BlackFacts Details

Cooper, Jack Leroy (1888-1970)

Jack L. Cooper is widelyacknowledged as the first African American radio broadcaster. Cooper, born inMemphis, Tennessee on September 18,1888, was the youngest of 10 children. He was raised in a poor, single-parenthome, and, at the age of 10, quit school and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work at a racetrack. Aside fromhis work at the racetrack, Cooper worked a number of odd jobs as a teen and wasa successful boxer, winning the Ohio Negro welterweight title in the late 1910s.Cooper began his entertainment career as a dancer and comic on the TheaterOwners Booking Association, a popular African American vaudeville circuit inthe 1920s and 1930s. Here he met his first wife, Estelle Mansfield (MadamLamar) Cooper, and they created the Cooper and Lamar Music Company.

Cooper’s entry into radio was due not to his early career as an entertainer,but to his work as a journalist. While he toured with Madam Lamar Cooper, hewrote for black newspapers in Memphis and Indianapolis, Indiana . In 1924, this led to the position of assistant theatereditor at the influential ChicagoDefender in Chicago, Illinois .Cooper wrote a weekly column, “Coop’s Chatter,” and the newspaper selected himto help open up its new Washington, in 1925. Later that year, the producer of a show on WCAP in Washington,D.C. hired Cooper to help write and perform comedy skits based on Negrodialect. The show, although successful, required Cooper to perform a sort ofradio minstrel show aimed at white consumers where his role was to creativelymock African American language.

Because of these restraints, Cooper quit his job at WCAP and returned toChicago with the goal of creating a radio program that would attract a blackaudience. Cooper developed an idea for a weekly variety show, but had no luckfinding a station that would take his show. In 1929, Joseph Silverstein, ownerof WSBC, a low-power station that catered mainly to Chicago’s large immigrantpopulation, agreed to air Cooper’s The All-NegroHour. At the start,   The All-NegroHour focused on live music