Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio
The notion for doing an audio documentary on the history of Black radio in Philadelphia began with a discussion about Black History Month at Mighty Writers, our Philadelphia writing program for city kids.
“All my life I’ve been hearing about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in school during Black History Month,” said Nafeesah Cannady, one of our Mighty high school writers. “Both are great and historic Black Americans. But why aren’t we ever taught about the great Black Americans that came before us right here in Philadelphia.”
We are recapturing the glory days of Black radio in Philadelphia.
And that’s when it hit us. No other city has as rich a history of Black radio broadcasting as Philadelphia. Kids should know about it.
Through Mighty Writers, we are recapturing the glory days of Black radio in Philadelphia. Our audio documentary project—GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO—will focus on such radio pioneers as Douglas “Jocko” Henderson, Georgie Woods (pictured above), Louise Williams, Jimmy Bishop, Harvey Holiday (below, with Dusty Springfield), Sonny Hopson, and Butterball among so many others.
Hosted by legendary Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) music producer KENNY GAMBLE, GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO, examines the legacy of Black radio in Philadelphia with a special focus on legendary radio station WDAS.
In the 1950s, Black radio stations became the pulse of African-American communities and a megaphone for people of color during the civil rights and Black power movements. Stations like WDAS in Philadelphia, WDIA in Memphis, WWRL and WBLS in NYC, WHUR and WOL in DC, WERD in Atlanta, WVON in Chicago, WLAC in Nashville, WMRY in New Orleans, KWBR in San Francisco… featured radio personalities who spun records you couldn’t hear played on mainstream radio.
These radio stations were pipelines into the Black community, the place to go to get news that the mainstream media either ignored or refused to cover. GOING BLACK is the story of a genre of music that would have gone undiscovered. It also provides a context for the history of civil rights in the city of Philadelphia.
Black radio stations were pipelines, the place to get news the mainstream media ignored or refused to cover.
GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO features first-person accounts of civil rights events and rare archival audio of Black radio air checks from the 60s and 70s, including a 1964 interview with Malcolm X just a few months before he was assassinated. The documentary also includes a soundtrack featuring R&B, jazz, gospel and soul hits from the 50s through the 80s, with an emphasis on songs from the Sound of Philadelphia.
GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO was made possible by the following funders: the Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge, the McEwen Fund, the Argus Fund, the Lumpkin Family Foundation and the William M. King Charitable Foundation.
GOING BLACK: THE LEGACY OF PHILLY SOUL RADIO was written and produced by Yowei Shaw (Senior Producer) and Alex Lewis; Consulting Archivist: Jack McCarthy; Consulting Editor: Jacquie Gales Webb; Audio Mixing by Jeff Towne. Producer: Maggie Leyman. Executive Producer: Tim Whitaker.
Archival audio courtesy of: Temple University Libraries’ W. Cody Anderson Collection at the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and Special Collections Research Center Urban Archives, Indiana University Archives of African-American Music and Culture, The Smithsonian Institution, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.
Special thanks to Cody Anderson, Bruce Warren, Carl Helm, Dyana Williams, John Pettit and Wynne Alexander for her pioneering research on WDAS history.
A special Mighty thanks to Philadelphia radio station WXPN for the use of their studios during production.