Jester Joseph Hairston: Do You Remember “Rolly Forbes” From the Amen Show?

Written by Jae Jones

Do you remember ? He was best known for one of his many acting roles, ” Rolly Forbes”, on the “Amen Show”. Forbes appeared on the show from 1986-1991. Hairston was also a songwriter, composer, and choral conductor. He was known as the leading expert when it came to African-American choral music and spirituals.

Hairston was born in Belews Creek, a rural community in North Carolina. He was the grandson of two slaves. At an early age Hairston and his family moved to Homestead, Pennsylvania, where he later graduated from high school in 1919. He attended the Massachusetts Agriculture College, but later left school when his money ran out. He returned to school after a woman impressed by his singing offered to finance his education in music. He then enrolled at Tufts University and graduated in 1929. After graduating he decided to enroll at Julliard School to study music. In the beginning of his career, he worked as a choir conductor, and also with choirs on Broadway that led to his singing and acting career.

Hairston wrote the songs “Amen”, “Mary’s Boy Child”, and arranged many traditional Negro spirituals. Hairston’s earlier acting roles including long-running parts on the radio and television versions of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” as well as bit parts in Tarzan films. He also appeared in several films with small roles. A few films he appeared in were, The Alamo, To Kill a Mockingbird, In the Heat of the Night, and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

In 1961, the US State Department appointed as Goodwill Ambassador. He traveled all over the world teaching and performing the folk music of the slaves. No matter where Jester performed in the US, he checked the phone book for other relatives. He wanted to reunite as many people from his family tree, and white. He composed more than 300 spirituals. Although Hairston did not complete his studies at Massachusetts College of Agricultural, he held close ties with the school. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1972 from the school. At the age of 91 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the schools Department of Music and Dance. Hairston died in 2000 at the age of 98 from natural causes.




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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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