Fat Albert first appeared in Cosby's stand-up comedy routine "Buck Buck," as recorded on his 1967 album Revenge. The stories were based upon Cosby's tales about growing up in inner city North Philadelphia. In 1969, Cosby and veteran animators Ken Mundiewho brought Fat Albert to animation in a one-shot prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert.
The special, which aired on NBC, was a hybrid of live-action and animation. The music for the special (and later the series) was written and performed by jazz pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock in 1969 and was released on the Warner Bros. album Fat Albert Rotunda.
The producers wanted NBC to bring Fat Albert to Saturday mornings, but they refused because the series was too educational. So, Bill Cosby and a new production company, Filmation Associates, took the property to CBS.The Fat Albert Gang's character images were primarily created by the artist Randy Hollar with the assistance of one-time Disney animator Michelle McKinney, under the direction of Ken Brown.
The series, now titled Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, premiered on September 9, 1972 on CBS for a 12-year run (however, it was not in continuous production). It also spent another season in first-run syndication in 1984-1985. Several prime-time holiday specials featuring the characters were also produced. Like most animated series at the time, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids contained a laugh track.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids received an Emmy nomination in 1974. Production of the series overlapped with the start of production of Cosby's live-action sitcom, The Cosby Show, which began airing in the fall of 1984.
In 2002, Fat Albert was placed at number 12 on TV Guide's list of the 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time.
- Bill Cosby
* Fat Albert — Voiced by Bill Cosby, based on his childhood friend Albert Robertson. The main character in the series, Fat Albert is the heart and soul — and often the conscience — of the Junkyard Gang; though he is depicted as being obese and unhealthy, he remains active through his love of sports, often taking part in different games along with the rest of the gang. Fat Albert works hard to maintain integrity in the gang and with others, and plays bagpipes/accordion (made from a radiator and an airbag) in the Junkyard Band.
* Mushmouth — Voiced by Bill Cosby. A chinless, linguistically-challenged simpleton who always spoke in virtual Ubbi Dubbi, tantamount to an overdose of novocaine in the mouth, according to Cosby's "Dentist" monologues. Mushmouth plays a homemade bass guitar in the Junkyard Band.
* Dumb Donald — Voiced by Lou Scheimer. A lanky but dimwitted fellow; he always wears a green long-sleeved jersey three sizes too big, and a pink stocking cap covering his entire face except his eyes and mouth. In the Junkyard Band, Dumb Donald plays a trombone made out of plumbers' pipe and a morning glory horn from an old Victrola.
* Bill — Voiced by Bill Cosby. A character based on Bill Cosby. Like the others, Bill is an all-around good athlete, but more often he spends his time trying, though not always successfully, to keep his little brother Russell out of trouble. In the Junkyard Band Bill plays homemade drums made from a discarded foot-pedal trash can using spoons for sticks.
* Russell — Voiced by Jan Crawford. Bill's little brother (named after Cosby's real-life brother, whom he often talked about in his monologues) and the smallest and youngest of the Junkyard Gang. He always wears a heavy jacket, boots and winter hat regardless of the weather. Russell is a frequent antagonist and has a penchant for telling things like they are, much to his older brother's consternation. Russell plays the xylophone in the Junkyard Band (made out of empty cans and a discarded coat rack)
* Weird Harold — Voiced by Gerald Edwards. A tall, skinny, beady-eyed kid who always wears a yellowish-brown dress blazer, a brown sock on one foot and a red sock on the other. Fat Albert's best friend, Harold is usually clumsy, except on the basketball court. In the Junkyard Band Weird Harold plays a harp made from bedsprings, and on occasion plays a "dressmaker dummy" in the percussion section.
* Rudy Davis — Voiced by Eric Suter. A sharply-dressed smooth-talker and huckster whose smart-alecky attitude is always getting him into trouble more often than out of it. But to his credit, Rudy has a good heart and often learns his lesson. His family is implied to be financially better-off than the others as he is the only Junkyard Band member with a real musical instrument, an electric guitar.
* Bucky — Voiced by Jan Crawford. As his name indicates, Bucky has a large overbite. Bucky plays a stovepipe organ in the Junkyard Band.