Tag Archives: Black Business

La Cade: The little hair care company that made some big waves.

La Cade Products was another of many Chicago-based black hair care firms (that I detail here) during the late 60s through the 1970s. Though not as well-known as Supreme Products (who created Duke and Raveen) or Johnson Products (who created Soft Sheen, Afro Sheen, and Ultra Sheen), La Cade left behind scant but fascinating evidence of its existence.

First off, it left some pretty great advertisements starting around 1972 (my favorite is above, from a 1974 issue of Ebony Magazine). How’s that for swagger? There’s a sort of street romantic and cinematic appeal to the image used. They also came up with some clever product names: one of which got them in legal trouble… but we’ll dig into that later in this post.

Most notably, to me (and probably, many Darkjive readers, as well) is that sometime around 1974 La Cade decided to put together a small recording division, based at their Corporate Headquarters (2411 South Michigan in Chicago). They recorded no less than two artists on two singles: both of which are as gritty and charismatic as the ad above.

The first is “Beginning of the Void” backed by “Love Me Too” by Danny Hunt (who sounds to me very much like a young Stevie Wonder on his records). I actually love this record. Very soulful, with a stone cold groove, the lyrics are remarkably socially aware and include:

Just another ghetto child

never see his Daddy smile

He’s in the beginning of his void

The following year, Hunt released a beast of a cut arranged by the iconic Tom Tom Washington and released on Dynamite Records (another tiny Chicago-based imprint). Last time I checked, Danny Hunt was alive and well in the Chicago-area singing Gospel music.

The other record I have found is by Walter “Butterball” Davis, titled “Baby (Wacha Doin to me)” backed by “Girl Stop Begging”. He had also put out a record called “Nobody Cares for a Junkie” on Butterball Records… it’s deep. Really deep. But, Back to “Girl Stop Begging”: the cut is a bluesy-funky little gem penned by Davis himself.

Both records suffered from lack of promotion and distribution and stalled out. It was about this time that La Cade trademarked a product name that I think is very seventies and cool: “The Last Tangle”, presumably inspired by the controversial 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris”. In the film (which was Rated X at the time), Marlon Brando’s middle-aged character has a torrid affair with a soon to be married young Parisian woman with scandalous results. Oh yes, these folks had some swagger.

Not long after La Cade’s foray into the Record Business, they were embroiled in a legal battle with one Roux Laboratories over a product name. The Laboratories were initially contesting La Cade’s claim to copyright the term “Mink” as in La Cade’s product “Ultra Mink”. Roux Laboratories apparently had a hair product called “White Minx” and stated that the product names were too close for comfort. The case took a turn when Roux Laboratories’ counsel stated:

MR. SULLIVAN: I would like to renew my running objection that the only question involved here is the applicant’s right to use the descriptive term “ultra.”
We do not object to its use of the term “Mink,” which has been disclaimed by applicant. Neither have we objected to the use of others using the term “Mink,” but we are objecting to the use of the descriptive term “ultra” which we had adopted and used as part of the “ultra White Minx” trademark but using “ultra” merely in its descriptive connotation, and that is the whole substance of this opposition.
ROUX LABORATORIES, INC. v. LA CADE PRODUCTS CO. 558 F.2d 33 (1977)

Ultimately, Roux Laboratories’ counsel dropped the complaint, but not without costing La Cade a lot of money in legal fees. By 1977, the firm had stopped advertising in Ebony Magazine, had stopped releasing records, and the trail goes otherwise cold. But, in a few short years, La Cade surely left behind some waves: both soundwaves and hair waves. Jive on!

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Chicago: in all its fried, dyed, laid-to-the-side (or perhaps natural) glory.

I was watching my “Best of Soul Train” DVD box-set this weekend (of course), which includes tons of original TV spots for Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen (two black haircare lines manufactured by Chicago’s own Johnson Products). Iconic brands, to be sure. During the glory days of Black Haircare manufacture in Chicago (roughly the late 1960s through the 1970s), Johnson Products’ annual sales were over $10 million. During the 1970s, as sales expanded even further, Johnson Products ranked as the largest African American–owned manufacturing company in the nation. In those heady days, alongside Johnson Products, the illustrious Soft Sheen and other smaller firms also called the Windy City home.

Unfortunately, Johnson Products (the first minority firm to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange) was sold to Proctor and Gamble, but was recently acquired by a black firm based in Dallas.

Sadder still, Soft Sheen which had about 400 employees in the Chicago area and $100 million in annual sales by the mid-1990s, was purchased by L’Oreal in the late 1990s, and a newly built manufacturing plant on 87th Street was shut down soon after. The Company’s headquarters were shifted elsewhere.

Below, Sheila Hutchinson (the lead vocalist from the Emotions [who are also from Chicago]) sings an old Soft Sheen jingle called “Brand New You in ’82”. Nearly thirty years old, the record was released as a promotion on Soft Sheen Records. The song sounds like some lost Emotions or perhaps Earth, Wind, & Fire number.  Personally, it makes me feel like I’m ready to face 1982, too.  Reaganomics… here I come! Jive on!


Ebony is Back…. and fly!

Oh. Goodness. To be clear, Ebony never left us, but it did sort of lose influence in the Black Community. But, wow, have they stepped up. And, I’m prouder than ever to pass by their headquarters here in Chicago (on South Michigan Avenue).

To give a little background, Ebony (launched in the 1940s by the Johnson Family) was by far the most popular, influential Black Magazine in America for decades. At its peak, Ebony was home to Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Moneta Sleet, Jr., among other giants in the publishing field. By the 21st Century, their popularity (along with magazines in general) had waned, and by 2010, they well undersold expectations and were in need of an aesthetic revamp. There was talk of selling the magazine. But, first they gave it another shot.

The first move they made was to bring in Desiree Rogers as CEO. Then they hired Amy DuBois Barnett (of Honey Magazine [sadly shuttered circa 2006]) as Editor, and brought in young, fresh talent from Vanity Fair and a slew of other sources. Next, the team commenced in the first full overhaul of the magazine since 1945.  The first revamped Ebony was published in April 2011.

In recent offerings, they’ve captured cutting edge yet approachable black culture, art, music, and thought (recent features have covered topics as varied as the recent retrospective of Black visual artist Glenn Ligon, underground soul /vocalist Jesse Boykins III, what Black Fashion Bloggers were wearing during New York’s Fashion Week [hint: it was fly], and cultural critic Touré unpacked the rhetoric of “Post-Blackness“). They also represent the full tonal spectrum of black beauty in their fashion/beauty sections, something that had been slipping a bit in recent years. For more on Ebony’s legacy in the fashion world, click here.

In short, they worked it out. It shows. Check out September 2011’s cover, above.

As of 2011, Ebony’s circulation averaged 1,235,865 (a 10.9 percent increase), and Jet’s swelled to 820,557 (a 7.6 percent increase).

Jive on.


Army and Lou’s: obituary of an icon.

(above, Common pictured at Army and Lou’s)

How does a person write an obituary for a restaurant? Not just a restaurant, but a place with historical significance. The Sun-Times did a pretty good job:

It was the late Mayor Harold Washington’s favorite restaurant — the booth where he always sat still bears his name. And its storied history goes beyond feeding the grass-roots political movement that elected the city’s first black mayor.

At its original Black Metropolis location, it fed the leader of another movement: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the ’60s.

But South Side soul-food legend Army & Lou’s, 422 E. 75th St., thought to be the oldest black-owned restaurant in the Midwest, closed its doors for the last time Sunday.

For 65 years, Army & Lou’s has fed celebrities, politicians, business moguls and others who slid into its red linen-tableclothed booths for greens and ham hocks, catfish, chitterlings and peach cobbler. Celebs ranged from Cab Calloway to Muhammad Ali to former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy.

Washington, a bachelor, would eat there up to three times a week, and was partial to just about everything, longtime staff like waitress Betty Martin recall….

…“It was a fine dining establishment, and the first place that a lot of middle-class African-American families back then were taking their children where there were linen tablecloths and napkins, and there was live music,” McDuffie recounted.

Yes, I can vouch for the cobbler, and lots of other dishes, too.  But, I also know that Army & Lou’s suffered through multiple changings of hands (the last of which occurred in late summer/early autumn of last year). Chicagoans know that when businesses change hands too often, it can spell disaster (can we say Marshall Field’s?).

It’s really unfortunate, and I’ve even heard vegans send up condolences.  But the issue that caused Army and Lou’s to close was not a lack of warm and fuzzy feelings, it was lack of support from the community in the form of dollars and cents.

Another issue was that since Army and Lou’s had relocated from Bronzeville to the Chatham neighborhood in the 1970s, very little had been done in terms of updating the aesthetics.  Since the highest concentration of folks who eat out are 20-45 years old, and they tend to look for ambience when paying over $20 a plate, an overhaul of the dining room area would have been wise.

My vote, and I’m totally not kidding about this, is let’s call Chef Gordon Ramsay (from FOXs Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares) and get him to help them bounce back. He has a pretty good record of revamping restaurants on the brink.  It would be great press, and would breathe new life into a local icon.  Click here for a sample of Kitchen Nightmares’ brand of tough love.


Garland Green: soul and barbecue

Someone who could “never lose” at the South Side Talent Shows that local record execs scoured for fresh talent, Chicago’s own Garland Green made a name for himself in the late sixties as a growling, burgeoning soul star to be reckoned with.  Ironically, he wasn’t discovered at a Talent Show, but playing pool.

Legend has it that a local Barbecue Magnate named Argia B. Collins overheard Green’s distinctive growl while the singer was playing pool, and that he ultimately funded Garland’s turn at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.   Garland went on to record dozens of sides for various record labels, but sadly, only one album (pictured above).  Here’s a clip from my interview with Mr. Green.

and here’s my interview with Argia B. Collins’ daughter (Allison Collins), who keeps her father’s South Side-born creation, Mumbo Sauce, on store shelves (and in barbecue lovers’ hearts).  Argia B. (as he was often called) was a well known businessman in the community who owned multiple Barbecue joints and created the iconic sauce that is still sold today.

Here’s Garland Green with “Angel Baby” from his highly recommended, sole LP, “Jealous Kinda Fella” (pictured above).  Below, an ad for Mumbo Sauce that appeared in Life Magazine.


Eunice Johnson: Wrought a Roadshow of Dreams

 

Eunice Johnson (1916-2010), widow of Ebony/Jet Publisher John H. Johnson, was more than Black Media’s First Lady.  As Creator and Director of the Ebony Fashion Fair (an all black roadshow of haute couture), she paved the way for generations of black models from Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims to Naomi Campbell.  In fact, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) was a Fashion Fair model before he was kicking tail on the big screen. 

In the show, which was started in 1961, she included some of the most fashion forward designers, including Yves Saint Laurent (pictured with Mrs. Johnson, above).  In a time when Chicago was in many ways the hub of culture and information that bound the Black Community together (i.e., the nationally recognized Chicago Defender, Ebony, Jet, and a world renowned music and arts scene), Mrs. Johnson took her Fashion Crusade to the streets in towns both near and remote.  Accordingly, sewing machines buzzed each season, inspired by the roadshow of dreams.  Her shows, as well as so many of those classic Ebony Magazine fashion layouts, presented our people as we were (and still are) striving to be: free and uplifted. Strutting. Gliding.

As if that weren’t enough, Ebony Fashion Fair, which grew into the world’s largest traveling fashion show,  annually encompasses a nearly 180-city tour of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.  It has raised more than $55 million for various charities.

And it keeps us dreaming.  To me, that is her legacy.  She brought the dream to our door.

Jive on!


Dream Big.

070208_naomiL

It’s easy to feel disheartened in these staunch economic times, but consider a chair with a dozen layers of paint.  It’s full potential is only evident once that paint is stripped away, allowing pure possibility.

That said, one of my favorite television shows right now is nextTV, a local program produced by the Chicago Urban League (and hosted by Chicago Urban League CEO Cheryle Jackson.    According to their website:

“nextTV is a fast-paced lifestyle program focusing on the urban community. [They] take a closer look at people changing their lives through entrepreneurship, their careers and day to day living.”

What I love is that it lifts the gilded curtain to show the meat and bones of a number of businesses (and career paths) in our community that don’t get a lot of exposure (especially to younger people).

Two examples include profiles of Quentin Love (a young man who owns the Quench Restaurants peppered across the South and West Sides) and a chemist by the name of Linda McGill Boasmond, who is President and General Manager of Cedar Concepts Corporation.  We follow their struggles to grow and flourish with the help of the Urban League’s nextONE business acceleration program.   It may sound like a bad time to do such a thing, but a business is everything you put into it.  It’s successes and failures rely on a few.  Why not make that person you?  Besides, there are a number of incentives (many spurred by the Stimulus Package) to get us growing in more entreprenural directions.

Economic Enpowerment is a theme I’ve mentioned a few times here at Darkjive.  I believe it’s a sure route to social change.  And the paint has been stripped.  What else is there to wait for?

It feels to me that now is the moment to move. To dream.  Big.

nextTV airs 8:00am and 12:30pm, Sundays on My50 WPWR-TV

(above photo by Mario Sorrenti)Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “chicagourbanleague’s Channel“, posted with vodpod

Portraits of Black Chicago: The Beat Goes On

black_bongo_playerBlack bongo player performs at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the annual PUSH [People United to Save Humanity] ‘Black Expo’ in the fall of 1973. October 1973

Chicago’s PUSH Black Expo was a powerful tour de force for Black Businesses nationwide at the time this photo was shot.  Time magazine stated in a 1971 article: When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America’s fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace. Wow.   There was even a major motion picture shot to document one year’s occurrence, entitled “Save the Children” (after that year’s theme).  So what happened?

Almost exactly twenty years after the above photo was shot, the following was published in the Chicago Reporter:

Black Expo: Taking Care of Business?

(originally published in the Chicago Reporter in September 1993)

When about 250,000 people, most of them African Americans, turned out for this year’s Chicago Black Expo, many were offered fried chicken and menthol cigarettes…

(click the link below for original footage of Marvin Gaye at the PUSH Expo)

marvin gaye live at the expo after the jump


The Empowerment Experiment: Buying Black Exclusively for an Entire Year

I interviewed John and Maggie Anderson (an Oak Park, Illinois couple with two small children), who are conducting a social experiment: The Empowerment Experiment.  They are buying black, or patronizing Black-owned businesses exclusively, for one year.

andersons-art

In my interview with them (below), I talk to the Andersons about their “pledge” to buy black, the dark side of integration’s legacy, what it means to keep money in a community, whether buying black is racist, and what’s more important: buying black or buying green….

the above interview was originally broadcast on Vocalo.org 89.5fm.


Iconic Johnson Hair Products back in Black Hands….

Johnson Products started a half-century ago in Chicago as an innovator in black hair care. The black-owned business sold to a white company (Proctor & Gamble), but it’s now back in black hands…. from Chicago Public Radio’s Natalie Moore: click here for the rest of the story…