John Elroy Sanford better known as Redd Foxx was born December 9, 1922 in St Louis Missouri, and he grew up on Chicago's South Side. His father Fred Sanford was an electrician and mother Mary Sanford found work as a maid. He had one other sibling, a brother, Fred Sanford Junior. Poverty hit the family early, even leaving Foxx rummaging through trash cans for food. Redd’s father abandoned the family when he was three years old, so he never had a real relationship with him. Redd was mainly raised by his mother and grandmother.

Redd found relief from hard times by doing impersonations in school and was labeled a class clown. He was even given the nickname, "Smiley Sanford", because he was always smiling. During the early 1930's while living in Chicago Redd formed a singing group with his friends called the 4 Bon Bons. 

When Redd was 16 years old, he hopped a freight train with no money and travel to New York City. Homeless, he found work as a dishwasher at Jimmy's Chicken Shack in Harlem. That’s where Chicago Redd would meet Malcom Little (Malcolm X), who then went by the nickname Detroit Red. Malcom would later state in his autobiography that Redd was "the funniest dishwasher I ever seen". The two of them were very close buddies, running the streets and even sleeping on rooftops just to survive!

In 1942, Redd was asked by a club in Baltimore to MC getting paid $40 a night. Redd changed his stage name adding an additional X at the end. In 1947, he teamed up with longtime friend Melvin "Slappy" White and started a two-man act. Redd and Slappy were trendsetters breaking the mold of the time not wearing blackface. Slappy playing the straight man and Redd playing the comedic relief. This was considered a new type of comedy and was an instant hit at the Apollo Theatre and on the Chitlin Circuit. The comedy team lasted for 4 years until they're split 1952.

In 1955 Redd was performing solo in Los Angeles when promoter Dootsie Williams, the creator of Laff Records caught his act for the first time. He offered Redd $25 to tape the act which became Foxx’s first comedy album, "Laff of the Party", and this started his rise as the “King of Party Record”. Between 1956 and 1961, Dootsie Records released 35 of Redd’s party records with sales in the millions and they helped make Redd an underground legend. Riding on the success of his party records Redd started to work Las Vegas. This prompted him to open his own nightclub in Los Angeles. The regulars were Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, and even Richard Pryor who would appear almost nightly. At the same time he recorded his classic comedy album "Craps After Hours”.

Even with all of Redd’s underground fame he was still having trouble breaking into primetime. It wasn't until the early 1970's when friend Flip Wilson invited Redd to become a  regular on his television show that middle America took notice. Producer Norman Lear would catch Foxx’s nightclub act and within a week contact him about a show idea similar to a British sitcom Step Toe and Son. Redd agreed and Sanford and Son was born. Sanford and Son aired on January 14, 1972. The TV pilot ratings went through the roof, even getting higher ratings than the World Series that year. The show helped give NBC its highest ratings being in the top ten with 20 million viewers each week tuning. It seemed like fans couldn't get enough of seeing the constant back and forth between Fred and his son played by beloved actor Desmond "Lamont" Wilson and the well rounded out cast of Rollo, and Aunt Ester played by Lawanda Paige.

During the height of the show Redd received a Golden Globe Award and three prime time Emmy award nominations. But due to constant bickering with writers and producers about on set issues and salary, Redd walk away from the show at the height of his fame in 1977.

Rival network ABC signed Redd in 1977 and gave him his show the Redd Foxx comedy hour. In the 80's Foxx reunited with network NBC for a series entitled Sanford and the ABC networks The Redd Foxx Show. In 1989 Redd Foxx teamed with Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy in the cult classic film Harlem Nights. This would make the way for Redd and co-star Della Reese’s ABC sitcom The Royal Family. On October 11, 1991, Foxx tragically suffered a heart attack while on set and passed away when he was 68 years old.

Horace Glasper for BHMD

Copyright Black History Mini Docs Inc. 2024 All Rights Reserved.        


This website makes use of cookies. Please see our privacy policy for details.