Redd was born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis, Missouri and raised on Chicago’s south side. His mother was a minister who was part Cherokee Indian. His father, who was an electrician, left the family when Sanford was only four year old. He briefly attended DuSable High School with future Chicago mayor Harold Washington, but never graduated. During World War II, Sanford used illegal means to avoid being drafted. Afterwords, he started to turn to crime. He moved to New York in the early 1940s. Foxx became a well-known associate of Malcolm Little, who would later be known as Malcolm X.
Sanford was dubbed “Chicago Red,” due to his “ruddy complexion”. His second stage name was taken from baseball star Jimmie Foxx. Foxx gained attention with his raunchy nightclub act. His stand-up performances were later released as “party” albums and became very popular. Foxx paved the way for black comedians such as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock. He was also one of the first black comics at the time to play to white audiences on the Las Vegas Strip.