Tag Archives: WVON

Lucky Cordell: The Baron of Bounce… and Chicago Radio Royalty.

lucky cordell2

Moses Lucky Cordell was born July 28, 1928 in Mississippi. His mother died when Lucky was three, and his family moved to Chicago. Cordell graduated from Dunbar High School in 1946. He went on to a long career in Chicago Radio, initially as a disc jockey (known as the “Baron of Bounce”) and by 1970, he became General Manager at the storied WVON.  He also produced records by local artidance crazests such as Heaven and Earth, as well as athis is the woman lesser-known soul group called New Image (1977).

He even released a number of spoken-word records under his own name, which all dealt with themes of love, upliftment, spirituality, and building positive character. The songs had titles like “Happiness”, “You Made a Man out of Me”, “Good Morning Lord”, “A Great Day”, and “This is the Woman I Love” (1969). “This is the Woman I Love” was written and produced by fellow radio disc jockey Richard Pegue. Initially released on Pegue’s Nickel label, the record was picked up for national distribution by Cotillion Records.

Lucky Cordell’s two daughters were also recording artists, releasing two very good records under the name “Pat & Pam” in the early 1970s (click here for more on that).

Cordell was socially engaged and politically minded. He left full-time radio in the 1980s to pursue work with the Chicago Urban League and Operation PUSH.

Cordell died tragically on July 7th of this year at the age of 86 from injuries sustained in a fire at his South Shore home.

According to sources close to the family, he put himself in harm’s way attempting to save his daughter, Pat, who became trapped. The fire began in her bedroom, according to her sister Pamela. The fire was reportedly started by smoking materials.

Under Lucky Cordell’s leadership, WVON became “one of the biggest radio stations in Chicago”, as well as “one of the most influential R&B stations in the country”, according to chicagoradioandmedia.com. Here’s a recording of Lucky Cordell in rare form:

Advertisements

Don Cornelius: made Soul a household name.

One of the most amazing things about the life of Don Cornelius (and to be clear, this post is about his life… not his death) is the trajectory of his rise to prominence as an ambassador of Soul.

Starting out as a radio journalist here on Chicago’s WVON in the early 1960s, he built important relationships with both Chicago music stars and National acts.  These relationships would prove invaluable later.

When Soul Train launched in 1970 here in Chicago, voiceover work was by Joe Cobb (another WVON radio personality), who continued to be “the voice of Soul Train” for many years along with another Chicago radio legend: Sid McCoy. Cobb was the voice that called out “Sooooooooul Train” on each episode. One more Chicago connection: the first Soul Train theme song was a funky instrumental called “Soultrain” that was by an outfit called the Ramrods; and the song that took viewers to commercial breaks was “Familiar Footsteps”, a deep, doo-wop drenched slow jam by Chicago’s Gene Chandler.

Don Cornelius later expressed regret about the second (most famous) theme song: “TSOP” by Philadelphia’s MFSB. Gamble and Huff related that they worked on the song specifically for the show, and asked Don if he had a request for the song’s title. He didn’t. The song went on to sell over a million copies.

Initially, the show aired on Channel 26 WCIU, and an early sponsor was Joe Louis Milk. For the first episode, Don Cornelius put up $400 of his own money; but he soon landed the most famous sponsor of Soul Train’s 35 year run: Johnson Products, a quintessentially Chicago Based black business behemoth, and the makers of Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen.

The following year, the show’s production was moved out to Los Angeles, but an additional program called Soul Train Local continued to air on WCIU here in Chicago throughout the 1970s. For more on this, click here.

Don Cornelius was more than a television host, he was a producer and an entrepreneur who broadcast visions of Soul to Omaha, Nebraska, Hartford, Connecticut, and all points in between. Soul Train was the conduit that transmitted the music of lesser known artists (such as Chicago’s own Brighter Side of Darkness) to a much wider audience.

Once called a “time capsule” of Soul Music and Culture by Spike Lee, the show also documented beautiful intimate moments with superstars (such as the 1979 appearance of Aretha Franklin [pictured above] during which she played the piano and sang amidst a circle of fans). Another such moment with Aretha Franklin (a frequent guest on the show) involved Aretha and Smokey Robinson sitting at the piano, reflecting on their early days in Detroit. They even sang the Miracles’ classic “Ooh Baby Baby” together.

Soul Train also documented electrifying live performances (no, not all Soul Train performances were lip-synced) by artists like Sly Stone, James Brown, and Al Green.

In short, Don Cornelius was a visionary who created a show unlike any before (or since). It proved that there was an audience for what was once considered an unprofitable niche market. What many didn’t realize is the ultimate impact of Don Cornelius’ creation. He made Soul a Household Name.


Hey, White Girl! Susan Gregory’s Chicago Story

IMG_1438

The intersection of race and class. In Chicago. In the late 1960s.  That’s the backdrop of a memoir (rather cheekily) titled “Hey, White Girl!” written by Susan Gregory (Norton, 1970). 

In the book, teenage Susan transfers from well-heeled, suburban New Trier High School to attend infamous-even-then Marshall High School on Chicago’s West Side for her senior year.

What’s notable about this book is that save certain specificities (slang, style of dress, et al), the story would probably play out identically today: that’s how little race and class lines have shifted since then in the Windy City.

There are many notable moments in the book: some poignant, some funny, some perfect slices of Sixties Chicago.

“What jam can I mash on you?” the disc jockey asked… The words, the phrases were endless.  But I learned them, and slowly they became my own…

…A “humbug” was a fight. A “box” was a record player.  “The hawk” referred to the wind… Marshall and WVON helped me build my vocabulary.   — from Hey, White Girl

Find a copy, if you dare.  Definitely worth the search.  It’s wild.