Herb Kent is an urban radio pioneer. He is a voice of the community, a father, a friend, and a living history lesson. To many Chicagoans, Herbert Rogers Kent, the Cool Gent, The King of the Dusties and The Honorary Mayor of Bronzeville stands for all these things and more. As one of the most important figures in Chicago radio history, Herb Kent has not only been able to entertain and inform listeners on his weekly radio show, he has also opened up many doors for African Americans. Simply put, Herb Kent is a Chicago treasure and a bankable commodity.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the Ida B. Wells housing community, a young Herb Kent displayed an early interest in radio when as a teenager; he built radio equipment, including his own set of microphones, from surplus World War II parts. Kent's strong desire to learn as much as he could about the radio industry was eventually realized at the age of 16 when he was accepted into the highly competitive WBEZ Radio Workshops. From his early start at WBEZ, Kent went on to join a local community theater group known as the Skyloft Players. Young and eager to learn, Herb performed on stage and soon realized that many of the skills required to be a successful stage actor applied to radio as well. Kent’s early theatrical training would later help develop such popular radio characters as, "The Wahoo Man," "Gym Shoe Creeper," and "The Electric Crazy People." "I brought theater of the mind to radio," says Kent.
In 1949, Kent received his first paid radio job at WGRY in Gary, Indiana for $35 dollars a week. WGRY at that time had only two radio personalities. With Herb being one of two DJs, he was able to learn every aspect of putting a radio show together from producing, writing, and interviewing, to polishing his own on-air presence on twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Back in the fifties, Herb Kent’s first fan club was formed and the nickname, Cool Gent was born. Around that same time Herb coined the term, "dusty records" to describe old-time favorite hits. "The dust in the grooves makes them crackle," said Kent.
Throughout his radio career working at stations like, WVON and WJJD, Herb Kent has interviewed many of today’s music legends including, DukeEllington, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye just to name a few. Kent even gave career advice to a young man with his own dreams for success in the entertainment industry, Soul Train creator Don Cornelius.In addition to his accomplishments as a radio personality, Kent has been an active community and civil rights leader. He has spent many years serving as a role model to the African American community by encouraging young people. "Stay in school and avoid gang involvement, that was my theme, " stated Kent.
In the 1960’s, during the height of the civil rights movement, Herb hosted a program with Stevie Wonder, for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last visit to Chicago. Ironically, it was also Kent who after the assassination of Dr. King, took to the airwaves to calm rioters on Chicago’s West Side in the late 60s. For his many years of service and dedication to the community, the City of Chicago has bestowed numerous honors upon Kent, among them, a street named in his honor, "Herb Kent Drive" and Honorary Mayor of Bronzeville.
In 1995, he was inducted into the Museum of Broadcasting’s, Radio Hall of Fame.In the late 90’s Kent ventured into local television as the host of the popular dance show called, "Steppin’ At Club Seven", later to be renamed "The New Dance Club."
Today, despite a very busy and sometimes hectic broadcast schedule hosting two highly rated shows on WVAZ FM, Herb shows no sign of slowing down. Kent is a contributing writer for N’DIGO Magazine, and lectures to communication students at Chicago State University.
So what’s new for the millennium? Learning digital music formats, new computer skills, and taking the world of Herb Kent on the internet with the creation of his own new web site in the near future, just to name a few. Looking back over his incredible life and broadcast career, Kent says, "Radio has sustained me, and has really brought me through some hard times. It has been a rock for me; it’s the love of my life."
Cleotha Staples, a founding member of the beloved Chicago soul group the Staple Singers, died Wednesday after a long battle with Alzheimer's, her sister Mavis Staples' rep has confirmed to Rolling Stone. She was 78.
Staples had suffered from the disease for 12 years, and recently had been under 24-hour home care. Mavis Staples told the Chicago Tribune that Cleotha's longtime caretaker was with her when she died Wednesday morning in her high-rise condominium on the South Side of Chicago.
Belting the distinctive soprano parts on the Staple Singers soaring harmonies, Cleotha was a crucial part of the group's success on hits such as "I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself" and "Uncloudy Day."
Cleotha, the oldest child of Roebuck "Pops" and Osceola Staples, began learning to sing in the late Forties when Pops taught her and her siblings – Mavis, Pervis and Yvonne – the songs he had sung as a child with his family at Dockery Farm plantation in Mississippi. Soon the Staple Singers were performing at churches throughout the South Side, and by 1953 they were cutting records and playing shows outside of Chicago.
The group scored their first nationwide gospel hit, "Uncloudy Day," in 1957, and saw continued success during the late Sixties and early Seventies with tracks produced by Stax Records' Al Bell.
"I credit Pops' guitar and Cleedy’s voice with making our sound so different," Mavis Staples said, referring to her sister by a nickname. "Her high voice – Pops would take her to a minor key a lot. A lot of singers would try to sing like her. Gladys Knight’s background singer [in the Pips], William [Guest], would tell Cleedy, 'I'm trying to sound like you.' Her voice would just ring in your ear. It wasn't harsh or hitting you hard, it was soothing. She gave us that country sound. The way we sang was the way Pops and his brothers and sisters would sing down in Mississippi. Those were the voices they would use to sing after dinner out on the gallery."