*Over 1,000 mourners solemnly filed into the legendary Riverside Church in Harlem, NY on a beautiful sun drenched day to attend “A Celebration of Life” for renowned radio broadcaster Mr. Harold “Hal” B. Jackson on Thursday, May 31, 2012. The 97-year-old broadcaster died Wednesday, May 23, and his stellar career spanned more than seven decades. Many of those fruitful years were spent at a place he liked to call home, WBLS-FM, which he started with his co-partner and friend the Honorable Percy E. Sutton.
Although this trailblazer answered to the nickname “Hal,” many more called him Mr. Jackson out of respect for the battles he endured to garner the title, “Godfather of Black Radio,” knocking down many doors along the way to allow other broadcasters to walk through. He used his voice to break down barriers.
During this celebration services, many of those who benefited from his tenaciousness came to pay respect. Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys recalled Mr. Jackson being the first to play her breakthrough single, “Fallin’” on the radio.
“From then on I developed a kindred spirit with him. And whenever I saw him, he reminded me that ‘I played you first!’” she laughingly recalled. “I’m sorry for our loss, but I’m grateful for his life,” said Keys, who movingly shared her reaction to hearing Jackson playing her song while she mopped the floor in her Rosedale, Queens home. She turned the volume all the way up. “I wanted the whole neighborhood to hear it. This was my song on the radio and Hal Jackson played it first,” Keys admitted.
The memorial service featured a number of other singers who, like Keys, credited Jackson with helping their careers rocket to new heights. Valerie Simpson soulfully played the piano and sang “Remember Me.”
“We thank you for the gift you gave us,” Moore said before soaring on her signature song, “Lean on Me.” “He was that voice when the world would rather we be silent.”
And, at the special request of Mr. Jackson’s loving wife Debi B., Alyson Williams performed “Just Call My Name.” Bishop Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir rocked the services with several musical tributes during the more than three hour-long services.
Congressman Charles B. Rangel spoke of Mr. Jackson’s true grit style and quiet elegance and beseeched everyone to keep his memory alive. He suggested that everyone write down their fond memories of Mr. Jackson and send them to his wife Debi for her to incorporate in a book that could later be sold to benefit his Youth Development Foundation/Hal Jackson Talented Teens International.
Honorable David N. Dinkins spoke about his close relationship with Hal and Percy and said “Hal Jackson has led an exemplary life that’s paid in full. Don’t let him look back and find any of us in arrears.”
Imhotep Gary Byrd worked with Jackson and called him the “greatest broadcaster that ever lived” and the “Godfather of Black radio.” In his poignant salute to his friend and mentor, Byrd drew loud applause in which he praised Mr. Jackson’s tenacity and his willingness to always lend a helping hand to those who are walking in his footprints. “He’s way up there with all the stars he helped to shine,” Byrd said.
Other speakers during the service included former Mayor David N. Dinkins, Congressman. Charles Rangel, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s daughter, Santita Jackson, and several family members, including his granddaughter who was named after his wife, Attorney Julia A. Jackson who read his obituary, his daughter Tonya Gray and his grandson Eugene Harley. One of his four children — dynamic daughter Jewell Jackson McCabe — founder of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
The Jackson legacy is alive and well,” she declared! And then she lovingly reflected on her father’s legacy. While acknowledging the wonderful care “Her Prince” received from his wife, partner and co-host of Sunday Classics, Debi B., and her sister and Debi’s daughter from a previous marriage, Tonya Gray-Jackson, Jewell’s remembrances of her father made mourners laugh and cry at the same time. She recalled what a disciplinarian he was. “You had to always do the right thing and respect yourself and others,” she said. “Dad was a man of his words. It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” My father’s words were more than his signature quote. “He lived it.”
During his eulogy, The Rev. Al Sharpton, who first met Mr. Jackson while he was a teenager, called him a “quintessential Civil Rights crusader” and talked about his efforts to establish the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday. “Hal Jackson changed America,” Sharpton said. “You can give Alicia Keys awards, but Hal Jackson gave her a chance.” He then looked at Debi Jackson and said, “Debi, you and Hal raised a generation on Sunday Classics.
Rev. Sharpton chided guests telling them that the program’s length told you about the greatness of the man. “Most of you don’t have to worry about having a long funeral, he said. “It ain’t going to take long to say goodbye to most of you. Because ain’t much to say,” to rousing laughter. “Hal wrote his bio on the back of America. Things will never be the same because of Mr. Jackson.” “Don’t cry for Hal, he’s home now. He fought a good fight. He and Percy are having a board meeting. You have served us. Now it’s time for us to serve you.”
Rev. Sharpton ended by reading heartfelt condolences from President Barack Obama and Stevie Wonder. It was also noted that Mr. Jackson was recently inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as being the oldest broadcaster with a record 73 year-career.
Hal Jackson Obituary
October 3, 1914 – May 24, 2012
Hal Jackson, the radio and broadcasting pioneer, host of WBLS’s Sunday Classics, and the first minority inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame, died on Thursday, May 24, 2012. The cause was congenital heart disease. He was 97.
Mr. Jackson was a pioneer who broke numerous color barriers in radio and entertainment. He was the first African American inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as a “National Treasure.” As Group Chairman of Inner City Broadcasting, in 1970, Hal Jackson and Percy Sutton purchased WBLS (FM) and WLIB (AM) in New York. It was Mr. Jackson who urged that their venture group buy FM stations, a purchase that led to their founding of Inner City Broadcasting, the first African American holding company with broadcast properties owned throughout the United States.
Mr. Jackson inspired artists for over six decades, including Lionel Richie, the Commodores and Alicia Keyes. His Youth Development Foundation’s “Talented Teens” provided scholarships and opportunities for generations of young people.
A founding father of modern radio, Harold Baron Jackson, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 3, 1914. His first radio show was “The House that Jack Built.” Its theme song “The Blues that Jack Built” was written by his friend Ahmet Ertegun who said of his friend, “Hal was a keen Entrepreneur with a love of Sports, Music, & Broadcasting … not surprising he became so successful in his career,” going on to impact countless lives. Mr. Jackson’s last initiative in broadcasting was launched in 1983 — Hal Jackson’s Sunday Classics broadcast in New York City, on WBLS 107.5 FM, has been rated number one on the weekend for decades.
Mr. Jackson observed the progress of African Americans from the era of Jim Crow and lynching to the election of America’s first African American to occupy the White House. As he chronicled in his autobiography, “The House That Jack Built,” published in 2001, his journey began in 1939 during the “Jim Crow” years of segregation as a young man in Washington DC where he approached the management of WINX radio, owned by the Washington Post, to propose a radio show.
He was told by management, “No nigger will ever broadcast on this station.” For Hal Jackson the harsh words steeled his determination. He engaged his associates at “Kal Erlich and Merrick,” a wholesale buyer of radio and purchased a segment of WINX, and organized the “Negro” business community to sponsor a talk and music program formatted to introduce, showcase and validate “Negro” achievements that were impacting America.
Mr. Jackson’s interviews included pioneers from every discipline in an era of legal segregation. His guests included Dr. Charles Drew who discovered blood plasma; Mary McCloud Bethune, advisor and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and Founder of the National Council of Negro Women; Congressman Adam Clayton Powell; the fighter Joe Louis; and the musician Duke Ellington.
The initiative was a stunning business success, and within six months Mr. Jackson had purchased airtime, written and sold advertising and was daily broadcasting not only on WINZ, but also WANN in Annapolis, MD, for three hours of rhythm & blues — and on Baltimore, MD’s , WSID for three hours of sports. He finished the day back in DC 11:00 PM to 1:00 AM on WOOK.
It was Mr. Jackson’s persona and access to the airwaves in the nation’s number one market, New York, coupled with his relentless and persistent voice during the 1960’s led to the initial gathering of 6 million signatures to establish the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
During the years of strict segregation, Mr. Jackson was the owner and manager of the famed Washington Bears the first African American team to win the World’s Professional Basketball Championship – (equivalent to the NBA) in 1943-1944.
Mr. Jackson’s civic work is legendary. Over forty years ago he established programs to support and encourage young Black Women through his nonprofit organization, the Youth Development Foundation, Inc., created to Promote Culture & Education Through the Performing Arts. Hal Jackson was Executive Producer of the Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens International (HJTTI) scholarship competition. Former HJTTI participants are Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Belle, Ce Ce Peniston and Vanessa Williams.
Mr. Jackson has received myriad awards and honors including the NAACP Image Award, 60 Years of Broadcast Genius, Rhythm & Blues Foundation, Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, Outstanding African American Fathers Award, and the Black Radio Hall of Fame to name a very few. The one that he is most proud of, he said, is his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame.
The 1950’s and 1960’s were ground breaking years in New York – the number one market. Mr. Jackson broadcasted daily 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on WLIB – 8:00 PM to10:00 PM on WMCA – 12:00 PM – 6:00 AM “Live from Birdland” on the ABC network.
In 1954 on Sunday Mr. Jackson hosted “NBC-TV’s Frontiers of Faith.” Hal had a great “Reign” at Palisades Amusement Park where he broadcasted a live concert weekly. The unique relationship with Berry Gordy before, during and after Hitsville and the Motown years is a story in itself. Mr. Jackson has been honored by six of this nation’s Presidents.
In 1935 after graduating Howard University Hal Jackson married his Dunbar High School sweetheart Claudia Parrot. They had a baby girl named Jane Francis. Claudia succumbed to colon cancer. Julia Hawkins known as the “Lena Horne catch” of her class was a senior at Dunbar and that following year, Jackson was smitten. They married and produced a son, Harold, Jr., and a daughter, Jewell.
Mr. Jackson is survived by his wife and co-host of the Sunday Classics, Deborah [Debi B.]; his eldest daughter Jane F. Harley, a concert promoter in Washington D.C; his son Judge Harold B. Jackson, Jr. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and his daughter, Jewell Jackson McCabe, a business woman in New York City. Mr. Jackson is also survived by six grandchildren; ten great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
The funeral services will be held at Riverside Church on Thursday morning May 31, 2012 at 11 A.M.
Jewell Jackson McCabe
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.