He Got Busy!: The Legacy of the Arsenio Hall Show

    It was 25 years ago. On May 21, 1994, the Arsenio Hall Show aired its final episode....



It was 25 years ago. On May 21, 1994, the Arsenio Hall Show aired its final episode. His late-night talk show ran from 1989 to 1994. Coincidentally, it was also five years ago that the second run of the Arsenio Hall Show also ended in 2014, even though it was promised with hopes of a second season. However, this article is not about the second run, but the first. The Arsenio Hall Show was a significant event in television and cultural history. It was the first late-night talk show with an African-American host that completed with other major talk show hosts such as Johnny Carson and David Letterman …and won in ratings. It the pioneer of many late-night shows with African-American hosts such as Chris Rock and Monique. Out of many of the show’s events that occurred during its airing, five of them are recognized here as the most significant.

Number five: The Truth About Martha Walsh

Martha Walsh has been recognized as the “Godmother of House Music.” Many recognize her powerful voice from the success of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and Black Box’s hit, “Everybody, Everybody”. However, both acts decided to use skinny models that lip-synced her singing on videos. She was never recognized for her contribution in the videos and in the music credits. The Arsenio hall Show brought Martha to the show where she performed (watch it her full, sexy, plus-size glory on YouTube) and revealed to the audience that this lady was the real voice of C+C Music Factory and a lawsuit was in process. Walsh’s reveal on the show changed the image of the music by revealing how many creators use others for profit. Walsh also won her lawsuit, also setting a standard in which now, all musicians must give credit to singers on their production credits.

Number four: Stopping the Violence…Seriously

On April 30, 1992, the Arsenio Hall Show took a different turn from their usual entertainment. The Rodney King verdict was passed for the officers of “Not Guilty” and a community was outraged. The L.A. Riots (or I call Insurrection) was on the news showing acts of destruction and property. People who were being abused and discriminated for years let their anger be shown by an unfair justice system. Arsenio Hall took a different path on his show by not portraying any type of humor, comedy, or laughs. He addressed the studio audience and his television audience about the violence with a plea for for it to stop. The whole hour was dedicated to conversations about change and guests are such as the mayor of L.A., who also pleaded the end to the violence. Talk shows (especially late night talk shows), never took any type of serious political stand or moral stand…until Arsenio.

Number three: Goodbye, Jim Henson

He was the voice of Kermit the Frog, the success of Sesame Street, and master of all the Muppets. Jim Henson’s success led to three television series, a number of movies, and created, as Arsenio said, “a dynasty.” On May 4, 1990, Jim Henson’s last television appearance was on the Arsenio hall Show. The interview was light and fun as Arsenio asked Kermit about life and his off-and-on relationship with Miss Piggy. The show also debuted a new Muppet called Clifford. Clifford’s appearance was significant for the Muppet was voiced by Kevin Clash. Clash would later achieve higher success and fame as the voice of Elmo on Sesame Street. After this appearance, Henson would pass away 12 days later.

Number two: Presidential Candidates

Presidential candidates were not a part of any talk show. They just didn’t have the time or their information or may have not reached the right audience. However, that was different for the Arsenio Hall Show. In 1992, Arsenio Hall fans were surprised to see a presidential candidate, William Jefferson Clinton, playing the saxophone along with Arsenio’s band, the Posse. This was the first time a presidential candidate actually made a campaign on a late night talk show. The interview gave a chance to address race relations since the L.A. riots, which Clinton expressed his views that reached a young audience. With his wife, Hillary Clinton, they spoke to Arsenio and the television audience about the need for change. That change reached that audience and in the voting polls. Bill Clinton won and became the 42nd president of the United States. Since then, presidential candidates have reached to more audiences by making appearances on talk shows since.

Number One: Giving Hip-Hop a Late-Night Home

In 1989, hip-hop artists were growing and reaching a larger audience with the debut of YO! MTV Raps. Many hip-hop artists appeared on the show to promote and bring to a larger audience across cultures. However, the challenge was to reach an audience that did not have cable. The Arsenio Hall Show brought that change by bringing in hip- hop artists whom never got a chance to be on late night talk shows such as Johnny Carson or David Letterman. Legends such as Tupac Shakur, Ice-T, N.W.A., and Snoop Dog performed, but they were also interviewed when no other shows would allow them to speak. The respect was appreciated in his last episodes in 1994. Queen Latifah produced a segment involving twenty of ’90s biggest rappers, including KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, YoYo, and Naughty By Nature. Hip-hop’s elite paid tribute to Arsenio’s work of bringing not only them on the show, but hip-hop to the mainstream television audience. Now, late-night talk shows with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have them on regularly.

Many of the events can be found on YouTube but nothing can compare to when it happened. Arsenio made changes to late-night and how we see television, music and interviews that are relevant and seen on shows today. No one was busier than Arsenio…and no one has been since.

Written by Thaddeus Armstead
T.J. Armstead has worked as a teacher and college professor. He has a large collection of Black media and has spoken at different colleges on African American images in the media. He enjoys traveling to different cities to experience different cultures such as New Orleans, Chicago and strangely enough, Cleveland. He currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio where he works on his next project or reading his large collection of African-American books. Profile

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