The tribute to Jackson (who died at age 96 in 2012) – a New York City-based radio pioneer who broke several color barriers in American radio broadcasting and who continues to be remembered as the legendary host of WBLS-FM’s Sunday Classics – will highlight the long standing education/scholarship initiative which he founded.
For 50 years, Jackson’s Talented Teens International has assisted young women of color pursue higher education thanks to scholarships awarded annually, impacting more than 30,000 participants. Alumni include award-winning actresses Taraji P. Henson, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Jada Pinkett Smith; former U.S. Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook; the Honorable NY State Supreme Court Justice Tanya Kennedy; and Tai Jimenez, director, The Dance Theater of Harlem.
This year’s fundraiser will feature entertainers who represent the best in classic soul/rhythm and blues: Howard Hewett (performing solo hits and smashes from his years with Shalamar); Jeff Redd (of “You Called And Told Me” fame); the Ladies Of Skyy (“Call Me”); and Meli’sa Morgan (“Do Me Baby”). Tribute band The Bells 2.0 will be the opening act.
Debi B. Jackson, widow of Hal Jackson, former co-host of her husband’s weekend series, and president of the Youth Development Foundation, Inc., which oversees Talented Teens International, will host the event. Joining her will be veteran radio personality Dr. Bob Lee of WBLS-FM and David Sheppard will serve as the evening’s emcee.
Lest we forget – Harold Baron Jackson
Born November 3, 1915, Jackson was born in Charleston, SC, but raised by relatives in Washington, D.C. after both of his parents died when he was young. He attended Howard University but did not receive his degree, choosing to begin his career as a sportswriter, covering local and national Black sporting events for the Washington DC Afro-American.
In the 1940s, he became one of the first Black radio sports announcers, broadcasting Howard’s home baseball games and the games of the Homestead Grays Negro League. Also, in 1940, Hal Jackson became the first African American host at WINX in D.C..
Later moving to New York City in November 1949, he was hired by radio station WLIB whose goal was to expand the amount of Black programming it offered.
By 1954, Hal Jackson became the first radio personality to broadcast three daily shows on three different New York stations. Four million listeners tuned in nightly to hear Jackson’s mix of music and conversations with jazz and show business celebrities.
In 1971, Jackson and Percy Sutton, a former Manhattan borough president, co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation (ICBC), which acquired WLIB to become the first Black-owned-and-operated station in New York. A year later, ICBC acquired WLIB-FM, changing its call letters to WBLS – “the total Black experience in Sound.”
In 1990, Harold Baron Jackson became the first person of color inducted into the National Association of Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. Then in 1995, he became the first African American inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. And in 2001, the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame inducted Jackson.
Hal Jackson died in New York City on May 23, 2012, at the age of 96, with his wife and three children at his bedside.
Words of inspiration from Harold Baron Jackson
During one of the last interviews held with Jackson prior to his death, he spoke with Roscoe C. Browne Jr., the host of “African American Legends,” during which he addressed issues he both faced and overcame, including segregation, racism, and the lack of opportunities for Blacks.
“The novelty of being a Black person and sportscaster gave me many opportunities to open doors for others as early as 1937 in D.C.,” he said. “I remember the president of WNIX telling his staff, ‘No nigger will ever go on this radio station.’ But I refused to let that stop me. God had told me that everything was going to be cool.”
Jackson’s close friends included legends in Black history: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Dr. Charles Drew, Josh Gibson, Berry Gordy, Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. But his circle of intimate relationships extended far beyond his own race.
In addition to his impressive circle, Mr. Jackson remained adamant about striving for excellence.
“There weren’t any schools to prepare us when I came along and I had to work really hard,” Jackson said. “Back then, whites wanted Black DJs to be funny. But I refused and instead sought to present myself as an intelligent and articulate person. We had to work hard to be accepted by the white audiences.”
“How did we fight back against racism? We worked toward securing the loyalty of Black listeners. We got out into the community and kept reminding them that ours was a Black-owned radio station reassuring the public that we were committed to reflecting the needs and feelings of the Black community and that we were better than the competition,” Jackson said.