The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Henry W. McGee

Broadcast executive Henry W. McGee was born on January 22, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois to Henry McGee Jr. and Catherine Williams. At the age of sixteen, McGee moved with his father to Los Angeles, California, and attended Palisades High School in Pacific Palisades, California until his junior year when he received early admission to Harvard University. McGee earned his B.A. degree in social studies magna cum laude in 1974. Later he received his M.B.A. degree from Harvard Business School in 1979.

McGee worked as a writer for Newsweek from 1974 to 1977 in New York and Washington D.C. After he obtained his M.B.A. degree, he was hired as a manager of film acquisition for Home Box Office (HBO), which was then a new venture at Time, Inc. McGee went on to serve as director of program acquisition for Time-Life Films from 1980 to 1981, director of Cinemax Program Planning and HBO Family Programming from 1981 to 1983, director of HBO Enterprises from 1983 to 1985, vice president of home video from 1985 to 1988, and senior vice president of programming for HBO Video from 1988 to 1995. In March of 1995, McGee was promoted to president of HBO Home Entertainment. Under his leadership, HBO became the leading force in the TV-to-DVD industry and a pioneer in using the Internet for marketing and sales. After retiring from HBO in 2013, McGee joined the faculty of Harvard Business School as a senior lecturer.

In 2004, McGee was elected to the board of AmerisourceBergen, the global pharmaceutical services company, and in 2017 was named chairman of the company’s Governance and Nominating Committee. In 2015, he joined the board of TEGNA, Inc., a broadcast and digital media company that owns the largest number of affiliates of the NBC television network. McGee also served on several nonprofit boards, including as director of the Black Filmmaker Foundation board since 1985, and the Pew Research Center board since 2014. He also served as director and president of the Film Society of Lincoln Center board, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation board. He served as a director of the boards of the Save the Children Fund, the Time Warner Foundation, Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Sundance Institute. Additionally, McGee served on the advisory board of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.

McGee was inducted into Variety’s Home Entertainment Hall of Fame, and the National Association of Minorities in Communication Hall of Fame. He also received the Professional Achievement Award from the Harvard Business School African American Alumni Association, and was named by Black Enterprise as one of the “50 Most Powerful African Americans in the Entertainment Business.” In 2018 the National Association of Corporate Directors named McGee one of the 100 most influential people in the boardroom community.

McGee and his wife, Celia, have one daughter, Honor.

Henry W. McGee was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 22, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.025

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/22/2016

Last Name

McGee

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Wadsworth

Schools

Washington Dual Language Academy

Alain L Locke Elementary School

Horace Mann School

Palisades Charter High School

Harvard University

Harvard Business School

Tolleston Middle School

First Name

Henry

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

MCG08

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Paris, France

Favorite Quote

If You Don't Know Where You Are Going Any Road Will Get You There.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/22/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Grilled Chicken

Short Description

Broadcast executive Henry W. McGee (1953 - ) worked at HBO Home Entertainment for over thirty-five years, where he served as president from 1995 to 2014. He then became a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

Employment

Harvard Business School

HBO Home Entertainment

HBO Video

HBO

HBO Enterprises

Cinemax Program Planning and HBO Family Programming

Time-Life Films

Newsweek

GE Asset Management

Favorite Color

Navy Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:696,16:5288,52:6548,89:9656,191:10076,197:26718,308:27546,315:28512,323:29064,328:31962,350:36244,372:41498,463:43348,509:43792,517:45198,542:47122,572:47640,582:55068,620:64190,701:69600,717:70266,724:71043,732:72819,749:76260,795:83909,857:87299,885:87751,890:88768,900:93591,929:98211,1008:103102,1059:112016,1151:112772,1161:113360,1172:121146,1221:124306,1246:132454,1362:132790,1367:133630,1382:134806,1398:140110,1431:140702,1441:141516,1457:142108,1467:143070,1481:143662,1490:146064,1508:152587,1605:156322,1672:157401,1685:157982,1693:170380,1781:183270,1889:184414,1897:185350,1906:186390,1917:187846,1934:191694,1977:192838,1989:193670,1997:214850,2216:215666,2225:218522,2251:219236,2260:220154,2272:222806,2302:227037,2311:228236,2323:228672,2328:230634,2345:235103,2410:235539,2415:243530,2478:245510,2492$60,0:795,9:1215,14:16680,191:17338,199:20190,210:20905,216:26840,222:27623,233:41861,458:43982,491:44588,498:45800,519:46406,526:48123,548:50042,571:51254,582:55620,593:56630,605:58145,632:58751,639:59155,644:61890,658:64338,698:76494,816:77620,821:78852,834:79636,842:92278,946:96802,1016:99710,1024:102060,1035:102914,1043:104988,1068:105964,1091:115804,1168:116588,1177:119920,1219:120312,1224:122468,1259:126110,1268:135370,1395:136030,1402:136800,1411:138450,1431:140980,1468:156580,1563
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Henry W. McGee's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Henry W. McGee lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Henry W. McGee describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Henry W. McGee talks about his mother's light complexion

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Henry W. McGee describes his paternal grandfather's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Henry W. McGee describes his paternal grandfather's career at the post office

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Henry W. McGee describes his paternal family's emphasis on education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Henry W. McGee describes his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Henry W. McGee describes his paternal grandfather's civil rights work

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Henry W. McGee describes his father's work for the Legal Services Program

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Henry W. McGee remembers his parents' divorce, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Henry W. McGee describes his father's career in higher education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Henry W. McGee remembers moving to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Henry W. McGee describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Henry W. McGee remembers his parents' divorce, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Henry W. McGee remembers living with his maternal family in Maywood, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Henry W. McGee remembers the community of Maywood, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Henry W. McGee remembers moving to Gary, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Henry W. McGee describes his neighborhood in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Henry W. McGee remembers school desegregation in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Henry W. McGee remembers attending a summer program at the Mount Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Henry W. McGee recalls his early admission to Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Henry W. McGee remembers his aspiration to become a journalist

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Henry W. McGee recalls his summer internships at Newsweek magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Henry W. McGee remembers the black student community at Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Henry W. McGee recalls his parents' reaction to his admission to Harvard University

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Henry W. McGee remembers joining the staff of Newsweek magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Henry W. McGee remembers working for Newsweek in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Henry W. McGee recalls his decision to attend Harvard Business School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Henry W. McGee recalls being offered a position at Time Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Henry W. McGee recalls his decision to work at Home Box Office

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Henry W. McGee describes the original business model of Home Box Office

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Henry W. McGee describes his role at Home Box Office, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Henry W. McGee describes his role at Home Box Office, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Henry W. McGee talks about the early home movie industry

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Henry W. McGee recalls the impact of DVDs on the home entertainment industry

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Henry W. McGee remembers the introduction of original programming on Home Box Office

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Henry W. McGee talks about Home Box Office's original series

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Henry W. McGee describes Home Box Office's corporate history

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Henry W. McGee remembers his presidency of Home Box Office

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Henry W. McGee describes Home Box Office's international expansion

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Henry W. McGee remembers designing a business ethics curriculum

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Henry W. McGee remembers becoming a full time instructor at the Harvard Business School

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Henry W. McGee reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Henry W. McGee shares his advice to aspiring film industry professionals

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Henry W. McGee reflects upon his life and organizational activities

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Henry W. McGee narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$3

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Henry W. McGee describes his role at Home Box Office, pt. 1
Henry W. McGee remembers his aspiration to become a journalist
Transcript
As one of these nine M.B.A.'s who comes in to share your wisdom, what are you all doing? What, what's happening (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well, different, different things. Well so, so again this was the advantage, I joined HBO [Home Box Office] when it had fewer than 3 million subscribers. It was a single network that wasn't on twenty-four hours a day. Our--the technology at the time was so crude that our affiliates in Hawaii and Puerto Rico couldn't receive the satellite signal. And we used to have to package up the movies on large cassettes, ship them to them, and they originate HBO locally. And as I said fast, original programming really wasn't on the, the map. Flash forward to today, HBO is a global network with well over a hundred million subscribers. The majority of which by the way are outside the U.S., and is as evidenced by Sunday's Emmy Awards is the most important force in originally scripted programming in the telv- in, in the television industry. So all that hap- all that was to come, but when I showed up, it was all about movies. They had all these M.B.A.'s and they sort of sorted them out into different, different jobs. And because I had been a, a writer, they felt that I could sort of talk, talk with the crazies if you will, out in, in Hollywood. And because I had the, the M.B.A. I could presumably negotiate with them, so I was given a job for which I was wholly unqualified. Which was negotiating the rights to independently produced films and foreign language films for exhibition on this service that wasn't even on twenty-four hours, twenty-four hours a day. Show, again, shows you how old, long ago HBO even no longer shows foreign language films on its main show, it's got other, you know. So this was an unbelievable opportunity for me.$$And you're about how old now?$$I was probably twenty-seven or so. Time Inc. is a very wealthy company, everything always had to be done top drawer. So at twenty-seven I was essentially given a credit card and unlimited amount of first class tickets. And told that I had to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel [Beverly Hills, California] and correctly represent the company. And buy as many independent and foreign language films as, as I could. So that was also at the beginning of the birth of the American independent film business. So to have that sort of checkbook and power--yeah pay television was a very important sort of financing stream--put me at the beginning of that movement.$When you were applying to Harvard [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts], did you have a sense of what you wanted to do with your life, what work you wanted to pursue?$$(Pause) No, I suspect that in my early days, because my father [Henry W. McGee, Jr.] was a gr- was a great role model for me, that I would probably--and this would of course made my grandparents [Attye Belle Truesdale McGee and Henry W. McGee, Sr.] happy--that I would become a, a lawyer. And sort of keep in the family tradition of, of, of public service in one way or another. What evolved over those years as a freshman in college, because I al- had always been interested in writing. And I was vaguely aware of my father's foray and brief foray into journalism; I joined the student daily, The Harvard, The Harvard Crimson. And in that group I dev- quickly developed my some of my closest friends even to this, this day, met my wife [Celia Betsky McGee] on the paper. In that the, the involvement in The Harvard Crimson was a, so central part of my college experience and shaped my decision early in the, early on there to become a journalist. Now there was some extern- couple of external factors there, one is in the early--we're just coming off the era of the Pentagon Papers. Early Watergate--well sort of in the middle of Watergate report, right before it. And being a journalist was, if you wanna do public service, that was one of the highest callings you could have. My father who regrettably had his journal- journalistic ambitions thwarted, was quite encouraging.

Paul Berry

Broadcast journalist Paul Berry was born on February 15, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, and was raised by his grandmother Annie M. Talley. Berry joined the U.S. Air Force in 1961 and graduated from the Department of Defense Information School. He went on to serve with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) assigned to the Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in Vietnam, where he worked as program director and sportscaster. While on assignment, Berry established the first independent FM radio station in South Vietnam.

In 1969, Berry was hired as an anchor and reporter at the ABC-owned outlet WXYZ-TV in Detroit, Michigan. In 1972, he joined ABC-7 (WJLA-TV) in Washington, D.C., where he served as senior news anchor. Berry went on to establish two of WJLA’s community service programs, "Crimesolvers" and "Seven on Your Side."

In 1999, Berry left the news desk and hosted Washington, D.C.'s “The Paul Berry Show” for a number of years. He has also produced and hosted his own nationally syndicated weekly radio talk show, “Home & Family Finances,” which is now entitled “Family Financials with Paul Berry.” The show is owned by Berry, sponsored by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), and airs on Radio America Network. In addition, Berry established and heads the media consulting business Paul L. Berry & Associates, LLC. He is also a licensed realtor and founder of R & B Travel Agency.

Berry has been a member of several civic, charitable and professional organizations. He served on the boards of Ford's Theatre, The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, The Neediest Kids, Inc., The Washington Jesuit Academy, and the Paul Berry Academic Scholarship Foundation. He was a member of the Talbot County Tax Assessment Board; named president of the Chesapeake Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; and serves as commissioner for Maryland Public Television.

In 1982, Berry was the winner of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Ted Yates Award. Also, in 1982, Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry honored Berry by declaring November 12, "Paul Berry Day in the District." He received the 1986 Humanitarian Award of the National Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Leadership Conference; the 1989 Mid-Atlantic Professional Golfers' Association -Citizens Award; and the 1989 Olender Foundation’s Generous Heart Award. Washingtonian Magazine named Berry "Washingtonian of the Year" in 1991. He also won the 1993 Capital Region Emmy Award for Outstanding News Anchor, and in 1994, he was voted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences "Silver Circle." In addition, Berry has received community service awards from the National Capital Optimist Club and the Associated Press.

Berry is married to Amy Berry; they live in Easton, Maryland and have three children: Talley, Hudson and Paul.

Paul Berry was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 28, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.034

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/29/2014

Last Name

Berry

Maker Category
Middle Name

Lawrence

Schools

Cass Technical High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Paul

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

BER04

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Nassau, Bahamas

Favorite Quote

Education Is The Only Solution.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

2/15/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pig Feet

Short Description

Broadcast journalist Paul Berry (1944 - ) , founder of Paul L. Berry & Associates, LLC and the R & B Travel Agency, worked as an anchor for ABC-7 in Washington, D.C. for over twenty-five years. He also established the first independent FM radio station in South Vietnam, and is the host of Radio America Network’s “Home & Family Finances."

Employment

United States Air Force

Armed Forces Radio and Television Service

WXYZ-TV

WJLA TV

The Paul Berry Show

Family Financials with Paul Berry

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
0,0:2160,110:11120,268:21561,391:21927,398:35225,608:39020,780:57680,991:62770,1081:95980,1553:96260,1558:107602,1760:112168,1831:113528,1866:114684,1891:117713,1915:130700,2186:132140,2212:132940,2224:133420,2231:140036,2287:144392,2341:145040,2353:145544,2362:156584,2594:157620,2615:159248,2657:160210,2678:162652,2716:193182,3097:194040,3113:194568,3122:195492,3146:200150,3212:201130,3302:208340,3471:216862,3593:217474,3604:222767,3723:228850,3834:240140,3935:248870,4041:249182,4046:254798,4186:264014,4362:277238,4560:284606,4686:285050,4693:300721,4970:306771,5143:328500,5522$0,0:4988,145:25708,412:26036,417:30464,498:31858,526:45126,701:47633,719:49337,770:49692,776:80595,1222:94758,1386:99078,1490:100446,1533:101886,1575:102174,1580:117700,1728:127050,1816:132358,1865:134726,1955:135096,1961:154710,2259:163484,2458:166717,2538:167022,2544:174682,2681:176586,2724:194963,2889:202320,3022
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Paul Berry's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Paul Berry lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Paul Berry talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Paul Berry talks about his maternal great-grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about growing up in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Paul Berry talks about growing up in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Paul Berry talks about his current home in the Eastern Shore of Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Paul Berry talks about his mother's childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Paul Berry talks about his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Paul Berry talks about his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Paul Berry describes his father, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Paul Berry describes his father, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Paul Berry describes his parents' marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about how his grandmother influenced him

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Paul Berry talks about being taught to cook by his grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Paul Berry talks about his sister

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Paul Berry describes his earliest childhood memory, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Paul Berry describes his earliest childhood memory, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Paul Berry describes his memories of Highland Park, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about Joe Louis Barrow

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Paul Berry describes living in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Paul Berry describes living in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Paul Berry describes the Church of God church near Swanton, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Paul Berry describes listening to the radio with his grandfather

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Paul Berry talks about the role of radio and television in his childhood

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Paul Berry talks about being on television for the first time as a child

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Paul Berry describes the issues with school integration in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Paul Berry describes the issues with school integration in Swanton, Ohio, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about moving back to Detroit, Michigan, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about moving back to Detroit, Michigan, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Paul Berry talks about joining the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Paul Berry describes experiencing racism at Gunther Air Force in Montgomery, Alabama, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Paul Berry describes experiencing racism at Gunther Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Paul Berry describes his time in the Air Force, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Paul Berry describes his time in the Air Force, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about arriving in Vietnam in 1968 after the Tet Offensive

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Paul Berry describes beginning the first FM radio station during the Vietnam War

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Paul Berry describes announcing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination to the troops

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Paul Berry remembers his time at the radio station in Vietnam

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Paul Berry talks about his first foray into civilian broadcasting, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Paul Berry talks about his first foray into civilian broadcasting, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Paul Berry reflects on being a good journalist and his role at WXYZ

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about his role at WXYZ

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about broadcasting in Detroit, Michigan and being hired in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Paul Berry talks about news anchor Max Robinson

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Paul Berry recalls leaving Detroit, Michigan for Washington, D.C.

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Paul Berry recalls backlash to his report on Howard University, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Paul Berry recalls backlash to his report on Howard University, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Paul Berry talks about Max Robinson

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Paul Berry talks about working for BET

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about HistoryMaker Marion Barry, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Paul Berry talks about HistoryMaker Marion Barry, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Paul Berry remembers Petey Greene

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Paul Berry talks about a conflict with another journalist

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Paul Berry talks about the Watergate scandal

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Paul Berry talks about his show "7 On Your Side," pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Paul Berry talks about his show "7 On Your Side," pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Paul Berry talks about his show "Crime Solvers"

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Paul Berry recalls his various achievements

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Paul Berry talks about Washington D.C. public schools

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Paul Berry narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

7$7

DATitle
Paul Berry talks about being taught to cook by his grandmother
Paul Berry describes announcing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination to the troops
Transcript
She [grandmother Annie Talley] had me--I would go to church on--we'd go to church, I'd go to church, a little church in (laughter), on Irwin Road and Old State Line Road, a little Church of God with Reverend and Sister Jackson. He was a minister. And we would go to church Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, whether we wanted to or not. I remember at eight years, I was teaching Sunday school. I could read from the age of, I think mom says three and a half or four years old. I was reading, reading the Bible, you know. And so my grandmother would have us--and at that time, Debbie was still with, was still--we'd go to church and we'd be sitting there. And in the church would be Reverend Jackson, his wife, my grandmother and Debbie and me. That was it in the church at that--and there's, you know, they're singing and we're singing. Debbie and I look at each other and then Reverend Jackson would get up, and he would preach. And he'd do the service, and Debbie and I would look at each other because we knew that my grandmother knew more Bible than he knew because (laughter) she had studied the Bible. So we knew. So who was he preaching to? Debbie and I didn't care (laughter). We didn't wanna hear it. And he would, and then he would say this--and this, and (unclear) (laughter), "Now, pardon my digression." And we, oh, God, that meant, here's a ten minute loop about--oh my God. And my grandmother would look over at us and throw her finger at, which meant, you didn't misbehave. Or she would, if you did, she would walk over with her hand held high, coming across to where we were sitting, and reach over and grab you on the arm, right here and turn it and dare you, dare you to say a word. You'd better not yell. She'd just turn it, pinch you. And she'd turn you loose and walk back. And that, now, she was known for it so much so that her younger sister, Carrie Presley, that was her nickname. She used to call her "Pinch," (laughter) because she used to pinch. You didn't wanna get pinched by our grandmother, but she would come over and she would, she'd wrap you up, boy. And we'd sit there, and, you know--and it was good. I mean I, I learned the things, and I would teach Sunday school. Then I traveled with the Reverend Jackson. We went to different--she felt comfortable that he was a good man, a good and decent man. And what I learned later was what she meant by that, she wasn't worried of turning me loose with this guy. She thought he was--and he was. He, there was never, ever any, a hint of anything at all. And I would travel with him, and it was great. And then, you know, he'd take his eight, nine-year old parishioner with him to, to what they used to have those conventions, church conventions here and there. It was great. I got a chance to travel. Then when I got back to--I was home at, I think about the age of eight or nine, my grandmother called me in one day. And she said, "Paul, I want you to learn to cook." She says, "You gotta take care of yourself." She said, "So from now on, once a month, I want you to plan a meal, go shopping with me to get it, come back and fix it, cook it, clean up." She said, "I want you to do that once a month. Would you do it?" I said, "Of course." When you're eight years old, that sounded like a huge assignment and wonderful. So we used to go into the A and P, when we--when I went with her or Kroger's at the time. I think it was an A and P Store. And we'd buy, she said, "What do you want?" And I'd tell her what I was gonna cook. And I would come back and I would cook that meal. And it was a wonderful learning experience. But I grew right--and I did it every year, eight, nine, ten. When I came back from--at eleven, twelve, and then probably at my twelfth or thirteenth year, and I don't know which one, I was outside playing. And I had boasted about the fact that I cooked, and I knew how to cook. And my friends, Tommy Sorminsky [ph.] and Mike Soransky [ph.] who lived across the street from us, they laughed at me. "Why are you laughing?" "You, girl--boys don't cook. Girls cook." That's what they said. And I remembered that. So she called me in one day. She said, (laughter) "Paul, come (unclear), it's time." And I was upset because we were playing out in the field or whatever we're doing and I gotta go shop and all that. And I said it to her. I said, "Mom, I'm a boy. I'm not a girl. I'm a boy. Why do I have to--girls cook." "Oh, Paul," she said, "really?" She said, "Now, where did you hear that?" I told her. She says, "Well, let me tell you something." She says, "I raised nine of my children," and she says, "I raised them so dumb in the kitchen that they didn't know how to boil water. I did it all." She says, "But with you I got a second chance, Paul. And I'm making full use of that." She says, "Now, you're gonna cook." And she says, "I'll tell you why." She said, "At one day in the future, you're going to grow up," she says. "And you're going to want to get married." She says, "But one of the reasons you'll get married is not because you're hungry. You'll know how to cook." And that was, and I looked at her. She said, "So go out. I'll do it," she says, "but you're gonna cook." She says, "You'll get married for all the right reasons, but you'll know how to take care of yourself." And I remember that to this day. "You know, you'll get married for a lot of silly reasons, but one of 'em won't be because you're hungry."$And so when King [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]--I don't know whether it was King or Kennedy [Robert Kennedy]. Who got--King got killed first.$$First, right.$$When King was killed, it was censored out of Saigon, censored. I mean until they figured out how to broadcast. But you know where it wasn't censored on FM Tuy Hoa. And we broadcast--now, again, we weren't doing it as anti anything. We were just saying that the troops, here was the news. We picked up the signal. We got the reports, and we played that report right on--"[Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King, Jr. killed, assassinated, or whatever they called it, and we broadcast that thing. Now, to understand the structure, the radio station was controlled AFVN [Air Forces Vietnam Network]. Our radio station, our little FM Tuy Hoa was controlled by the base commander, okay. So if I reported to anyone, I reported to him. He was the commander of Tuy Hoa, okay. And this was a installation that was sitting on his facility. So he was commander of it. But we weren't thinking about that. We, that was just a structure that we had to have in place because we were on the base. And sure enough, we broadcast the assassination of Martin Luther King. All hell broke loose because somebody heard our broadcast and the censors in Saigon went absolutely ape, and upset, and boy, we got, you know--you will not, you'll cease and desist, and you'll so and so, and that is, you know, it's unauthorized. And you don't have, and I mean, and we were like, "Well, Jesus, what is this? You know, I mean we were just giving out the news." Our theory was Americans fighting had to know what was going on at home. So we--and it's a good thing it happened then because I then had to explain. The, the--we stopped with the broadcast because we were told to stop. And at this point, we didn't know what to do. The commander of the air base at Tuy-Hoa listened to FM Tuy Hoa. It was his radio station, so he called me down to his office. "Lieutenant, what the heck's going on?" Why, you know, I told him what happened. And he says, "What?" I said, "Yeah, apparently--well, not apparently, sir, the, you know, the Air Force wants to, wants it censored information." I says not Air Force because AFRTS [American Forces Radio and Television Service] was a combination of all services, Armed Forces Radio Television Service. He says, "Well, how does that apply here?" I said, "Well, the commander-" He said, "The commander is not in charge of my facility. That's my radio station." And he says, "And you are now ordered to put--you go on the air with whatever you choose." He says, "As long as it's in good taste, the American soldier has a right to know. Thank you, sir." So, it got quiet. We went back on doing our broadcast, doing our written newscast. And then up comes the death of Robert Kennedy. And we were first--Reuters is the other news services that I was talking about, okay.$$Right, out of Britain.$$Reuters was the news service.

Fran Harth

Television executive Frances Harth graduated with her B.A. degree in English literature from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. While there, she studied for one semester at the University of Mexico in Mexico City. She earned her B.A. degree in radio and television journalism from Columbia College of Communications and completed graduate coursework at the State University of New York. In addition, Harth attended a certificate in executive management from the Wisconsin School of Business School at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Harth began her career as an editor for IBM in Endicott, New York. She also acted in a feature film and on stage with the Susquehanna Players. After moving to Chicago, Illinois, Harth was hired as a secondary English teacher for the Chicago Board of Education and worked as a freelance editor for the University of Chicago Press. Harth served as associate producer for the nationally syndicated “It’s Academic” television quiz show produced by Channel 5 (NBC) in Chicago. When the series was picked up by Channel 2 (CBS), she continued with the series and also worked on various specials at WBBM Channel 2.

Harth went on to become vice president of program development and syndication for national productions at Window To The World Communications, Inc. (WTTW/Chicago). While there, she worked to developed programming for national public television and served as the executive producer of the show “David Broza at Masada;” the documentary series, “Retirement Revolution;” and the reality show “Retirement Revolution: The New Reality.” Harth also created and served as the executive producer of two national PBS shows: “The Americas’ Family Kitchen with Vertamae Grosvenor,” and “MindBody Connection with Les Brown.” She authored the book, The Americas’ Family Kitchen with Vertamae Grosvenor (1996); wrote opinion articles for ELANCYL magazine. In addition, Harth has been invited to lecture on topics including feminism and women’s rights at the Colorado Black Women for Political Action, as well as other civic groups in Chicago.

Harth has served on the board of directors of the Midwest Women’s Center (1984-1986) and the Newhouse Architectural Foundation. She has been involved with the Milan Committee of the Chicago International Sister Cities Committee and the Film Center Committee of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Harth’s professional affiliations include the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, American Women in Radio and Television, and the National Association of Black Journalists.

Frances J. Harth was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.225

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/23/2013

Last Name

Harth

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Jean

Schools

University of Wisconsin-Madison

State University of New York at Binghamton

Columbia College Chicago

DePaul University

University of Mexico

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Frances

Birth City, State, Country

Demopolis

HM ID

HAR42

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Mexico

Favorite Quote

Everything Is In Divine Order.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

12/28/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Shellfish Bouillabaisse

Short Description

Television executive Fran Harth (1940 - ) served as an associate producer at Channel 5 (NBC) in Chicago and at WBBM Channel 2, and went on to become vice president of program development and syndication for national productions at Window To The World Communications, Inc.

Employment

Window to the World Communications, Inc.

NBC

CBS

Chicago Board of Education

Chicago University Press

International Business Machines (IBM)

Favorite Color

Blue, Green

Valerie Norman-Gammon

Media executive and television producer Valerie Norman-Gammon was born on May 14, 1951 in New York City, New York to Irene Robinson and Edmund Greene. Norman-Gammon attended P.S. 166 Elementary School in New York City and graduated from Brandeis High School in 1968. She went on to receive her B.A. degree from Baruch College in New York City in 1979. Norman-Gammon received her M.A. degree in journalism and broadcast management from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1981. She worked as a legal secretary for Cravath, Swaine & Moore before working in several successful broadcasting positions.

In 1980 Norman-Gammon worked as a talk show host for WYTV TV in Ohio. From 1981-1988 she worked as senior producer for WBBM TV in Chicago, Illinois. While with WBBM TV, Norman-Gammon produced the weekly talk show The Lee Phillips Show for which she won a Chicago Emmy award in 1983. During this time, she also served as executive producer for various documentary specials, including The Sounds of Soul, the fifth installment of the Time Warner syndicated series, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1988, Norman-Gammon became president and CEO of Amethyst Entertainment Inc., a television, music festival production, and media company. She has produced a number of mega music events, most notably, the Essence Music Festival from 1995 to 2002. From 1994 to 2007, Norman-Gammon served as the executive producer for FOX Chicago and My Network TV’s six time Emmy nominated, Christmas Glory.

Norman-Gammon is the recipient of three National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards for her work with The Essence Awards on the FOX Network. Norman-Gammon has also served as an adjunct professor in television, film, speech communications, and media relations at Johnson & Wales University. Norman-Gammon’s expertise in media management, television and mega event production make her one of the top executive producers in the entertainment industry. She is a long time member of numerous media related and professional organizations, including the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences. Norman-Gammon lives with her husband, Parker Gammon, in Miami, Florida.

Valerie Norman-Gammon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 22, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.233

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/22/2012

Last Name

Norman-Gammon

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

P.S. 166

Louis D Brandeis High School

Baruch College

University of Michigan

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Valerie

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

NOR06

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York, New York

Favorite Quote

It has to be fabulous.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Florida

Birth Date

5/14/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Miami

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Pasta

Short Description

Media executive and television producer Valerie Norman-Gammon (1951 - ) had over thirty years of experience in mass media management, television, and mega event production. She worked with Amethyst Entertainment, Inc.

Employment

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

WYTV TV

WBBM TV

Amethyst Entertainment, Inc.

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:12890,146:15900,178:16846,191:17362,198:18824,228:22737,251:58830,656:59180,665:69080,837:75966,906:86788,1102:99804,1263:185315,2455:197550,2687:234998,3233:235406,3241:241380,3305$0,0:16454,142:17690,162:22676,210:23036,216:23828,229:24548,241:28724,324:29372,335:30236,349:32180,381:32684,401:33332,412:34052,425:35492,451:35780,456:36356,466:37076,481:37508,488:39596,539:39884,544:40532,554:40964,561:46590,575:47565,594:48165,603:48690,611:50865,646:51165,651:51465,656:56720,694:57040,699:60642,753:61846,775:62448,784:63308,796:64684,812:65114,818:65802,827:68468,883:70016,906:81792,1040:82122,1046:82716,1058:83310,1067:83838,1076:85356,1123:85686,1129:86346,1145:86874,1156:87336,1166:89184,1187:90042,1202:96672,1275:97870,1281:98638,1296:99470,1316:99726,1321:100302,1331:100750,1340:101070,1346:101582,1356:103502,1405:104718,1430:104974,1435:108622,1510:113634,1548:113999,1554:114291,1559:116919,1612:117941,1628:123927,1769:124292,1775:124803,1784:125168,1790:130030,1812:130270,1817:131650,1847:132070,1855:132790,1870:134890,1935:136810,1979:137350,1992:139450,2045:143617,2069:144565,2084:144960,2090:146856,2124:147962,2142:148594,2151:149147,2160:157074,2268:157578,2279:157866,2284:160458,2328:160746,2333:161394,2348:162114,2365:162474,2371:166824,2399:167300,2404
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Valerie Norman-Gammon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her maternal great grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon remembers picking tomatoes with her grandmother in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon shares her great grandmother's stories

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes the foods that her grandmother made in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about meeting her father for the first time

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about seeing her father for the last time

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about the brief period in which she knew her father and his occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her mother's occupations and ice skating at Rockefeller Center

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes the building where she grew up in the Upper West Side, New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon lists her favorites

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes her mother's move to New York City at a young age

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her mother's sacrifices for their Manhattan apartment

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about starting grade school, her love of reading, and Christmas as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon remembers her high school, Louis D. Brandeis High School, and the teacher that influenced her the most

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon compares racism in Manhattan and the south

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes how she understood race as a child in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her church in Harlem and its pastor, Adam Clayton Powell

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes being in a cotillion

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her first boyfriend

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about working while going to school at Baruch College

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her scholarship to go to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her first marriage to Marvin Norman

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about working in the World Trade Center towers

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about TV anchors that she admired and an internship at NBC

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about balancing work and college

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about the skills that she gained working at a law firm, and the individuals who influenced her

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about leaving her job at law firm to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon reflects upon New York City's black culture in the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her maternal family's reaction to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about meeting Cindy Walker, who helped launch her television career

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about becoming cohost of Good Morning Youngstown in Youngstown, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about moving to Chicago, Illinois and becoming a producer at WBBM-TV

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing the show "Common Ground" in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing television shows at WBBM-TV in Chicago, Illinois and her friendship with Lee Phillip Bell

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about Chicago politics and culture, and Harold Washington becoming mayor, in the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks her struggle to achieve balanced political representation WBBM-TV

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about how she coped with the stress of working in television

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about some close friends from Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about writing a book with Dr. Terry Mason

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing the second Essence Awards show in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon reflects upon meeting John H. Johnson at the Essence Awards

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about the Chicago entertainment and journalism community

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing the Essence Awards for a decade

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about how she became connected with the Essence Awards

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes the process of producing the Essence Awards

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing the Cancun Jazz Music Festival

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing music festivals throughout Mexico and the Caribbean

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about developing and producing Sinbad's Soul Music Festival

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about Apostolic Church of God and convincing Bishop Brazier to go on television

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about Bishop Brazier and the conception of Christmas Glory

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes the Christmas Glory television event

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her community outreach goals in creating televised church events

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about the awards that she won for Christmas Glory

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about working with Quincy Jones on "The History of Rock n Roll"

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her contributions to the Essence Music Festival

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Valerie Norman-Gammon describes meeting and marrying her husband, Parker Gammon

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her husband's occupation

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about moving to Miami, Florida with her husband, Parker Gammon

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about winning three NAACP Image Awards

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about some of her current projects

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her parents' deaths and her relationships with family members

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her brothers

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her step sons

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her regret of not having children

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Valerie Norman-Gammon comments on her future aspirations

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about how she would like to be remembered and shares some advice for young adults

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about the women that she has admired over the years

Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Valerie Norman-Gammon reflects upon the importance of paying it forward and helping others

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Valerie Norman-Gammon narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

1$1

DATitle
Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about producing television shows at WBBM-TV in Chicago, Illinois and her friendship with Lee Phillip Bell
Valerie Norman-Gammon talks about her contributions to the Essence Music Festival
Transcript
I came to Chicago in September of 1981 over the Labor Day weekend. I drove my little car through the "S" curve and found my way to the hotel and then realized that CBS WBBM was actually two blocks down and so I would just walk down there to work. I came here during a time when Bill Curtis was here and Walter Jacobsen. WBBM was number one for everything for everything so it was exciting to be here and be a part of that whole collection and group of people; winning awards like crazy and everything. When I--after I worked on 'Common Ground' for so many months and then the 'Lee Phillip Show' became available because Bruce Dumont left. Cindy Walker made the decision to give me the show which then gave me two shows, 'Common Ground' and Lee Phillip. And the Lee Phillip show was really a prize possession. There were many other producers who wanted to have her show but I got it. It was a lot of work but I loved it. I was reading all the time because I had a two hour show in 'Common Ground' where you had to have a lot of material and you had to really delve into what was going on in the city and the community. But then I also had Lee Phillip who had a half hour day time Sunday magazine show with three segments that had all the biggest names in entertainment that came to town. So I was always going to plays, I was always going to big entertainment events, I always going to celebrity parties, I was always going to everything that was very high brow for her show and very community and local for 'Common Ground.' So I met everybody. I was being interviewed, I got numerous awards because I was everywhere doing everything and it was crazy but I loved it, I absolutely loved it. My relationship with Lee Phillip [Bell]--I did not know who she was obviously before I came here. I was unaware of the fact that she was married to Bill Bell and that she actually was Lee Phillip Bell and that they owned 'The Young and Restless' and also 'The Bold and the Beautiful.' So I didn't know that they were a powerhouse couple living over on Lake Shore Drive and that every afternoon Bill was on a conference call with his LA [Los Angeles, California] team executive producing 'The Young and the Restless.' I had no idea until I met her and we started working together and she and I actually shared a huge office. So we would look each other every day. We became very close. I remember she invited me to dinner one night and I went over there. She lived in one of the apartments, I've forgotten the actual address but it looks out on the lake, beautiful entire floor. And her daughter was there and her sons who now are big stars in television and we just had a good family time. Because they were just regular, family oriented people and it was phenomenal, it was just phenomenal.$$Now you mentioned that her sons are now big names in television.$$Her daughter is Lauralee Bell who is on 'The Bold and the Beautiful' and her sons have been working in the business so they are something. The father, Bill Bell has passed on but recently Lee ran into someone, a mutual friend and she called me to say hello. So she is out in LA now doing her thing and they say that--she says that she is over there a couple of times a week.$$On the set?$$On the set that's amazing, that's wonderful.$So Valerie in 1995 to 2002 you were a producer for the main stage of the Essence Music Festival?$$Yes, I am proud to say that I'm part of the team with Ed Lewis, Clarence Smith, Susan Taylor, Karen Taylor, and Terry Williams who created the actual Essence Music Festival. We created the concept; we went around the country working on selecting the right venue. We decided on New Orleans [Louisiana] because we could do two things at once. Have the main stage and then have that second level with the four quadrant rooms. We could have four different things going on. We created that and I actually decided that the main stage should be more than just another concert venue and I loved the fact that Essence, to my knowledge today, with the Essence Music Festival is the only one that has an actual produced stage presence when the performers are not on. And I created that for them and I created the designs for the quadrant rooms. So I asked a set designer that worked with me at CBS to come in and to meet us in New Orleans in the first year and to create a backdrop that was Essence because Essence [Magazine] is first class, it's all about, you know, the significance and the admiration and respect for African American women. And I didn't want us to just have a black curtain in the back. We needed to have something that was first class and lovely. So we did that, I brought her in and we created that and then we went around and created the themes for the different rooms and designed them so that they would like the blues or the disco ball hanging for the seventies or whatever. And so I was responsible for designing and creating all of that. Then I said to Clarence [Smith] and Ed [Lewis] and Susan [Taylor] that I thought there was money on the table that was being left by virtue of the fact that when we normally go to a concert they play some music between acts, right we'll be back, you know, and now we're back, you know, want to the stage so and so like in that little block; we should be something that's going to generate revenue. So I created all of these little moments where a host could come on stage and interact with the audience and they could be sponsor driven and they could sell them. So, since we've done that they now, in fact, have been able to increase the revenue for Essence in ways that we didn't start out in the first year. So I'm very proud of that.

Avon Kirkland

Film producer Avon Kirkland was born on November 27, 1936, in Jacksonville, Florida to his widowed mother, Lula Mae Durham Kirkland. His father, William Kirkland, died in an accident prior to Kirkland and his twin sister, Yvonne Kirkland Moody’s birth. After matriculating through Jacksonville’s Donald Cookland Elementary and New Stanton High, Kirkland, obtained his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1958 from Clark University, now Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1964, he received his Ph.D. degree in organic chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Between 1964 and 1967, following three years of work as a research chemist for the Sinclair Research Laboratories in Harvey, Illinois, Kirkland began to lose interest in science and spent a year in New York City studying the guitar. From 1967 to 1968, he used his scientific training to design and facilitate a multifaceted after-school educational program for inner city children. This experience helped him create an elementary school reading and math programs for the Behavioral Research Labs of Palo Alto, California. In 1973, he took another year off and spent so much time watching television that he decided to pursue work in the television industry. From 1974 to 1977, he was the director of Instructional Service for KQED in San Francisco.

In 1977, Kirkland became the executive producer of Up & Coming, an hour-long drama featuring a black family, which ended in 1982 after twenty-five shows. Kirkland enjoyed this work immensely. He founded New Images Productions, a non-profit media production company in Berkeley, California, then devoted to creating films about the lives and experiences of African Americans. He serves as the primary writer, director and producer for many of the company's projects. His work includes Up From Slavery: The Triumph and Tragedy of Booker T. Washington, Ralph Ellison: An American Journey, Street Soldiers,Simple Justice and Booker. His films have received many honors and awards including the Blue Ribbon Award in 1981; the 1986 Prix Jeunesse International Prize; The CINE Golden Eagle, Best Public Affairs Documentary and a special showing at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

Mr. Kirkland is divorced and has one son. He resides in Berkeley, California, where he enjoys music and competitive tennis.

Avon Kirkland was interviewed by HistoryMakerson April 6, 2004.

Accession Number

A2004.042

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/6/2004

Last Name

Kirkland

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Occupation
Schools

Clark Atlanta University

Washington University in St Louis

New Stanton High School

Archival Photo 2
First Name

Avon

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

KIR01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

There Can Be No Perfect Democracy Curtailed By Color, Race Or Poverty But With All, We Accomplish All, Even Peace. - W.E.B. DuBois

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

11/27/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue Ribs

Short Description

Film producer Avon Kirkland (1936 - ) served as the primary writer, director, and producer of many films about the black experience through his company, New Images Production. His films and documentaries covered public figures such as educator, Booker T. Washington and writer, Ralph Ellison, as well as topics such as the 1954 Brown v. Board Education decision.

Employment

Sinclair Oil Research Labs

Behavioral Research Laboratories

KQED TV

New Images Productions

Scheinfeld Foundation Education Project

San Francisco State University

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
0,0:17960,185:18475,191:21078,204:21494,217:23707,248:24260,256:24892,268:27675,315:27970,322:28324,329:28973,344:29976,365:30389,373:30802,381:41012,494:46408,521:47304,532:47976,539:51672,579:68842,680:72654,712:74303,730:86785,877:88525,908:92960,954:95017,972:101150,1111:102714,1141:104142,1169:104890,1186:105366,1200:105842,1212:110212,1241:112036,1280:118748,1384:120233,1405:144237,1687:145027,1698:158418,1814:158738,1820:159890,1847:163660,1878:174095,2008:182514,2055:182842,2060:195405,2250:196900,2278:202230,2396:207200,2433$0,0:2586,22:6246,101:9170,167:18372,299:19662,396:20522,409:30555,469:31283,483:33103,505:33740,514:35469,541:41820,587:42492,596:46740,634:47420,644:47845,650:48695,662:49460,674:54730,790:60490,840:69788,961:70208,967:73372,993:76478,1012:78382,1055:86254,1123:86638,1128:90880,1165:91220,1170:91815,1178:95290,1207:100234,1273:105754,1361:108110,1372:110606,1429:113726,1478:114272,1487:123995,1583:132695,1757:147255,1811:149635,1856:150315,1865:151420,1890:153460,1947:153885,1953:154735,1965:155330,1977:156010,2001:161825,2050:167375,2174:168950,2199:169475,2208:175400,2234:176743,2257:177612,2269:177928,2275:179587,2304:181799,2346:182589,2357:189928,2453:195478,2511:198120,2532:200454,2553:200772,2560:210912,2685:211732,2696:223170,2829:225730,2884:227330,2916:229890,2964:230290,2970:233750,2997:239690,3101:241610,3106
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Avon Kirkland's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland describes his maternal and paternal ancestors

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland describes his extended family in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland describes his earliest childhood memories, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Avon Kirkland describes his earliest childhood memories, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland shares his favorite quote by W.E.B. Du Bois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland describes growing up in Jacksonville, Florida and the segregated South

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland describes the neighborhood in which he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland describes his neighbors in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon the impact of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland recalls organizing an unsuccessful strike at the King Edward Cigar Factory

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland recalls attending church in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Avon Kirkland describes his childhood temperament

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon the quality of schools he attended in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Avon Kirkland describes jobs he held in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Avon Kirkland describes his activities at New Stanton High School in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Avon Kirkland describes Mr. Bryan, one of his teachers in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland describes his decision to attend Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland describes his experiences at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia and his admittance as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland compares Atlanta, Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland recalls going to Italy through the Experiment in International Living program

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland describes developing his interest in drama

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland remembers impressing other students on his study abroad trip with his knowledge of Italian operas

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland describes reconnecting with a former fellow in California

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland describes attending graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland describes his experiences in social justice while attending Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland recalls transitioning from Chicago, Illinois to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland recalls working for Behavioral Research Labs

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland recalls moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in California and entering the field of television production

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland describes the PBS series 'Up and Coming', pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland describes the PBS series 'Up and Coming', pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland describes the PBS children's series 'Booker'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland describes the PBS miniseries 'Simple Justice,' pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Avon Kirkland describes the PBS miniseries 'Simple Justice,' pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland describes his mother's reaction to the pilot episode of 'Up and Coming'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland describes the origins of his documentary about the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, California

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland describes 'Street Soldiers' about the Omega Boys Club in San Francisco, California

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland recalls that the Congressional Black Caucus screened 'Street Soldiers' on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland describes securing the rights to produce a documentary based on Ralph Ellison's life and works

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon of Ralph Ellison's writings and philosophy on African American identity

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon the controversy surrounding Booker T. Washington's life and work

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Avon Kirkland describes others' perspectives of Booker T. Washington's life and work

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Avon Kirkland describes his process for developing, creating and producing documentary projects

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland describes his son Avery Julian Kirkland and former relationship with Evelyn Lewis

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon the meaning of intimacy

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Avon Kirkland talks about the importance of building assets

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Avon Kirkland describes activities he would like to do that he has not yet

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Avon Kirkland describes documentary projects he would like to pursue

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Avon Kirkland reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Avon Kirkland shares advice for young people interested in filmmaking

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Avon Kirkland describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Avon Kirkland describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Avon Kirkland describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Avon Kirkland narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Avon Kirkland narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Avon Kirkland narrates his photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
Avon Kirkland describes the PBS children's series 'Booker'
Avon Kirkland describes his process for developing, creating and producing documentary projects
Transcript
--Except as I approach retirement. It's too late to worry now (laughter). That worked. I learned while I was there--see, I'm taking you at a greater clip now. I learned while I was there that I could raise my own money for a production. I had several ideas for a production at KQED [San Francisco, California] that I didn't think would be appropriate for that station because they weren't really set up to do drama. And I was all, I was doing all dramas then, so I decided to leave KQED, continue producing. And a month, two months after I left KQED and formed New Images Productions [Berkeley, California] and whose offices we sit right now, twenty-two years ago I got my first grant for a production--a children's drama, which became 'Booker' about Booker T. Washington as a young boy. I had been, I--was visiting my sister [Yvonne K. Moody] once and sleeping in her daughter's bed who was away in college, and there was a book about Booker T. Washington on the bookshelf next to the bed. And I picked it up and started reading it, and I couldn't put it down. I never knew that much about Booker T. Washington. And his life was fascinating, important, and interesting, and also here and there a bit troubling. And I determined that I would do something on Booker T. Washington, 'cause nobody, nobody else knew that, stuff that was in that book unless they studied it in college. And it was just out, and she hap--my niece happened to take the course from the guy who wrote it. Louis [R.] Harlan, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, agreed to work on the project; he had written the book; and we made 'Booker.' And of all the films we've made, I think 'Booker' is the most successful because we finished it in--we went on the air in 1985, and it's still on the air. It was on the, it was on PBS for three years, and then the Disney Channel, and then all over the world, all, the BBC. South Africa bought it not too long ago. That's how I could tell they were really gettin' on their feet in terms of how the media operated. It's, it's a show that stood up well over time. It's a very good story about a ten-year-old boy who wants to learn to read, and he happens to be a slave. But then the [Civil] War ends, and there, there are opportunities, but they are still very difficult. And it's what actually happened to him. And it's a terrific children's show, and it's used in schools throughout the United States.$Could you explain the process that's involved [in documentary filmmaking], 'cause I'm sure there are some students who might be thinking about going into this field. Just what--from the beginning, when you get the idea for a project, to the end, could you just kind of quickly go through the steps that you--that are involved in it?$$Well, one of my favorite sayings is: the distance between an idea and the fact is very long, (laughter). The idea is the purest, the first idea, a concept for a show is when you first have it, so pure, so wonderful that you can hardly sit, sit down. Thinking about a show, about Ralph Ellison, in which you would compare the life of his protagonist in 'Invisible Man' [Ralph Ellison] to his own life, which was very similar, and then show where they're joined. Conceptually that's a beautiful, elegant structure, and that's how I first thought about it. However, it took me two years to raise the money there. That was a short amount of time. It costs around $900,000 to produce a ninety-minute doc [documentary], because we spent $300,000 dramatizing scenes, and that's ver--a lot more expensive. Anyway, I spent a lot of time raising money, a lot of time writing proposals, a lot of time worrying: can I raise the money for this project ['Ralph Ellison: An American Journey']? I'm an independent. If I worked for a commercial station, I would be doing the news. I wouldn't be doing these kinds of hopefully ambitious documentaries that are useful in the educational context. You have the idea. You try to describe it. You go do some research on it. I went and read a lot about Ralph Ellison. I bought two or three good books. By the time I finished reading them I knew pretty much what his life had been like. And then you try, you kind of outline what the story is. And here a great deal of skill is required because there's a lot of details in life. But what is, what is this, what is the story structure? Where is it going, and what does it mean? You know, drawing that meaning out of the facts of a person's life is, takes some skill and I'm, that's what John Elks [ph.] meant when he said, I know how to tell a story. So, I'm learning more and more how to do that. And once you get the story essentially told, either in a summary or, or a treatment, then you start trying to raise production money. One of the hardest things to do is to get to that stage because it takes time; it takes research; it takes writing, and the people you hire to do research for you are working for you. If you're writing it, it takes time. You better have some money to pay yourself. I'm an independent. If I were working for a, a big production company, say like 20th Century Fox or, or Paramount [Pictures], I would, I would get money right up front, if they like the idea, to develop it. So I have do, I have to raise development money. And then once I've done that and done the developing work, I have to go raise production money. So, I'm always fundraising.$$Sounds like--$$I spend 80 percent of my time, if I'm lucky, only 80 percent, doing that.