The first time many people heard of Bobby Berger was this summer, when the former cop was scheduled to appear at a police fundraiser. The news of Berger’s performance went minorly viral–because, you see, he’s a 67-year-old white man who performs in blackface.
As the Washington Post reports, the furor over Berger’s performance (which was canceled) inspired him to quit his act for good– but not because he thinks he’s done anything wrong, or that his performances are offensive. In a lengthy interview with the Post, he insists that his blackface act is a tribute to Al Jolson. (Jolson, who was a major star during the Jim Crow era, brought black jazz and blues music to white audiences, and advocated for the rights of black entertainers.) Berger further insists that ” thousands of black people have seen this show” and “had no problem with it.” But some people have had a problem with Berger’s act for years. The NAACP protested one of his shows back in 1981. Berger’s bosses at the Baltimore Police Department asked him to quit his after-hours performing years ago. He refused, and settled in for a decade-long legal battle with the BPD. (He ultimately won a $200,000 settlement.)
Even though Berger and his fans insist that his performances aren’t “racial,” the most recent drama finally inspired him to put away his black greasepaint and call it quits.
There was one black person in attendance at Berger’s final show, which took place at the restaurant Berger owns in Essex, Bobby B’s Palace. He was the piano player.“Look at him,” a woman in the audience told the WaPo reporter. “He’s black. Do you think he’d be here if this was racist?”
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