Scatman Crothers, the veteran of show business who was first black featured on Los Angeles TV

Michael Eli Dokosi May 23, 2020 at 01:00pm

May 23, 2020 at 01:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence, History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

May 23, 2020 at 01:00 pm | Faces of Black Excellence, History

Scatman Crothers via amazon.com

Even when Scatman Crothers was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1985, he continued to work on television; the cancer eventually spread to his esophagus and killed him on November 22, 1986 in Van Nuys, California.

But Crothers, born Benjamin Sherman Crothers, had lived a full life for he was a voice-over artist, actor, composer, singer, comedian, drummer and guitarist.

He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on April 8, 1981 and awarded the 1981 Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor as Dick Hallorann in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining (1980).

Crothers was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in Oakland, California (1987). But before all of these, Crothers performed in many clubs and on radio shows in the ’20s,’30s, and ’40s before making the move to television in 1948.

Even his Scatman nickname came from his skill at singing “scat“, a form of bebop jazz that involves the rhythmic singing of syllables in a complex and musical way (such as “be-ba-doo-wah”).

The man born on May 23, 1910 in Terre Haute, Indiana after high school made many records including his own compositions such as “The Gal Looks Good”, “Nobody Knows Why”, “I Was There”, “A Man’s Gotta Eat” and “When, Oh When”. He joined ASCAP in 1959.

He began his show business career at the age of 14 when he learned to sing and taught himself to play the drums and guitar in local speakeasies. In the mid-1930’s, Mr. Crothers formed his own band and traveled throughout the Middle West, playing in some places where a black man had seldom been seen before. In 1948, he brought his combo to Los Angeles and became the first black featured on Los Angeles television, in a show titled ”Dixie Showboat.”

His next big break came when he co-starred with Dan Dailey in ”Meet Me at the Fair,” a Universal release that quickly led to countless appearances on television and in film. He had roles in such series as The Governor and J.J., Kojak, Toma, and One of the Boys. He was also active as a voice for such cartoon series as Hong Kong Phooey and The Harlem Globetrotters.

Though many people probably remember him for an appearance in the film The Shining or for his role as Louie in Chico and the Man during the ’70s, Scatman Crothers had an extensive jazz and later R&B background. “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Dead Man’s Blues” are two of Crothers’ hits.

Besides his regular role on NBC’s Chico and the Man from 1974 to 1978, he also appeared on ”Hill Street Blues,” ”Hotel,” ”McMillan and Wife” and the mini-series ”Roots.” His other movie work included ”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” ”The Shootist,” ”Hello, Dolly!” and ”Bronco Billy.”

76-year-old Scatman Crothers died of pneumonia and lung cancer. He was survived by his wife Helen and daughter, Donna Daniels of Los Angeles.

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