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André De Shields

Stage actor, director, and choreographer André De Shields was born on January 12, 1946 in Dundalk, Maryland to Mary Gunther and John De Shields. He was raised in Baltimore, Maryland as the ninth of eleven children. De Shields obtained his high school diploma at Baltimore City College in 1964, and earned his B.A. degree in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970. In 1991, De Shields received his M.A. degree in African American studies from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

De Shields began his career in 1969 at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre in Tom O’Horgan’s production of Hair, The American Tribal-Love Rock Musical. In 1971, De Shields joined the Organic Theater Company and began performing in Wrap! in Chicago. In 1973, De Shields left the Organic Theater Company and became an associate choreographer for Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue the following year. In the late 1970s, De Shields began choreographing for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. He then went on to perform in many televised productions, including Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1982), Alice in Wonderland (1983), and Duke Ellington, The Music Lives On (1984). De Shields continued his work while holding professorships at New York University, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Michigan. In 2009, in honor of President Barack Obama’s election, Mr. De Shields created his solo performance, Frederick Douglass: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

De Shields received numerous awards, including three Chicago Joseph Jefferson Awards and nine AUDELCO Awards. In 1982, De Shields won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance for the NBC TV Special based on Ain’t Misbehavin’. In 2004, he received honorary doctorate of fine arts degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and from SUNY-Buffalo State. De Shields received a Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance in 2007, and in 2009, he won the National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award. De Shields received a Distinguished Achievement Award from Fox Foundation Fellowship in 2012, a Making Waves Award from Florida Atlantic University in 2014, an Award for Excellence in The Arts from the theatre school at DePaul University in 2015, and a Pioneer of the Arts Award from Riant Theatre in 2016.

André De Shields was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 19, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.020

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/19/2016 |and| 9/22/2016

Last Name

De Shields

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Robin

Schools

New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study

John Hurst Elementary School No. 120

Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts

Baltimore City College

Wilmington College

University of Wisconsin-Madison

First Name

André

Birth City, State, Country

Dundalk

HM ID

DES04

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Maryland

Favorite Vacation Destination

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Favorite Quote

The Top Of One Mountain Is The Bottom Of The Next, So Keep Climbing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/12/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lima Beans

Short Description

Stage actor, director, and choreographer André De Shields (1946 - ) starred on Broadway in The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Play On!, The Full Monty, and Impressionism in addition to serving as director of numerous off-Broadway productions.

Employment

The Full Monty

Ain't Misbehavin

The Wiz

SUNY-Buffalo State College

CUNY- Hunter College

Gallatin School of Individualized Study

New York University School of Education, Health, Nursing and Arts Professions

Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts

Southern Methodist University

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Morehouse College

Favorite Color

Red

Mercedes Ellington

Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington was born on February 9, 1939 in New York City to Ruth Silas Batts and trumpet player and conductor Mercer Ellington, son of renowned composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. Ellington was raised by her maternal grandparents Louise Petgrave Silas and Alfred Silas, who enrolled her in dance and ballet classes at an early age. Ellington received a scholarship to attend The Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet, but decided to enroll at The Julliard School at her father’s insistence. She graduated with her B.A. degree in classical and modern dance in 1960.

Ellington’s first professional role was in a production of West Side Story in Australia. She also appeared in productions of On the Town and Pal Joey at the New York City Center. In 1963, Ellington became the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers, the featured performers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She danced with the June Taylor Dancers for seven years, until she moved on to perform in Broadway shows like No, No Nannette, The Night That Made America Famous, The Grand Tour, and Happy New Year. In 1981, Ellington starred in Sophisticated Ladies alongside her father, who conducted the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In 1983, she co-founded BalleTap, later named DancEllington, with Maurice Hines. Ellington produced award-winning choreography in musicals such as Blues in the Night, Juba, Satchmo and Tuxedo Junction. The organization dissolved in 1992, and Ellington went on to direct the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Tribute to the Spirit of Harlem in 2001. In 2004, Ellington founded Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to scholarship, education, and performance connected to the legacy of Duke Ellington.

Ellington’s choreography and commitment to her grandfather’s legacy earned her numerous honors and awards, including the Actor’s Equity Association’s Paul Robeson Award and the FloBert Lifetime Achievement Award. She also served as a judge for the Capezio Dance Awards, and as a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the American Tap Dance Foundation. In addition, Ellington served on the local and national boards of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. In 2016, she also co-authored a book entitled Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon with Stephen Brower.

Mercedes Ellington was interviewed by The History Makers on August 12, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.010

Sex

Female

Interview Date

08/12/2016

Last Name

Ellington

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

The Juilliard School

St. Walburga's Academy

Our Lady of Lourdes School

First Name

Mercedes

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

ELL05

Favorite Season

Fall, Winter

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Don't Piss In My Vest Pocket And Tell Me It's Raining.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/9/1939

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lamb Chops

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Mercedes Ellington (1939 - ), the granddaughter of Duke Ellington, was the first African American member of the June Taylor Dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show. She also opened The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts.

Employment

DancEllington

The Jackie Gleason Show

BalleTap USA

'West Side Story'

'On The Town'

'Pal Joey'

'No No Nanette'

'Sophisticated Ladies'

'Blues in the Night'

'Juba'

'Tuxedo Junction'

Favorite Color

Cerise

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mercedes Ellington's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her maternal family's ballroom dances

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington remembers her maternal grandparents' home

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her early dance lessons and recitals

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes the sights of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington remembers New York City's Sugar Hill neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes Our Lady of Lourdes School in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington recalls being raised by her grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington talks about living with her maternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her paternal grandparents' marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her relationship with her paternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's mistresses, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington talks about Duke Ellington's world tours

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's affairs

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington shares her hope to bring Duke Ellington's music to Cuba

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her parents' relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her relationship with her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her early dance influences

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Mercedes Ellington recalls enduring discrimination in dance school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington remembers the limited opportunities for dancers of color

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her family's advice about her career

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington talks about The Juilliard School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes the Martha Graham modern dance technique

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington recalls living at The Juilliard School's International House

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington recalls living with her father

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington remembers her first professional role

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her grandfather's influence

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's second marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's death and his will

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington lists her performances in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington recalls auditioning for 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington remembers being selected as a June Taylor Dancer

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her experience as a June Taylor Dancer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her salary on 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes Jackie Gleason's big band show

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington recalls joining the cast of 'No, No Nanette'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the filming of 'The Jackie Gleason Show'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her first Broadway performance in 'No, No, Nanette'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington describes her union memberships

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington talks about female empowerment on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington recalls her paternal grandfather seeing her performance

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Duke Ellington's death

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes the production behind 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington describes her additional sources of income

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington lists her volunteer activities

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington recalls competing in ballroom dancing competitions

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington recalls the cast of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington describes the hectic performances of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington remembers Gregory Hines's termination from the production of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the success of 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington describes her father's role in 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington describes the creation of BalleTap USA

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington recalls touring with BalleTap USA in Japan

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington talks about choreographing 'Blues in the Night'

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington recalls choreographing 'Juba'

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington talks about the inspiration behind 'Juba'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington recalls choreographing 'Tuxedo Junction'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her philosophy for performances

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Mercedes Ellington describes her hopes for Duke Ellington's legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Mercedes Ellington describes her brother's management of the Duke Ellington estate

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her engagement

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Mercedes Ellington shares her views on marriage

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Mercedes Ellington describes the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Mercedes Ellington talks about her father's role in the Ellington family legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Mercedes Ellington describes her siblings

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Mercedes Ellington reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Mercedes Ellington describes 'Duke Ellington: An American Composer and Icon'

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Mercedes Ellington reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Mercedes Ellington shares her advice for aspiring dancers

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Mercedes Ellington narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Mercedes Ellington recalls her early dance lessons and recitals
Mercedes Ellington remembers being selected as a June Taylor Dancer
Transcript
But you also learned to read at a very early age, correct (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, yeah I learned to read and learned to dance at an early age too, because they had a recital, they had a dance and exercise school or it--it was really a dance school. But I ne- I remember my first shoes, again with the shoes, was rhythm shoes and these were like suede shoes with el- elastic across the top. And I wanted ballet shoes because I was a ballet fiend, fan from the very beginning. I used to cut out pictures in the newspapers and anybody had an old magazine I was really crazy about ballet pictures and I'd paste them in the book. And so I would--these rhythm shoes we--we used them to, to have our recitals. And it was a big deal because these were things that people in the neighborhood [Sugar Hill, New York, New York] really had to stretch their budget to afford to buy because it wasn't a necessary thing, it was, you know, a luxury to be able to afford dance shoes and sometimes at the recitals to pay for the dance costumes. And my first costume that I remember was as a snowflake in 'The Nutcracker,' and this white puffy tutu. And later on though, I--there some people in the neighborhood that were ballet teachers and my [maternal] grandmother [Louise Petgrave Silas] found out about them. There was--there were two people, the Facey twins, Marjorie [Marjorie Facey] and Marion Facey and they taught dance. And they--their claim to fame was that they were taught by Aubrey Hitchens who was a partner of Pavlova [Anna Pavlova]. So that--with that reputation, you know, everybody was wanting to take from these people, because it was as if they, themselves, were you know, had taken from Pavlova, which of course it's the same type of dance, it's the same style. But of course nobody ever saw Pavlova in our--our neighborhood. But there was also another guy who taught dance and his name was Sheldon Hoskins, yeah, Sheldon Hoskins.$$And this was all when you were a little girl?$$Yeah.$$So dance became important starting from nursery school?$$Yes.$I looked at--down the line and there was like maybe eighteen people left and I figured that maybe she [June Taylor] had forgotten about me, but then Gleason [Jackie Gleason] came in the room and he was--he had the producer, Jack Philbin and the director and a lot of reporters came in. And they sat there and she put her head together with Gleason and they were talking for a moment amongst themselves and then she stood up and said--made the announcement, "Ladies you are the new June Taylor Dancers." And there were two swings at that point because June Taylor Dancers are only sixteen people, and I--I remember like--I--I said well maybe I didn't hear her correctly or maybe again, maybe she just forgot about me. But I was in the lineup and I was very--I don't know I kind of in a fog, I--I--I can't even think of how I felt. I--I said well if this is true, that means I will have money to do this and do this, and I kept--I just started calculating in my head, I can pay my rent, I can do this, I can buy these--these shoes. But then, she came and talked to me afterwards and she said, "If you're not--if you don't live up to this job, I'm go--I'm going to fire you--I'll fi-," because she--she had a habit of firing somebody every week anyway if they didn't live up to the job. Because the thing was it was live TV, they never stopped for anybody, you could fall down and they wouldn't stop. So what--it just had to be, you know, you just kept going and she said, "Well, this is it, you--you've, you know, you've become, but if I was you, I would maybe hone up on my tap dancing a little bit." So what I would do after every rehearsal I would go around the corner, across the street and take an hour of tap da--tap lessons, and this was like practically every day.$$And how long were the rehearsals?$$All day, they were at ea- eight hours. Usually eight hours.$$So you are cast, now you're the first and only African American in--in her group, correct?$$Yes.$$What does that mean? Can you place this in context, 'cause it's television, it's live television, Jackie Gleason was a huge celebrity back then, was he not?$$Yes, very big, very big. Now we're talking about JFK [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy] is president. And during my first year tenure is when he was assa- assassinated. And it was--I mean a lot of things were happening, politically and in the entertainment business with all of these people and the change of--of in the arts in general, not only in television but the concert stage, the opera stage, the ballet stage, where things were getting to be a little bit more equalized. And--and here we had this guy--this wonderful guy in the office as the president who was actually concerned and interested in the arts and concerned with arts. It was almost like you were living in a, you know, utopia for a moment. And course after the assassination and everything else, you know, after that was.

Lucky Cordell

Disc jockey Moses “Lucky” Cordell, affectionately known as “The Baron of Bounce,” was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on July 28, 1928, to Grace and Moses Cordell. At age three, his mother died unexpectedly and his family moved to Chicago. Cordell attended Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Dunbar Technical High School in 1946. Shortly after graduation, Cordell joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Special Services Branch. While in the military, Cordell developed his theatrical ability. He received an honorable discharge in 1948. He was hired at WGES as a disk jockey in 1952 to work under Al Benson.

While working at WGRY in Gary, Indiana, Cordell hosted the popular show House of Hits. The show was well known for its audience participation and became a community favorite among African Americans in Gary. In 1956, local newspapers held an election for the “Honorary Mayor of the Negro Community” and Cordell won unanimously (beating four other radio personalities, religious leaders and political leaders). He held this honor for four years, until he decided not to run in 1960.

Cordell worked at several other radio stations in the Chicago area before taking a position as a disc jockey at WVON in Chicago. WVON, owned and operated by Chess Records, would become one of the most influential radio stations in United States history. Cordell became WVON’s program and music director in 1965, and in 1968 he was promoted to assistant general manager. After a change in station ownership in late 1970, Cordell became general manager. Under his leadership, the station increased its ratings and almost doubled the income received from advertising.

In the late 1960s, Cordell joined the Chicago Urban League. After retiring from the radio business, Cordell remained an active member of Chicago’s African American community.

Cordell passed away on September 6, 2015.

Accession Number

A2001.017

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

1/16/2002

Last Name

Cordell

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

James R. Doolittle, Jr. Elementary School

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School

Radio Institute of Chicago

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Lucky

Birth City, State, Country

Grenada

HM ID

COR01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Las Vegas, Nevada

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

7/28/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chili, Chicken

Death Date

7/7/2015

Short Description

Radio personality Lucky Cordell (1928 - 2015 ) , affectionately known as “The Baron of Bounce,” Cordell was a disc jockey at WVON in Chicago becoming the program and music director in 1965 and the general manager in the late 1970s. Under his leadership, the station increased its ratings and almost doubled the income received from advertising.

Employment

United States Army

WGES Radio

WGRY radio station

WVON Radio

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lucky Cordell interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell remembers his father

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell recounts an accident in his family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell discusses his upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell remembers his childhood friends

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell shares memories from his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell recalls a dangerous encounter from his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Lucky Cordell explains his nickname

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Lucky Cordell remembers inspirational figures from his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Lucky Cordell explains choosing a vocational education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell details his service in the U.S. military

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell describes his pursuit of a career in radio broadcasting

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell details his business relationship with radio personality Al Benson

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell explains his interest in radio broadcasting

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell remembers radio personality Al Benson

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell discusses radio personality Al Benson's career ascent

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell describes the radio industry in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell details the end of radio personality Al Benson's career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses his radio career at WGRY in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell recalls his participation in the Skyloft Players theater troupe during the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell describes his popularity in Gary, Indiana in the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell talks about establishing his reputation as the 'Baron of Bounce' at WGRY in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell explains his transition from WGRY in Gary, Indiana to WGES in Chicago, Illinois in 1961

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell talks about the music and the disc jockeys on WGES in Chicago circa 1961

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses leaving Chicago's WGES for Chicago's WVON in 1964

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell dicusses his relationship with Leonard Chess, owner of WVON and Chess Records

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell addresses the subject of working for a radio station owned by a record company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell shares an anecdote about a disc jockey named The Magnificent Montague

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell discusses his alliance with the disc jockeys during changes in WVON's ownership

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell talks about running afoul of advertisers at WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Lucky Cordell describes the office environment during his stint as general manager at WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Lucky Cordell explains why he was chosen to be general manager of WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Lucky Cordell dicusses the Black History Week programming that he produced at WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell describes WVON station politics surrounding the management shift and disc jockey Joe Cobb

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell talks about WVON disc jockey Herb Kent's personality

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell relates an anecdote about WVON disc jockeys Herb Kent and E. Rodney Jones

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell talks about some of the WVON disc jockeys during the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell talks about the nicknames used by the disc jockeys at WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell discusses 'The Black History Series' he produced

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell discusses a CHA radio project he worked on with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington after leaving WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell talks about his affiliation with Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell discusses changes in black radio from his career through the present

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

3$3

DATitle
Lucky Cordell details his business relationship with radio personality Al Benson
Lucky Cordell relates an anecdote about WVON disc jockeys Herb Kent and E. Rodney Jones
Transcript
I went to Al Benson who gave me a job. It was an Al Benson production and Lucky Cordell show. And I started with I think it was fifteen minutes, or half-hour or something. It was a short amount of time. And he put Tom Duncan--Tom Duncan and I like at each other. It was like these two young men wanna be disk jockeys on the Al Benson program. Now you send in, I don't know, bottle caps or something. I think it was Budweiser beer or something. But he had the audience voting for us by sending in these labels. And so now the thing is the label of the beer, whatever it was wasn't selling good. So he was very smart. He was smart enough to say, how can I jack up the sales? So he didn't care if I had my family and friends go out and buy tons of the stuff. You know, he didn't care. All he wanted was the response. So I won that. I became the disk jockey. Then I got a half-hour with him. Finally got an hour with him. And I'd say to him, "Mr. Benson I'd really like to get some sponsors." So he says, "You're not ready yet." So I was asking, "Can I go out and sell." You know. 'Cause I knew that's where the money was. Every time I'd ask him, he'd say, "You're not ready." I saying to myself, how do I get ready? So he had a newspaper. And he said to me, "Well you know, I'm not gonna pay you this money for you to do an hour at night." I said, "Well what--" He said, "I want you to work at the newspaper office during the day." Okay so there I was working in the newspaper office during the day and working the radio at night, which meant I had no time to go and get any sponsors. Benson was not selling at the time. And he used me and the other young fellow to say to ownership, look, I got these two hotshots in here. They're not selling anything. Better than me not selling, you know. So the break came when I--one day I went to work and on my lunch period, I went to a cleaners and sold them an account. Came back to the newspaper. And this was when I began to realize what was happening. I said, "Mr. Benson, good news. I just sold my first account." And he went off. "You did what? I didn't tell you were ready! You're not--" He says, "You know, you can't sign any contracts because I work for the radio station. You work for me." I said, "Yeah I know that. I didn't sign it." Then the--you see the light go on over his head. He said, "Oh maybe you are ready." He put his signature on it. Which means he sold it. Okay? Then he gave me free reign. You know, like, you're ready now. You can go out and sell whatever you want to." And I must have sold six accounts. And an account called in. 'Cause one of the accounts that I sold said, "I'll buy this time. But you must do my commercial. I don't want Benson doing my commercial." There were some who, because he talked, you know, very--and they wanted somebody that spoke better. He came in one night feeling good. He had some guests with him. He said, "Lucky," he says, "Listen I've got some friends here and you take the night off. I'm gonna do the show." So he's gonna do my show. "Okay Mr. Benson." He did the show and he did the commercial. The people called up the next day infuriated. "I'm not paying for that commercial. I told Lucky when he sold me that I was only gonna do--" Dr. Dyer. The light went on in his head. He called me upstairs. Now this was--he said--sent me a message. Lucky, Dr. Dyer wants to see you." Benson had threatened me within an inch by saying, "Don't you ever go upstairs. You have no business up there. Because you work for me." 'Cause he didn't want a closeness between the owners and me. So here I am. What do I do now? He said don't go up there and the man who owns the station says he wants to see me. So I took the shot and went on up to see him. And it went something like, "Lucky you're doing good and I just want to congratulate you. And listen you've sold several accounts haven't you?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "About how many?" "Well I don't know five or six." He said, "Listen I'm looking for my list around here. Can you remember who they were?" I'm innocent. I started naming the accounts. 'Cause I didn't know Benson was taking credit and not telling the man that I was involved. So after that meeting, when I came in that night--I still got the letter. There was a letter. Dear Lucky: As of tonight I will no longer need your services. I will be doing the show myself. Maybe we can work together in the future. Signed Al Benson. 'Cause I'd gone upstairs. So the next day, I went up to see Dr. Dyer. And I said, "Dr. Dyer." I said, "Is there any time that is available that I can get my own time? Because Mr. Benson just fired me." He said, "He did what?" I said, "He said he no longer need my services." He said, "Well I--you come in tonight to work. I'll speak with Mr. Benson." They tell me he cursed him up one wall and down the other. "You're trying to get rid of this kid whose selling and you're not selling." And blah blah blah. So then I came in the next night as if I came in to pick up my things. There was another letter. Dear Lucky: I have reconsidered your position as disc jockey and you will continue in your present position for the time being or something. So I stayed there with him like I say for at least a couple of years. Finally realizing I can't progress under this man. Everything I do he's gonna take credit for. So I put the word out that I was looking. And it was Leonard Chess who said to me one day when I visited him in his office--Because who would hear about jobs. Record people. Music people would hear about jobs available. I was about ready to go out of town. He said, "Lucky there's a position open in Gary, Indiana. A little station called WGRY." Well Gary at that time sounded to me like going to the moon. I didn't realize it was a stone's throw. So I thanked him and I did go out there. I took the audition. The man liked me. And I stayed out there for eight years. And finally I said, I wanna go back to Chicago radio. That's when I went to Dr. Dyer and he gave me my own show.$[E.] Rodney [Jones] and Herb [Kent] were in a contest together. Now this was a station [WVON radio station, Chicago, Illinois] promotion. It was the same kind of thing that had been done many stations--many times. Send in a label and vote for your favorite DJ [disc jockey]. Now this was all the disc jockeys. And that gave them the opportunity of hyping saying, "Vote for me." You know. "Hey, you know, I'm in this contest. Vote for me." So Herb and Rodney were the closest. They were the leaders. Everybody else had fallen behind. And there was a guy who was a sponsor of Herb Kent's who pulled a truck. He owned a grocery store. He pulled a truck up in the lot and had two people in there ripping off labels, gonna vote for Herb Kent. Well Herb Kent won it thumbs down. I mean the man unloaded half a truck of labels. To show you how people get involved. Here he is a sponsor. He wanted the one that he was pulling for to win. 'Cause Herb did his commercials. The story goes that he was like a lightweight gangster. And one day Rodney was called into the office. And this guy had--he was a little guy. But he had two big guys with him. Oh--the reason he wanted to see Rodney was Rodney jokingly made fun of the fact that Herb Kent had stolen the, you know. "He didn't really beat me. But he stole the election. " You know. And that was like calling this guy's representatives a thief. He came out there. He said, "And don't you ever call me--say I'm crooked!" Pow! Fired on him. And Leonard was there. And it was hushed up. It never was, you know, never known. I'll tell you who the guy was. He was the guy that later was busted for--he had a plant. And they were wrapping--they were putting butter wrappers on margarine. It was really margarine. And they had a plant doing it. So naturally, he could undersell any store in town. Butter, you know, so much a pound. They caught up with him in his operation. They busted that. So there were a couple of things that, you know, were a little shady about the boy. And nobody ever knew that. That's really--because, you know, that's the kind of story--who's gonna tell it? Have him coming after you, you know.