Pigmeat Markham was far better known as a comedian than a musician, but in the 1960s he cut a series of novelty records in which he delivered his rhythmic, rhyming routines over frantic backdrops of bluesy funk that not only anticipated hip-hop by at least a decade, but landed him on the pop charts in the process. Born in Durham, NC, on April 18, 1904, as either David Markham or Dewey Martin (he was known to use both, and biographical sources disagree as to his true name), he began his career as a performer in 1917 as a dancer with a traveling show whose cast included Bessie Smith. Taking his name from a song in his act called "Sweet Papa Pigmeat," in time Markham began making a mark as a comic, and appeared on the burlesque circuit alongside such future stars as Red Buttons and Milton Berle. A large man with a gravelly voice, Markham's outgoing comic style in time won him a loyal following in African-American nightspots, and he worked the so-called "chitlin circuit" for years, and appeared in a handful of independent black-cast features. After appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, Markham was signed to Chess Records in 1964, and released several standup comedy albums.
One of his bits was about a short-tempered judge who had a low tolerance for foolishness in his courtroom. Called "Here Comes the Judge," the bit eventually found its way onto the television show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, at the time one of the most popular comedy shows of the day. After "Here Comes the Judge" became a nationwide catch phrase (and Shorty Long had cut a song of the same title), Markham cut a version of "Here Comes the Judge," with Pigmeat bellowing a rhyming version of his act and a hot R&B band (led by legendary producer and sideman Gene Barge) cutting the funk in the background. While such numbers had been staples on the "chitlin circuit" for years, this was something new on the radio, and "Here Comes the Judge" became a mainstream hit, rising to number 19 on the pop charts in the summer of 1968. Markham cut a handful of follow-ups, including "Sock It to 'Em, Judge," "The Hip Judge," and "Your Wires Have Been Tapped," but none enjoyed the same success as "Here Come the Judge," and in time Markham returned to standup comedy, though the success of his records certainly raised his profile (and asking price) in mainstream venues. After a career that spanned seven decades, Markham died as a result of a stroke on December 13, 1981. ~ Mark Deming