WBGO Playdate

WBGO's Playdate: Ruth Brown and Billy Taylor

Ruth Brown

WBGO's Playdate brings another web extra from show #1. To explore more from this episode, click here.

"Ruth could have been a great radio disc jockey," says Felix Hernandez about the talent he scouted. When Felix was just starting out, he brought Miss Rhythm to the airwaves, twice.

Hernandez (long-time host of the Rhythm Review) met the legendary vocalist at a gig at George's in Chicago circa 1983. They went on to work together on her radio host debut, a two-year, 13-part series called Harlem Hit Parade. The show was co-produced by Karen Jefferson, who is also Felix's wife.

Felix's work with Ruth Brown resumed in 1989 when he was awarded a major production grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NEA funding for BluesStage. Brown was the co-host alongside writer/director Melvin Van Peebles. WBGO was one of 200+ NPR stations that carried the series. Playdate show #1 features Ruth Brown singing "5-10-15 Hours" at 20/20 in New York City in 1988. You can hear the tune @ 51:48. This concert was produced by Felix for BluesStage.

"Ruth was a great pleasure to work with," he recalls, "always generous with her time. She was just a loving person; she was like a big sister to me and Karen for many years. She shared so many stories about the artists, difficult touring situations, especially in the 1950's South, and her personal life. She always generously credited BluesStage with helping relaunch her career.

"Ruth could have been a great radio disc jockey," Felix continues,"with her engaging presence, she had great insight into the music and was candid with anecdotes about the artists, all of whom she knew. Even though I wrote her scripts, she could have gone 100% ad-lib. It was no accident that she was cast as radio DJ Motor Mouth Mabel in John Waters' original film version of Hairspray."

In 1977, Billy Taylor began hosting the first NPR jazz show, Jazz Alive! For Billy Taylor's 90th birthday, WBGO's Tim Wilkins assembled a great collection of stories, photos and audio clips including an additional selection from the concert we featured in Playdate. Listen to "The Man I Love" from inside the WBGO studios @ 0:55 in Playdate show #1 and the full WBGO blog post on Billy Taylor can be found here.

Support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts and WBGO.

Playdate funders

Produced for WBGO by Alexander Ariff,
with Becca Pulliam and Duke Markos, Executive Producer Josh Jackson.

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