Previous Vocal Group Record of the Week
#605 (Week of 2/21/09 - 2/27/09) [Complete Upgrade on 3/24/18]


"Peckin"/"Bartender Blues"
by The Chocolateers
on Parrot 781
released in 1953

Above: The Three Chocolateers in a 1942 photo dated 2/27/44 (Top to Bottom) Eddie West, Albert Gibson, and Paul Black. In 1936, they introduced the "Peckin" dance routine, consisting of head motions like chickens pecking. The dance was performed by them in a full length feature film "New Faces of 1937" and again in a 1942 Soundie.

Click HERE for an article about The Three Chocolateers by Marv Goldberg.
(Will open in a separate window)

MARSHALL NEWS MESSENGER (Texas), July 18, 1937: PARAMOUNT—Everyone will soon want to know how to "Peck."

"Peckin," if you don't already know, is the latest dance rage. It is introduced in RKO Radio's hilarious musical comedy, "New Faces of 1937," the Paramount Theatre, now showing through Tuesday. If you've mastered the intricasies of "The Charleston," "Truckin," and similar terpsichorean [dancing] titillations, you won't have much trouble with "Peckin."

First of all, you find a barnyard. You stand in the middle of it with a can of cracked corn, and produce this noise, "Tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk." When you find yourself surrounded with chikens, you spray the corn in all directions. Then note carefully the cervical movements of the gallinaceous [domestic] bird. If you can imitate them, you're "Peckin." Ten nights in a barnyard is guaranteed to bring results.

Three Negro boys, Paul Black, Albert Gibson and Esvan Mosby, who call themselves "The Chocolateers," were in need of a new dance routine for their nightly chore at the Cotton Club in Culver City, Calif. They chanced to pass a chicken yard, noted a rhythm to the manner in which the chickens pecked their food and cackled at the same time, and conceived a routine from this pastoral procedure.

They tried this new dance to the booming of tom-toms, without music, and it became an instantaneous hit. About that time Ben Pollack and his swing band started an engagement at the Cotton Club. Harry James, cornet player with the band, and considered one of the best "riffers" in the country (to riff is to improvise hot musical phrases), met the Chocolateers and with them worked out the music for the "Peckin" routine, as well as lyrics.

RKO Radio decided to feature the "Peckin" number as the finale in "New Faces of 1937" and signed the Chocolateers to present their version of the number. The production starts out in a barnyard with live chickens and the Chocolateers. Next it moves into the kitchen of a night club with the poor chickens roasting, but with the Chocolateers still "Peckin."

When they carry the roasted chickens into the night club the "Peckin" is so contagious that all of the guests are affected, and a chorus of colored girls do a dance routine of the number. An epidemic of "Peckin" sweeps the place, and the number winds up with Harriet Hilliard and Bill Brady, romantic leads in the picture, being married by a "Peckin" pastor, "Skeets" Herfort, a featured singer and instrumemtalist.

The music for the ensemble is played by Jimmy Dorsey and his Swingsters. The vocals were arranged and the singers coached by Charles Henderson, formerly an arranger with Andre Kostelanetz, and Waring's Pennsylvanians.

[NOTE: This "Peckin" segment of the movie (albeit cut a little short at the end) is available for viewing on YouTube. It really is hilarious!]

Above Left: ASBURY PARK PRESS (New Jersey), February 22, 1941: "THE THREE CHOCOLATEERS will amuse you with their sensational routine of eccentric dancing, singing and comedy.

Above Right: CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, September 14, 1947: "AT THE NIGHT CLUBS—Current entertainment features....The Three Chocolateers, formerly with Cab Calloway at the Latin Quarter....

COURIER JOURNAL (Louisville, KY), August 25, 1949: Heading the vaudeville bill that will be introduced at the National Friday Afternoon will be the Three Chocolateers, a famed Negro comedy act that comes here directly from the Oriental Theater in Chicago. Six additional acts accompany this trio.

(New York Age 11/6/48)

(New York Age 11/20/54)

Above: Still shots from (Left) 1937 Movie: "New Faces Of 1937"; (Middle and Right) 1942 Soundies: "Tweed Me" and "Peckin".

The IMDB website credits The Three Chocolateers with three movies... "New Faces Of 1937" (1937); "A Day At The Races" (1937 uncredited); and "Moonlight Masquerade" (1942). They also had one appearance on the 1949 TV series "Sugar Hill Times".

LISTEN TO AUDIO (Windows Media Player): "Peckin" - The Three Chocolateers - New Faces Of 1937.


NEW YORK CITY—The Chocolateers, three lads from California who introduced and rose to fame via "The Peckin," the accepted dance craze before the "Big Apple," will reach their peak here when they open a three weeks engagement at the Paramount Theatre on Broadway with Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra.

First introduced to the country via RKO's production, "New Faces," starring Milton Berle, the three lads from the sun-kissed shores have been going big ever sinsce. Brought here for an engagement at a local theatre, the boys were caught by Herman Starks of the Cotton Club and right away signed for a Broadway engagement.

Like in their first flicker, "New Faces," the Chocolateers became an overnight sensation on the street of many lights and though the town and country was swamped by a new dance craze, their original way of doing the "Peckin" kept the dance a huge favorite throughout the entertainment world.

Now adding their names to the great list of colored performers to play the Paramount Theatre, New York's finest vaudeville House, the three lads have reached the top rung along this city's theatrical horizon. ....According to the act, a few months hence will find it again on the coast where more picture work has already been designed.

NEW YORK CITY—If for no other reason than the introduction of the Chocolateers to this city, New York will always remain indebted to the forgotten flicker "New Faces" which brought the engaging Milton Berle to Broadway in a new role. Since the showing of that picture in New York, three California lads, brought here to feature a bill of entertainment at the Apollo Theater under the name of the Chocolateers have been going places in a big way.

Now in the cast of the Cotton Club's present revue, the act is considered one of the most entertaining lifts in the entire revue. To describe their dance, which they call "Peckin," would be as crazy as they are, entertainingly speaking of course. But as for entertainment value it's the kicks.

Featured at the Paramount Theatre several weeks, the dancing of the boys, already known to Hollywood, was caught by a talent scout from out that way, and presto, though the films gave them to New York, they came to Broadway to rediscover them. Now the boys will leave the Cotton Club for Hollywood and more picture work. Some stuff eh wot?

PITTSBURGH COURIER, February 19, 1938: ....Cab Calloway, the "hi-de-ho Romeo" in person! ....And that brings us to the last act: The Chocolateers. I know you have heard the now famous song, "Peckin." Well, the Chocolateers are its co-writers (they made about $10,000 for their part in it), and they are also the originators of the dance by that name. Naw, you never have seen supreme "Peckin" unless you have seen the Chocolateers do it. In their "Peckin" number those guys keep the house in an uproar with laughter and applause from the beginning to the end. They knocked me out cold, I tell ye. Haw!

The Three Chocolateers, famed comic rhythm dance trio, are currently appearing in the revue at the Rhum Boogie night club here. The boys accepted the engagement at the club in order to be on hand for their forthcoming film job.

The Chocolateers only recently closed a 'holdover' engagement at the downtown Paramount Theatre. They were slated to appear this week on the program of San Francisco's Golden Gate theatre. Following a conference, a deal was struck permitting the sepia dance originators of the "Peckin" and current "Hicky Ricky" dance craze to cancel the theatre date and accept their nite club job.


Above Left: CHICAGO TRIBUNE 7/30/37:. Cropped "on the stage" portion of the bill at the RKO Palace Theatre in Chicago.

Above Right: AFRO-AMERICAN 7/9/38 CAPTION: THE THREE CHOCOLATEERS, who in private life are Paul Black, Esvan Mosby, and Al Gibson, left to right above, are famous as originators of "Peckin'." The team was discovered on the Pacific Coast by Duke Ellington and their engagement at the Cotton Club followed. They were featured at the Paramount Theatre on Broadway recently.

Oakland Tribune 6/10/37

Indianapolis News 9/7/40

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9/28/39

Salem News (Ohio) 8/31/40

Long Beach Independent (California) 10/5/41

California Eagle 12/18/41

EXTRA AUDIO - AL BENSON (Windows Media Player):


The Parrot label existed from late 1952 to early 1956. It's subsidiary label, Blue Lake, began in 1954 and also closed in early 1956. Al Benson's first label, Old Swing-Master, was a joint venture with radio station owner Egmont Sonderling and existed from January 1949 to mid-1950.

At the bottom of the Parrot and Blue Lake labels it states "The Bronzeville Record Mfg. Co., Chicago". Bronzeville was a black neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. Benson also owned The Bronzeville Record Distributing Company.

Vocal groups, other than The Chocolateers, that had records on Parrot/Blue Lake include The Flamingos, Orchids, Rockettes, Pelicans, Five Chances, Five Thrills, Parrots, Five Arrows, Maples, and Fascinators.

Above Left: Clipping from The Cash Box 1/16/54. [Check out The Five Thrills' Record of the Week for more information about Al Benson.]

Above Right: Al Benson picture from The Cash Box 12/13/47.

LISTEN TO AIRCHECK (Windows Media Player): "Swoon, Sway, and Swing Radio Show" - Al Benson - WGES 1390 AM (Chicago) - 1955.

The engineer flicks a cue, and the tall, lean man begins talking into the microphone. "If you've got plenty of geets on you, go right in the store. Walk heavy and talk heavy. And, that's for sure, from your old swingmaster." You may not know what he's talking about, but hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans recognize this esoteric verbiage at once. It belongs to Al Benson, who has been called by all odds the city's most popular disc jockey.... [The Al Benson picture that accompanied this article is at left.]

Al's home since 1946 has been WGES, which each week broadcasts more than 40 hours of Benson productions. He also has a transcribed show on WJJD. How did this Negro Arthur Godfrey become tops in his field in the second largest city in the land in less than five years? Special training? Well, yes, of sorts.

Before he became maestro of such WGES shows as "Swoon, Sway, and Swing," "Spinning the Shellacs," and "Five O'Clock Jump," Al was [1] "pastor" of a non-denominational church on the south side; [2] probation officer for Chicago and Cook county; [3] WPA interviewer attached to the University of Chicago; and [4] cook and waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The popularity of Benson among his own people borders on the incredible. He is, for example, "mayor" of Bronzeville. He won the title three years ago with a plurality of 1,400,000 votes over his nearest competitor in a field of 12. [Each voter cast as many ballots as he wished.] A couple of years ago, Al needed a large hall for a be-bop concert he was sponsoring. He approached Herb Carlin of the Civic Opera house. ....Al said "We packed 'em on the stage and in the pit. About 400 were turned away." ....

Al, an impeccably courteous gentleman, tried to explain this magnetism. "Native talk, I guess. I talk the way common people of my race do. They understand me. That business about 'geets,' 'walk heavy,' and 'talk heavy,' for instance. Geets is money. To walk heavy means to throw your shoulders back, stride in as if you owned the place, and look the man right in the eye. Talk heavy means to speak right up. Don't be afraid; be confident. My people know what I mean."

Al's undressed talk, as he puts it, belies his education. He was graduated from Jackson [Miss.] College and studied at Loyola a year preparing for his probation officer job. Al, his wife, and two daughters live sumptuously in a Maryland Avenue house big enough to convert into a small hotel. One room is a $10,000 studio. He drives four automobiles, one a Chartreuse fishtailed convertible and another a maroon job of the same make.

Al owns a prosperous record shop, is president of Swingmaster Recording Company, and produces strawberries by the carload on a Michigan farm. Pretty good for a lad who followed the advice of his father, a musician, to "go north, young man, go north."

CHICAGO—"The Windy City," noted for its leadership in infiltrating Negroes in all phases of radio, added another laurel to its crown Saturday when Al Benson launched his initial "Spotlight Talent" television show over WBKB, Channel 4, at 9:30 P.M.

This brilliant variety show featuring well known personalities of stage and night clubs, ran one solid hour and was acclaimed as one of the finest to hit TV outlets. This important step in the field of TV was launched by the "Old Swingmaster," who has spent many weeks rounding up the format of its presentation, and is enjoyable to both colored and white viewers....

In the official opening of Benson's TV show were Henry (Red) Allen and his combo, who are currently playing the downtown Blue Note night club; Ruth Brown, Atlantic recording artist; Lurlean Hunter [female singer]; Joe Williams, former member of Lionel Hampton's orchestra; the Dozier Boys, songsters; and an eleven-piece orchestra.

Official reports show that the Benson show ran smoothly and carried talent worth seeing. The show is produced and directed by Al Benson.

Above: Label image of Parrot 781 recorded in May 1953 and released in July 1953. It was The Chocolateers' only record. They are backed by Red Saunders' Band. Al Benson was a popular Chicago disk-jockey who owned the Parrot label.

The Cash Box Review (11/7/53):

(C+) The Chocolateers sing a rhythmic middle tempo novelty describing the "Peckin" dance. A gay and infectous side.
Bartender Blues (C+) A talky novelty with an exchange of insults and yaks. Scene of operation takes place in a bar. A mirthful hunk of wax.
(NOTE: A rating of C+ was considered "good.")

NOTE: Most discographical information provided at this website is from Ferdie Gonzalez' Disco-File.

Listen to this week's selections by The Chocolateers on Parrot 781 from 1953 using Windows Media Player:
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]

          1. Peckin
          2. Bartender Blues
          BOTH played in sequence

[To download audio files, right-click on link and then click "Save link (target) as..."]