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John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...


Sam Lorber

DJ and broadcasting executive, was born Frank Michael Crocker in Buffalo, New York, the only child of Mrs. Frances Crocker. There is some disagreement about his date of birth, which some sources have reported as 1940. Little is known about his early life; only that he began his career as a DJ while still a prelaw student at the University of Buffalo and also attended the University of Southern California. In the early 1960s Crocker was hired by WUFO, a local daytime AM station that served Buffalo's black community. During this time he developed his rich vocal delivery and created the smooth, confident persona that would attract listeners and give him the platform to ascend to larger markets such as New York City, where he established himself in the early 1960s at R&B station WWRL. In 1969 he became the first black DJ at all white AM ...


Elizabeth D. Schafer

radio broadcaster, was born in Talladega County, Alabama, the son of Roy and Edna Garrett, tenant farmers. Although Garrett's father was illiterate, his mother could read and write and was concerned that her children be educated. By age five Garrett was literate and attended school with his siblings. He also helped his brothers and father farm the land they rented.

Not much is known about Garrett's childhood. By the 1940s he was living in Birmingham, Alabama, where he owned a dry cleaning business. Garrett also worked as a disc jockey at “soul” station WVOK and used his personal records and turntables. In 1957, motivated by the opportunity to secure a broadcast frequency and determined to establish a radio station, Garrett moved to Huntsville, Alabama. He was denied a building permit by the city government, however, and was arrested when he began construction without one.

Garrett protested the ...


Donna L. Halper

disc jockey, record executive, publisher, better known by his radio names—Jockey Jack and Jack the Rapper—was born in Chicago. His parents, Lillian Schwiech Gibson, a teacher, and Joseph Jack Gibson, a doctor, expected that he would attend college and perhaps follow in his father's footsteps, but the young Jack decided against a career in medicine. He found himself instead attracted to the performing arts, and after attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, in the early 1940s, he returned to Chicago to seek work on the radio. In the mid-1940s, radio dramas were still quite popular, and he became an actor in the first black soap opera, Here Comes Tomorrow, on station WJJD, beginning in 1947 Because he had studied drama in college he had a polished on air style that impressed a number of advertisers and led to more radio jobs ...


Donna L. Halper

radio and video disc jockey, was born John Julian Jackson III (although some sources give his birth name as “John Jay Jackson”) in New York City, the son of John J. and Elma V. Jackson. Little is known of his family, but they apparently moved to Boston early in his life, as J.J. was raised in the Roxbury section of that city, and attended Boston public schools. He briefly joined the military, and then returned to Boston, and worked for a time in the fledgling computer industry. But he already knew that he really wanted to work in radio.

Jackson learned that Tufts University, where he was not a student, operated a radio station that permitted community volunteers to broadcast. His first on-air radio job, therefore, was at Tufts station WTUR, in nearby Medford in the late 1960s. While working there, he met Joe Rogers ...


Barry Kernfeld

bandleader and composer, was born Lucius Venable Millinder in Anniston, Alabama. The identity and circumstances of his parents are unknown. He was raised in Chicago, Illinois, where he attended Wendell Phillips High School.

As Lucius Venable he began to work as a master of ceremonies and danced in nightclubs, including one run by Al Capone's brother Ralph in Cicero, Illinois. He became a bandleader in 1931, touring the RKO theater circuit. Early in 1932 he took over the little-known Doc Crawford band, and later that year he moved to New York.

Millinder appeared in the film short Scandals of 1933. In 1933 the promoter Irving Mills began grooming Millinder to take over the Mills Blue Rhythm Band by making him the frontman for the Congo Knights, a ten-piece band. Millinder and the band members worked locally and then played on the French Riviera from July to October ...


Ulrich Adelt

singer, disc jockey, comedian, and dancer, was born in Cayce, Mississippi, to Rufus Thomas Sr., a sharecropper, and his wife Rachel. At age two Thomas came to Memphis with his parents and four older siblings. He proved his talents as a performer early on, appearing as a frog in a school play at age six and as a tap dancer in theater productions at Booker T. Washington High School. In tenth grade, he performed in blackface at his first minstrel show, the Brown Brevities. After one semester at Tennessee A&I University, Thomas decided to become a professional entertainer. He participated in a number of traveling entertainment troupes in the 1930s, including the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, the Georgia Dixon Traveling Show, and the Royal American Tent Shows.

In November 1940 Thomas married his high-school sweetheart, Cornelius Lorene Wilson Their three children would become ...