Blackity Black History Month: ATL Icon NIpsey Russell
“Pro and con are opposites,
That fact is clearly seen.
If progress means to move forward,
then what does congress mean?"
— Comedy "poet laureate" Nipsey Russell
Nipsey Russell, born in Atlanta, was an iconic comedian, poet, and dancer well known for his appearances as a panelist on game shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, including Match Game, Password, Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth, and Pyramid. He was sometimes called “the poet laureate of comedy” because he regularly recited hilarious four-line topical poems as part of his routine.
Russell refused to use stereotypical dialects or play stereotypical roles in his acts, which broke barriers for rising comedians of all backgrounds.
He is perhaps best known for his role as the Tin Man in “The Wiz,” the 1978 remake of “The Wizard of Oz” starring an all Black cast. Russell was actually called in last minute to replace Ben Vereen, who was supposed to play the role.
He went to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, and got his start as a comedian in the 1940s as a carhop at the Atlanta drive-in The Varsity, where he increased the tips he earned by making customers laugh. He was discovered after he began performing in nightclubs in the 1950s. He subsequently made many "party albums", which were essentially compilations of his stand-up routines.
ABOUT BLACKITY BLACK HISTORY MONTH @ 85 NORTH
Each day this month, we'll be sharing wise words from Black Atlanta icons — some who are household names and some who you may not know. Atlanta history IS Black history, and this is our way of sharing it.