*In this special edition of The Living Legends Series, EURweb.com contributor Gwendolyn Quinn talks with living legend Regina Jones, who co-founded SOUL newspaper with her late husband, Ken Jones in April 1966, nine months after the 1965 Watts Riot and a year before Rolling Stone magazine hit newsstands.
A sweetheart story, Ken and Regina met at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles and married while she was in her sophomore year. The idea of starting SOUL ignited from the Watts Riot. On that hot summer day on August 11th, Ken watched from his office window at KRLA radio on Sunset and Vine in Hollywood the fire erupted and raged through and burn down sections of the Watts neighborhood. Before SOUL, Regina was a dispatcher with the LAPD. Ken got his start in the newsroom as an editorial assistant of NBC-TV’s Huntley-Brinkley Report. He was the city’s first black news weeknight anchor for both KTTV-TV (channel 11) and KNXT-TV (channel 2). Ken held other key positions in television and radio. He was also a news reporter for Los Angeles’ KDAY radio station, among others.
Regina started as SOUL’s bookkeeper and worked at home from their dining room table. Later, she became an editor, and then editor-in-chief. Ken handled all creative and editorial aspects of the publication. The first issue of SOUL featured James Brown with Mick Jagger on the cover with the controversial headline, “White Artists Selling Negro ‘Soul.’” The newspaper immediately sold out of the 5,000 published issues at 15 cents per copy.
In the early 70s, SOUL gave black journalists like Steven Ivory, Archie Ivy and Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts their start. These journalists and photographers like Bobby Holland would never have had an opportunity or a viable platform to learn their trade and pursue their passion.
After 16 years of SOUL, Regina took a year off before accepting a position as Vice President of Dick Griffey’s SOLAR Records, where she launched press campaigns for some of the label’s top Black artists including The Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, Howard Hewett, Midnight Star and Klymaxx. In 1986, she started Regina Jones and Associates where she specialized in crisis management and had a diverse list of corporate, non-profit, and entertainment clients including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Coca-Cola, the NAACP Image Awards, Geffen and Capitol Records. She also worked closely with then Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and was responsible for booking him on Saturday Night Live. Jackson was the first Presidential candidate to ever appear on the show.
Ken and Regina remained married for 25 years and had five children before divorcing. Ken died of cancer in 1993.
On October 6, The Living Legends Foundation will honor Regina with the Legacy Award in celebration of SOUL newspaper’s 50th Anniversary at Taglyan Cultural Complex in Hollywood. “To be recognized as a living legend by music industry professionals is an acknowledgement to me that my lifetime work mattered,” says Regina. “It is a great honor to be recognized at the same time as Miller London, Sheila Eldridge, Jamie Brown, and Herb Trawick. It is divine. They represent collectively close to 150 years of professional respect and friendship. To be included with those who were honored before me, many that I know and many that I’ve admired says that I’m walking in high cotton. I am most grateful to everyone who is responsible for making this possible.”
Gwendolyn Quinn: Over the past 10-15 years we have lost several Black magazines and newspapers. There are still a number of Black weekly newspapers across the country that still exist. What do you think they are doing right?
Regina Jones: They [Black weekly newspapers] are surviving, but I doubt that very many are thriving. Publishing has always been a hard business and something that I used to laugh and say, ‘I wouldn’t wish that on an enemy.’ It’s hard work and writers have been so devalued over the years that it hurts me to see so many good writers struggling to keep a roof over their heads. We are an era of Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, even shorter versions of Facebook, and electronic games, and very limited focus on anything. I’ve seen it in the children and I have 13 grandchildren, and I’m even seeing it in myself and that’s a big surprise.
GQ: What was SOUL newspaper’s biggest story ever published?\
RJ: The six part series we ran on the Jackson 5. Each issue sold more and more copies. The mailman was bringing mail bags filled with letters from all over the country. We had experienced a lot of fan letters before, but nothing compared to the Jackson 5 responses. The published features were the Jackson 5 (6/01/1970), Jackie Jackson (6/15/1970), Tito Jackson (6/29/1970), Jermaine Jackson (7/13/1970), Marlon Jackson (7/27/1970) and Michael Jackson (8/10/1970).
GQ: What was SOUL newspaper’s most controversial story published?
RJ: Controversial! David Ruffin being fired from the Temptations. He called the SOUL office late one night and I happened to still be there and alone. So I listened and asked questions and then ran the story without reaching out to Motown because the issue was being put together at the printer that night. We changed the cover and feature and ran with the news. The second controversial story was our first cover headlines on the very first issue of SOUL, April 14, 1966, read, “White Artists Selling Negro ‘Soul’” with photos of James Brown “Message for Stones” and Mick Jagger “Listen – Don’t Look.” We jumped out there with controversy. We were often in trouble with record companies and they would withhold advertising even though there was already not enough. We didn’t play the publicity game as we considered ourselves truth tellers. We had a lot of pride and arrogance as we learned how to be publishers.
GQ: Tell us about the process of donating SOUL Publications to UCLA Library Special Collection?
RJ: It was important to make sure SOUL was preserved. Portia Maultsby, Ph.D. Ethnomusicology, at Indiana University and I became friends many years ago and she was laying the foundation to have the SOUL archives at her university in the Black Music department that she created. But when time came to place the SOUL archives somewhere safe, it felt important that they be in Los Angeles. That’s where Ken and I were born, our children were born and SOUL was born. I met Susan Anderson who established “Collecting Los Angeles” for UCLA and decided it would be the best place. I also learned over time that there is a big difference between donating to a library and to an archival program. I refer everyone to Indiana’s program because they really get behind letting people know what they have available. Libraries are more preservationist, savers, and don’t do very much promotion, if any. I’m comfortable with my decision. SOUL is safe, so safe that it would survive a major disaster in the storage facility it is in. It is available to research and watched over very carefully in a small closed room after putting in a request a few days prior to your appointment time.
GQ: What were some of the hard lessons learned from the Black media/publishing business?
RJ: How to get up after failing. Yes, having closed the doors at SOUL after 16 years still feels like a failure. It was like having my youngest child put to sleep because I could no longer care for it. Devastating. But I did get up, with the support of people who respected me and my own willingness to accept defeat and begin again. My own courage and survival turned into thriving and I can thank people such as Dick Griffey, Vaughn Thomas, Cheryl Tyrrell, Bryn Bridenthal, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Dr. Karen Hill-Scott and Alice Walker Duff, Willis Edwards, Sandra Evers Manly, and so many more for believing in me in concrete ways by providing me means to earn a living.
GQ: What has been the most rewarding experience you’ve had in the Black media/publishing industry?
RJ: Meeting Texas Senator Barbara Jordan at the Congressional Black Caucus that was held in Philadelphia a great many years ago. I was so thrilled to be able to meet her and shake her hand that I was speechless and just stood there pumping her hand. I remember Teddy Pendergrass performed later that night and I was there as the guest of LeBaron Taylor of CBS Records. LeBaron treated SOUL like royalty and included us in so many things that I would have never experienced without his support.
GQ: What has been the most rewarding experience you’ve had in the music industry?
RJ: The friends that I’ve made. I have long term friendships with a lot of people that I met through SOUL and working with people in the record business over the years. I still have a large number of close friends that are also retired. My friends are my greatest wealth and I am truly a very wealthy woman. It’s good laughing about and remembering performances of incredible stars that I’ve seen up close and personal and in small venues. People don’t get to get close these days. And SOUL provided opportunities to meet so many performers. Motown Records invited SOUL to shows all over the world. Bob Jones made sure we had access to all of their acts. CBS Records did so as well and I still think about what good friends Jim Tyrrell and LeBaron Taylor were to me. They were like big brothers. Al Bell at Stax Records made sure we were supported, not only with seeing performances but with advertising dollars. As did CBS, Motown, and others. Some got it and some didn’t.
GQ: What advice do you have for people preparing for retirement?
RJ: Start saving early and put something away for yourself no matter what’s going on. Having been self- employed most of my life I did not create a retirement fund and must rely upon Social Security which is not enough for anyone to live on. I’m grateful that I was an employee for the last decade. I was employed by a great company, Crystal Stairs, Inc., and they established a 401K for everyone and matched a percentage of what we put away. I grew up believing that owning your own home was the best investment to make. There is some truth to that but it would have been much more productive to have put the equity into something rather than trying to pay a mortgage off. If you live in a home a long time there will be lots of repairs and improvements to make and they are costly so you still will have debts when you are no longer working. I know so many people my age that are in fear of losing their homes or have lost their home when they are no longer able to work.
GQ: What are you most optimistic about in Black media and publishing?
RJ: I’m optimistic when I watch “Greenleaf” on OWN TV. Glad that a Black owned television network is creating good product. It makes me happy when I see so much Black history and information on the Internet. I’m not watching it today the way I once did, looking to keep current and see what was going on.
GQ: What’s next for you?
RJ: There are still a few things that I would like to complete and accomplish. One is to finish writing my story for my children and grandchildren. Of course my ego would like to see a published book but my soul merely wants to leave behind the story of my life for my loved ones. Another is to get a documentary done on SOUL. That’s big and so much bigger than the energy, contacts, and abilities that I alone have. The good news is that my grandson Matt Jones has been helping me and knows so much about SOUL, my son Kevin Jones has worked in film and helps me separate my emotions from the facts and stay on the straight and narrow, and my dear SOUL friends Bobby Holland and Steven Ivory want to make this happen as much as I do and they have the skill sets to make my dream come true. We shall see.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media specialist with a career spanning over 25 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher of Global Communicator. Her weekly columns, “Inside Broadway with Gwendolyn Quinn” and “My Person of the Week” are published with EURWEB.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business. Contact her at [email protected].