Although Al Benson became the most popular DJ of his time: He wasn’t the first. The first was Jack L. Cooper who was the first pioneer in Chicago Black Radio. It is the success of Cooper that paved Al Benson a path. Benson influenced many DJs with his inimitable style. Many disc jockeys created their own identities and styles based off the influences of Benson. He migrated with his family from Jacksonville, Mississippi during the Great Migration to Chicago in 1923. Al Benson began his broadcast career in 1943 on WGES in Chicago. WGES told him to get his own sponsors. Before long Benson had almost more advertising sponsors than he could handle. He had 12-1/2 hours of daily programming on three Chicagoland radio stations. He was the first black radio personality to have a six figure salary as his popularity increased was referred to as the Godfather of Black Radio. Later, he diversified his investments to include ownership of a newspaper, a record shop, a restaurant, and a boutique – that all hired majority black. He started off as Reverend Arthur B. leaner which helped him in radio when he did such things as spiritual readings and preaching. He later changed his name to Al Benson. Benson won a Chicago Tribune poll as the top DJ in the city. This included both sides of the market, both black and white. He also had a weekly TV program and a live radio broadcast, called the Battle of the Bands (the first American Band Stand). Benson broadcast delivery differed completely from Cooper’s (who imitated middle-class white folks verbal usage) . He spoke with a southern accent, often mixing “lower class street language” and Black English idioms in his broadcasts. He was the first black guy to have a massive audience. Benson announcing style is legendary – breaking all the rules of grammar. He called himself the “Ole Swing Master” for the rhythm and blues he played on air. Benson stated, “He spoke so eloquently and persuasively that he could sell hair straightener to a bald-headed man.” During this time, white disc jockeys refused to give black artist airplay so this gave black artists opportunities to hear their music broadcast. Benson and those who imitated him had moved far away from the announcing styles of whites. His down-home speech patterns and huckster style of delivery made the newly arrived rural migrants feel right at home in their urban environment. He connected with people on their level making them feel right at home in an estranged environment; thus, uniting black folks in Chicago. Benson’s power and influence extended far into the African- American community and to a new generation of black disc jockeys that he introduced to Chicago. His innovative style created a sensation in his adopted hometown, mainly because the “urban blues music” he played “revolutionized Chicago’s Black radio programming.” Benson was also admired for his strong stand against racial discrimination. Thus, he personally integrated several nightclubs that had previously refused to serve black patrons. As a protest against the state’s white racism against African-Americans rose to a climax in his hometown, Jacksonville Mississippi, he hired an airplane in 1956 to drop 5,000 copies of the United States Bill of Rights. He helped boost the spirits of migrants by playing unifying music. He told jokes to make them laugh about their situation and outlandish racism. To help his people remember the past, he told stories about achievement and struggle


Al Benson

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