By William “Skip” Deegans
Perhaps as a tonic for the winter blahs, comedian Stepin Fetchit and Aurora Wilson’s Sunset Royal Entertainers Orchestra was booked into the Ronceverte Armory in February 1948 for a dance for the African American community. Labeled as the “World’s Greatest Swing Show,” it featured Betty Lutcher, a sensational boogie artist. While whites were allowed to attend, they were relegated to seating in the balcony.
Born Lincoln Perry in 1902, Stepin Fetchit is considered America’s first black movie star. He adapted his stage name from a race horse, Step and Fetch It. Fetchit ran away from home when he was 12 to join a carnival. He appeared on the vaudeville stage and made his debut in a silent movie in 1927. He was cast in over 50 movies from 1927 to 1953 and in several television programs. He often appeared alongside his friend and fellow comedian, Will Rogers. He was the first black actor to become a millionaire and the first to receive screen credit. He fell into bankruptcy in 1947 which may account for his road tour to West Virginia.
In 1963, Fetchit collaborated with Barry Gordy and Ester Gordy Edwards of Motown Records to compose the song May What He Lived For Live to honor President Kennedy. Liz Lands, who recorded the song, sang it at the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. Fetchit died in 1985.
Photo from the cover of The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry by Mel Watkins.
Sources: West Virginia News, The Daily Review (Clifton Forge), NPR, Slate, Far Out