Las Vegas Sun

December 11, 2023

Pioneer DJ Gibson, who helped many to stardom, dies

Early in the civil rights movement, a young preacher came to speak on the steps of WERD in Atlanta, the nation's first black-owned radio station, where disc jockey Jack "The Rapper" Gibson decided to give the minister a larger audience.

From the second story of the studio, Gibson ran a long line and microphone out the window to the street below, where the preacher used it to deliver a stirring speech heard all over the city.

Thanks to Gibson, who eventually wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was delivered for the first time over the airwaves.

Joseph Deighton Gibson Jr., one of America's first black disc jockeys, who popularized what is now called urban radio and later, as a record executive, helped launch the singing careers of Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, died Sunday in Las Vegas after a two-year bout with cancer. He was 79.

Services for Gibson will be 6 p.m. Monday at Palm Mortuary-Eastern, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. Visitation will be 2-6 p.m. A second service will be noon Tuesday at St. James Catholic Church at H Street and Washington Avenue. Burial will be in Orlando, Fla.

Gibson most recently worked for Las Vegas radio station KCEP 88.1-FM as host of the Sunday afternoon show "88 Karat Gold Long Gonies."

"Jack was a legend in the music and radio industry, and his loss has left a big void," said KCEP General Manager Sherman Rutledge, a longtime friend, who will run tributes throughout the week to Gibson on his station. "Jack put a community concept into radio and brought many changes to the industry."

Those changes included Gibson's design of a broadcast studio in which the DJs stood up to better project their voices -- a concept that was adopted by stations nationwide.

David Lee, Gibson's longtime engineer who took over Gibson's KCEP show as the new DJ when Gibson became ill last May, said his boss transcended generations.

"The show was designed for the older audience, but we got lots of calls from kids who would dedicate songs to their grandparents," Lee said. "When we would eat at restaurants, people would pass by, hear him talk and say, 'I know that voice -- you're Jack the Rapper.' "

Also known as "Jockey Jack," Gibson began his radio career at WJJD in Chicago in 1945. In October 1949 he became one of the original DJs at WERD. In the early 1960s, at WCIN in Cincinnati, Gibson's show featured new artists whom he sent to his good friend, Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records in Detroit.

They included Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Stevie Wonder.

In 1962 Gibson went to work for Motown as the record label's first national director of promotions and public relations. At the start of the Miracles' 1963 hit recording of "Mickey's Monkey," Gibson shouts: "Hey Smokey!"

In 1972 Gibson used his influence in the record industry to help secure an Academy Award nomination for best soundtrack for the movie "Shaft," which was written and performed by Isaac Hayes. The album won, making Hayes the first black artist to win an Oscar in the soundtrack category.

In 1995 Gibson was featured in an exhibit of America's top DJs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1986 he received a Smithsonian Institute honor for his contributions to black radio -- now called urban radio -- and black music.

Born May 13, 1920, in Chicago, Gibson was the eldest of five children of Dr. Joseph Gibson and the former Lilian Schweich, a schoolteacher. He graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson, Mo., where he was a member of the Omega Psi Pfi fraternity. In 1990 Gibson received from Lincoln an honorary doctorate.

After college, Gibson starred in "Here Comes Tomorrow," the first radio soap opera to feature an all-black cast.

As a disc jockey, Gibson infuriated record companies by insisting that they hire black representatives to promote records by black performers at black radio stations.

"I'd say send me a brother if you want me to play this," Gibson said in his two-volume audio autobiography, "A Journey Through Black Radio in America." "They couldn't stand me for that. But it got a lot of jobs for blacks."

In 1955 Gibson organized black radio announcers through the National Association of Radio Announcers.

Gibson worked for Motown from 1962 to '66, for Decca Records as Midwest region director (1966-69) and for Stax Records as vice president of promotions (1969-72).

In 1969 he helped launch the career of the Jackson 5, featuring a young Michael Jackson.

In 1977 Gibson started the Family Affair National Music Conference in Atlanta, where young recording artists made their debuts and were signed by major record labels.

Gibson moved to Las Vegas eight years ago and in 1998 was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

In 1996 Jack Gibson's record collection was housed in the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University.

As an actor Gibson appeared in the movies "Class Act" with rappers Kid 'N Play and in "Passenger 57" with Wesley Snipes, and in the MC Hammer music video "Pray."

Gibson's first wife, Sadye Gibson, to whom he was married 47 years, preceded Jack in death 12 years ago.

Gibson is survived by his second wife, Elsie Harris Gibson of Las Vegas; a son, Joseph Gibson III of Orlando, Fla.; a daughter, Jamilla Gibson-Bell of Atlanta; a sister, Ann Wright of Las Vegas; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two brothers and a sister.

The family requests donations to the St. James Catholic Church building fund.