*TV One’s second season premiere of “Donnie After Dark“ kicks-off (tonight) Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) at 11 p.m. ET, with guests Angela Robinson (“The Have and The Have Nots”), who talks about the gift and curse of being the villainess everyone loves to hate; comedian DC Young Fly reveals his tried and tested formula for elevating your brand on social media; and Pooch Hall (“Ray Donovan,” “Media”) reveals his undercover talent as an amateur boxer and a freestyle rapper. (Scroll down to watch clip.)
EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with host Donnie Simpson to discuss this new season and his impact pop culture impact. Simpson, known for his sultry voice, warm smile and piercing green eyes, began his radio career at 15 with WJLB in Detroit, Mich. He relocated to Washington, D.C., where he began working at WRC-TV. Soon after he hosted Video Soul, a defining music video show on BET.
Simpson eventually hosted The Donnie Simpson Morning Show on WPGC-FM where he continued to captivate listeners for 17 years until his retirement in 2010. In 2015, Simpson returned to radio as the host of The Donnie Simpson Show on TV One’s sister property WMMJ-MAJIC 102.3 FM.
Peep our Q&A with the legend below:
You’re back with a second season of Donnie After Dark, what do you enjoy most about hosting this show?
Donnie: I like talking to people. I just love kicking it with people. I was out to dinner with Bob Johnson this weekend, and I was telling him about the show and I was telling him that when I walked out to do it…. it’s hard to put it in words, I felt like I was right in the slot that I needed to be in. I was just so comfortable, and just being back on TV again as a part of that. I always wanted to do like, a late night talk show. So to come out and do my little jokeless monologue and then kick it with people on the couch… I was insistent that I wanted a couch to do this on because back in the day for Video Soul, it meant something for artists to sit on that couch and I found with this show that it’s the same thing. I was telling Bob this also, that I was surprised at the reaction of the guests when they came on to talk with me. It seemed like it meant something to them. They were all like, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here with you.” I always got that from the music artists, that’s basically what we did on Video Soul, but I never knew until we started doing Donnie After Dark that it went beyond that. It was actors and athletes as well.
So I was telling Bob that the whole thing that we created back then, I shouldn’t say we, it was his baby, but he always gives me credit for being the engine that made it go, and it’s so cool. This thing has meant so much to so many people, and I honestly didn’t realize the reach of it until I started doing Donnie After Dark. To see the reaction of Hollywood folks, you meant something to them, so it was very cool.
So to answer your question, what I like most is just talking to people — kicking it. I love people. I’ve always loved people. I find people fascinating, and then I’m blessed to be in a position to sit down and talk with some of the most fascinating people that we have. What an honor.
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Was there a specific moment that triggered your return to television? Or did it simply come down to TV One offering you a late night talk show slot and you accepted?
Donnie: Actually, it kind of evolved into this. What we talked about initially was, I wanted to come back and do something on television and radio, so it was a two-prong deal with Radio One and TV One, and we didn’t know exactly what it would be at that time. I started a production company, DSP — Donnie Simpson Productions, and I wanted to try to create some programming. This was the first thing that kind of evolved into this. The first shows that we did, we did two Donnie After Darks out of Los Angeles and it was done at the Zen Lounge and it was a whole different look from what this thing is, and it was cool. That was fun, but this is the slot I need to be in. With an audience…that late-show look with a city landscape behind you, and the couch. It’s like Video Soul to some degree, but it’s a late night version of it without videos. I’m glad it evolved into this. This is where I feel it really needs to be.
You’re like a father — in a broader sense—to a generation of viewers who’ve grown up with you. Was there a defining moment when you knew that your voice had a great impact?
Donnie: Well, I’m still trying to understand it, in all honestly. Everybody always says this to me. It’s just, you don’t know who you are, and you know — I guess I don’t. I remember I had this conversation with Howard Stern one day, because I was looking to do something, which I won’t divulge here, but Howard is an old friend of mine. We’ve been friends for almost forty years now. So we were having this conversation, and I said, “Well, I don’t know that he would take my phone call.” And Howard said, “That’s the beauty of you Donnie. You still don’t know who you are.” I just don’t take that kind of stuff for granted. So it still blows me away when people recognize me, or the things that they say to me that are so kind. They show me so much love, and respect that’s it’s amazing. I know that I’m not treated like every other radio or TV personality. I know not everyone gets this but I can’t say that I understand it. It’s a hard thing to explain. Terry Lewis put it so well to me one day, (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), Terry said, “People treat you that way because you mean something to them. You represent a time when music was fun. When it was clean. Life was good. That’s what you present to people.”
As Bob was saying the other day, we were the first black television network and now you have a number of different options, but at the time, if you wanted black programming, this is where you came to get it, and you could get it every night, and you were the guy that gave it to them. You don’t think about these things when you’re in it. You’re just doing what you do. It’s your job. But later, when it’s given some perspective…I’ll tell ya, this was a moment of realization for me, and it came about nine or ten years ago. I was watching VH1, they did a special called ‘Black in the 80’s,’ and they had interviewed me for it, so I knew it was on, and I watched it that night, and the first 15 minutes they did Bryant Gumbel, the first black host, morning talk show — The Today Show. Then they did Arsenio Hall, the first black host, late night talk show. Then they did The Cosby Show, the first black family on TV where the father was doctor, and the wife is a lawyer. And then they did Donnie Simpson on Video Soul. I’ll never forget it . When it ended I remember my first thought was, “Well, how the hell am I supposed to go to sleep tonight.?” It was like, “So it was like that?” I didn’t realize that.
When I retired from radio, the morning after my retirement I’m on the front page of the Washington Post. The front page, above the fold, and I just cried. I just looked at it, and again my first thought was, “So, it was like that?” When it’s given perspective like that… cause again, you’re just doing what you do. I always refer to one of my favorite lines ever is in Elton John’s song Rocket Man, where he says, ‘It’s just my job five days a week. I’m a rocket man.’
People look at you as an astronaut, like, “Wow! Look at what you do. What an amazing life.” It’s just what you do. That’s all it is. I don’t view my life, or the life of others, as any more exciting than anyone else’s. I’ve always felt this, that everyone you meet has a fascinating story to tell, if you just take the time to listen.
— Donnie Simpson (@DonnieSimpson) November 23, 2016
Reflecting on your illustrious career, which interviews stand out to you, are there any who got away, and who are the ones you still want to talk to?
Donnie: I never got to interview Michael. I always wanted to interview Michael Jackson, and I knew Michael. I hung out with Michael on numerous occasions, but I never had him as a guest on the show. So for many years, the only two artists on that list were Michael and Prince. I did get to talk to Prince on radio, not on Video Soul, because he didn’t do interviews for along time. I remember the only interview Prince had done was an interview where he interview himself, which was great.
From a whole different area, Meryl Streep. I’m a huge fan of Meryl Steep’s. I would love to talk to her. She fascinates me. Some of my favorites I could never narrow it down to just one, but James Brown — he was my king. I always told him, “I’m your soldier. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.” Cause he taught me how to say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud. At the age of fourteen I heard that message, and it changed my life. Music shaped me a lot. Music has always had an amazing impact on me.
The moment people talk about most — ever, on Video Soul is when we did a two-hour special with [Aretha Franklin], from her home, and I am sitting at her piano and somehow we started talking about Curtis Mayfield, and the song The Makings of You, and she started singing and I just started crying. I lost it instantly because it was so much in that moment for me. It was the greatest voice I’ve heard in my life, singing right here into my ear, one-on-one. I’m sitting on the queen’s throne, and I don’t know how I got here. What am I doing here? I am not worthy of this. It just wiped me out. It was overwhelming. That kind of sums up me. Like the other night, I’m sitting there with Smokey (Robinson), we’ve been boys for thirty-five years, and I still sit there and think, “Wow, that is Smokey Robinson!”
Tune in TONIGHT to “Donnie After Dark,” which features musical guest Ro James performing his hit singles “Permission” and “Already Knew That.”
Following the special holiday premiere Thursday, Nov. 24 at 11 p.m. ET, “Donnie After Dark” moves to its regular time slot on Sundays at 11 p.m. ET.