By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter Emeritus
New Journal and Guide
In 1947, there were no African-American announcers on any of the radio stations in the Hampton Roads, and they did not own any broadcast outlets either.
However, the Black community had various other forms of entertainment, from movie theaters such as the Attucks to theater groups and bands that provided live entertainment.
One of the bands featured Jack Holmes, a popular singer and comedic personality.
An owner of a white-owned AM radio found out about Holmes’ electric personality and golden voice and hired him to host a 15-minute radio show for Blacks on WLOL-AM.
The 15-minute program was sponsored by the company that produced Sweet Tea Snuff, then a favorite alternative to cigarettes.
According to Chester Benton, a longtime Black radio personality and executive who began a career in 1969, Holmes’ broadcasts became so popular they were increased to four hours a week.
Benton, known as the Griot of radio history in the area, said this began the Golden Age of Black Broadcasting.
He said it was fueled by African-American radio announcers or Disc Jockeys (DJs) and their unique artistic and cultural contributions to Hampton Roads and beyond.
Soon, Holmes left the stage as a singer and became a prominent voice on WRAP AM radio in 1952, which was a white-owned radio outlet at that time.
On December 30 at the Virginia Beach Central Library, the Connectional Ministries and Mission 2000, Inc. and G Paris Media Groups will honor living and deceased radio pioneers and personalities like Daddy “Jack” Holmes, Benton, Leola Dyson, the first Black female on radio as well as many leaders, activists, noted politicians and clergy with the Presidential Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Awards for their work.
The event will begin at noon with a reception followed by the ceremonial procession of the honorees, who will be bestowed with a Pin of honor for their work.
“Hampton Roads has an extensive background as it relates to their involvement in the Radio Industry since 1952,” said Rev. Glenda Murray-Kelly, whose agencies are sponsoring the event. “As we reflect on the music industry, we cannot forget the great radio announcers or Disc Jockeys in the area.”
“As a youth, I can recall Daddy Jack Holmes and Leona Dyson on the airwaves, said Murray-Kelly. “At midnight, Holmes always asked the question, ‘Do you know where your children are?’”
“There will always be a ram in the bush, and the ram that started in 1947 was Holmes,” recalled Murray-Kelly. “I remember, as a teenager, listening to the radio and hearing these words during the morning hours: ‘Get Up From There,’ to awaken slumbering listeners at dawn to launch his morning show.”
Murray-Kelly said the late Bishop L.E. Willis, Sr. became the first African-American to own and operate a Radio Station in Hampton Roads (WRAP). He went on to buy up a string of small radio stations from Virginia down the Southeast and out west as far away as Arkansas and Texas.
The writer of this article will also be receiving the Presidential Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 for his many stories written on the history of Black Radio Announcers and the industry while Chief Reporter for The New Journal and Guide Newspaper.
“We plan to pin as many as we can with gold or silver pins,” said Murray-Kelly. “If the announcer has more than twenty years of service, they will be pinned with the gold pin, and less than twenty years a silver pin. T-Shirts are available for ordering.”
This event combines the 20-year-old Presidential Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Awards and the celebration of the radio announcers.
“The intended purpose is to bring honor to some of the Radio Announcers who have labored so hard during the early part of their career without recognition or little pay.”
Murray-Kelly said the event would be hosted by Phil Nelson, one of the many announcers who left the Hampton Roads after starting his career.
He is expected to give tribute to Benton, Jay Lang, Willis, and others for opening the door of opportunity for him.
Currently, there will be 35 living individuals to receive the 2023 Presidential Volunteer Lifetime Achievement Award. Benton will receive his long overdue service award as well. Chesapeake community servant Dr. George Reed will also receive a Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. Delores Pruitt Polite will be crowned “Hampton Roads Queen of Sound.”
The late Gordon Banks, Jacobby Debouvier, Founder of Black Men Rock, Bernice Willey, mother of Regina Mobley, and Mr. Tommy L. DeRamus, Sr.’s family, will attend to receive their recognition.
The event is free and open to the public; however, seating is limited.