Saturday, March 31, 2018

Soul of the Air #24 - Bill "Doc" Lee, 1965

"Highway to Heaven" Part One:Free Music - Music podcasts -

"Highway to Heaven" Part Two:Download Music - Free Audio -

"Highway to Heaven" Part Three:Podcast Hosting - Music podcasts -

"The Sunday Gospel Open House" (with Margarite Turner):Music File Hosting - Share Audio -

This Easter weekend is also the 55th anniversary of legendary R&B-turned-talk radio station WVON, which has been featured on this blog on more than a few times. From its debut on April 1, 1963, it became the city's top R&B station and ran second only to WLS in overall popularity at its peak. Though changing times toppled the station in the later '70s, the wise move to change to a talk format has kept the station alive and still on the air, now at 1690 on the AM dial in Chicago and online. Because it is Easter weekend, the station's gospel music programming is the subject of this post.

Perhaps in part because the Chess family owned WVON and recorded gospel music and sermons, the station's format included religious material. Bill "Doc" Lee was hired as the station's Religious Director in 1963 and he stayed with the station for thirty years. Lee hosted "Highway to Heaven" from 4:00 to 6:00 AM every weekday morning during the station's glory days, and also co-hosted the "Sunday Gospel Open House" on Sundays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. (By the way, according to the Chicago Tribune obituary of Lee from 1998, it is said that Lee picked up the "Doc" nickname because his on-air prayers were credited with healing sick people!) "Highway to Heaven" featured Lee playing gospel music and providing patter, reading commercials and delivering news and weather in the same manner as the other WVON jocks. "Sunday Gospel Open House" was a live show, in which local gospel acts appeared in various locales to perform before a capacity audience: according to the liner notes to the Checker tie-in album for the show, the show was open to the public "but you must come early in order to secure a seat of your choice."

Featured here is most of a "Highway to Heaven" episode from January 29, 1965, followed by a portion of a "Sunday Gospel Open House" show from the following Sunday. "Highway to Heaven" is full of great stuff for discerning gospel fans: after Lee thanks "Deacon Pervis Spann" for his preceding blues show, he gets to work, featuring Chicago's legendary "Singing" Sammy Lewis in song and in prayer and playing The Staple Singers' original "Hammer and Nails," which had more explicitly religious lyrics than the better-known version, The Southwest Michigan State Choir's "Write My Name Above," and The Salem Travelers' "Help Me to Hold Out," among other tunes. On "Sunday Gospel Open House," Lee is joined by his co-host, Margarite Turner, at the Southmoor Hotel - where, as is emphasized by Lee, a brand-new Hammond organ has been installed - to present local gospel groups (it goes without saying there was no shortage of gospel quartets and other groups in Chicago, many of which never made the big-time despite having lots of talent) and to announce various gospel concerts taking place throughout the city.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I apologize for not getting more good stuff on this blog - I've got lots of stuff I want to share, but haven't got around to it. I hope to get new material on here very soon! Thank you for your continued support despite my slow upload schedule!

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