Tag Archives: Black Hair Care

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!


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…