Baltimore’s Al Jolson Impersonator Calls It Quits

By Jessica Contrera (Washington Post, 11/12/2015)

The black greasepaint had thickened to the consistency of toothpaste. Bobby Berger slapped it onto his face in clumps, then rubbed it in circles, covering his 67-year-old white skin.

He couldn’t remember how old this tube was, but he was glad he had stocked up. When he decided to revive his act this summer, he went back to A.T. Jones and Sons costume shop in Baltimore, just a few miles from his home. Blackface paint had been discontinued, they said.


Berger, 67, grew up in Baltimore and became a police officer. He was involved in a decade-long legal battle with his employers over his Al Jolson act. He believes the makeup is an essential part of making his act as an Al Jolson impersonator authentic. Berger believes the makeup is not racist in the context he wears it. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

And now the same was about to happen to his act.

For nearly for 40 years, Berger had been trying to explain that he’s not mocking anyone — that he isn’t even impersonating a black person. He impersonates a white man who wore blackface makeup “before it was taboo.” Berger’s act is a tribute to Al Jolson, the vaudeville superstar of nearly a century ago who had his biggest hit in “The Jazz Singer,” the 1927 movie that is remembered as the first full-sound “talking picture.” Jolson donned blackface not in jest, it is said, but to introduce white audiences to the thrilling blues and ragtime music pioneered by African Americans.

“When I do the makeup, I look exactly like Al Jolson,” Berger said. “Which adds a whole lot to the performance. It’s just hard for me to believe that anybody that looks at it logically — ” He paused. “Thousands, thousands of black people have seen this show, they had no problem with it.”

It was this assertion, Berger seemed confident, that should shield him from criticism. Outside his dressing room, there were a few hundred people drinking beer out of plastic cups and dancing under oversized chandeliers in a worn suburban Baltimore ballroom.


Berger takes the stage as Jolson for the final time in front of an audience of nearly 300 people. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

But outside this rented venue, it seemed the whole country was insisting that putting on another skin tone was wrong — cultural appropriation at the least, racist and hateful at the worst.

He rubbed the makeup over his ears and around the back of his neck.

“When it got — what’s the word I’m looking for? — popular to scream about it, people start screaming.”

So on this November night, he would perform his last show. No more singing “Mammy,” no more black-stained shirt collars. He would end it on his terms, without conceding to his critics.

Continue reading at the Washington Post.

Posted in 2010s, Baltimorons, Essex / Middle River, Music | Leave a comment

Aerostat Breaks Free in Maryland, Heads to Pennsylvania for Less Restrictive Gun Laws


The Aberdeen Proving Ground aerostat is proud to announce that it has broken free from the clutches of Maryland’s high taxes and restrictive gun laws and is moving to Pennsylvania. The aerostat will commute to Maryland to collect a paycheck while living in Pennsylvania and plans to continue taunting members of various Baltimore “Remember When?” Facebook groups about how things were better in Maryland in the old days before it left.

More at The Baltimore Sun.

Posted in 2010s, Baltimorons, Roadside Attractions | Leave a comment

Halloween in Essex, Maryland, 1982

J.C. Greene of “Evening Magazine” Avenue 1982-10-28 halloween local folks Avenue 1982-10-28 normans liquors Avenue 1982-10-28 image dracula Avenue 1982-10-28 p26 lady w pumpkin Avenue 1982-10-28 skateland Avenue 1982-10-28 church haunted house Avenue 1982-10-28 bernies liquors Avenue 1982-10-28 halloween senior center Avenue 1982-10-28 halloween terror graveyard Avenue 1982-10-28 normans liquors
Click image to enlarge

Posted in 1980s, Halloween | Leave a comment

Koffee Beans “Ad Man” & “Been A Long Time” – 1966 Baltimore Psychedelic 45rpms

Koffee Beans “Ad Man”

Warren Marshall Raymond, 58, horticulturist and rock drummer

By Jacques Kelly (The Baltimore Sun, 2/8/2005)


Baltimore Sounds, by Joe Vaccarino

Warren Marshall Raymond, a Columbia Association horticulturist and former drummer in several area bands, died of cancer Sunday at his Columbia home. He was 58.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Regester Avenue in Idlewylde, he was a 1964 graduate of Towson High School. He attended what was then Catonsville Community College.

Mr. Raymond began playing drums at age 9 and worked his way into performing with the Towson-based RaVons, and the Jetsons, which featured 1960s soul tunes.

Friends said he answered a newspaper ad that read “drummer wanted.” He became a full-time musician and played for nearly 15 years with the Koffee Beans, house band at the old Lantern in Irvington, Judge’s in Waverly and the Mardi Gras in Hamilton in the late 1960s and 1970s. The group played original songs and cover versions of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.

Koffee Beans “Been A Long Time”

“Warren was a rock-steady drummer who could be depended on to deliver a solid beat,” said fellow Koffee Beans member and friend, Jimmy Mays. “He was also a good vocalist and was known for his excellent harmony work. It was a golden era for rock music.”

koffeebeans-penguinWith other band members, he cut two singles, “Been a Long Time Now” in 1969 and “Orange-Colored Penguin” a year later, on the Format label and recorded at the old Bradley Studios on Howard Street. The songs were played on local radio stations, and Mr. Raymond and his group appeared on the Kirby Scott television show. The pressings sold out, but the band members made no money from the recordings.

“He was attentive to his dress and hair. He had an orange brocade Nehru jacket and later wore a leather vest,” Mr. Mays said.

Continue reading at The Baltimore Sun.


Various Artists “Psychedelic States: Maryland In The 60s” (Gear Fab Records, 2014) review review track listing and previews

Posted in 1960s, Music | 1 Comment