Early Life


Born on January 27, 1888, to Sol and Lizzie Frankel, Harry spent his early childhood in Danville, Kentucky.  Sol moved his clothing business to Richmond, Indiana when Harry was nine years old.  The musically inclined youngster spent a great deal of time attending all the shows that came to town, often skipping school to do so.  His favorite was the minstrel show, with its southern music and blackface comedians.  After many years of singing in local quartets Harry, in 1908, realized his dream and “blacked up” as a professional minstrel performer for Coburn’s minstrels.

  Richmond Morning News, 23 August 1908

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division,

Early Career

Harry performed with Coburn’s minstrels and later with Al G. Field Minstrels, the most famous troupe of its day.  In the late 1920s, he teamed with a friend from his Coburn days, Joe Dunlevy, and they hit the vaudeville circuit as “The Two Blackbirds.” 

In 1930 when vaudeville was beginning to suffer from the effects of the Depression, a friend who owned the Great States Lawn Mower Company approached Harry and asked him if he would be interested in going on the air to advertise his company.  He accepted and began broadcasting from WLW in Cincinnati.  His real name didn’t seem catchy enough for a radio personality, so he adopted the stage name “Singin’ Sam” and billed himself as “The Lawnmower Man.”  He was so successful that Great States had trouble filling all the new orders, and his show was voted the most popular on WLW.

When an executive of the Barbasol Company heard him, he brought Sam to New York to begin broadcasting for his company.  “Singin’ Sam the Barbasol Man” made his debut on WABC on July 20, 1931 and soon became a national success.



Early Publicity Photo


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