting from diabetes at age 44. He was survived by his wife Margaret and his mother Elizabeth. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
|1932||Harlem Is Heaven||Money Johnson||Film debut; credited as Jimmy Baskette|
|1933||20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang||Vocalist||Uncredited|
|1938||Gone Harlem||Credited as Jimmie Baskette|
|1938||Policy Man||Credited as Jimmie Baskette|
|1939||Straight to Heaven||First Detective|
|1943||Revenge of the Zombies||Lazarus||Alternative title: The Corpse Vanished|
|1944||The Heavenly Body||Porter||Uncredited|
|1946||Song of the South||Uncle Remus
Br'er Fox (voice)
Br'er Rabbit (voice, one scene)
|(final film role)|
- As Jim Korkis notes, "Song of the South came out in 1946 and there was no balance of media images... African American performers often portrayed comic roles where their characters were described as lazy, slow-witted, easily scared or flustered, subservient and worse. That image was what the American public was seeing and accepting as the norm for African Americans." Jim Korkis, "The Sad Song of the South", USA Today (accessed 24 August 2013)
- 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.
- Ronald H. Bayor, "Roads to Racial Segregation: Atlanta in the Twentieth Century", Journal of Urban History, Vol. 15, No. 1, 3–21 (1988).
- Turner Classic Movies, Song of the South (1946) (accessed 24 August 2013)
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004). Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 0-7864-2032-4.
- Auchmutey, Jim (2006-11-12). "Finding Uncle Remus". accessatlanta.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved 2008-11-17. (Dead link)
- Bodenhamer, David J.; Barrows, Robert Graham; Gordon, David (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Vanderstel, David Gordon. Indiana University Press. p. 485. ISBN 0-253-31222-1.