Radio breaks race barriers in “Memphis”
December 13th, 2012
Omaha, NE – A musical based on the life of the first white DJ to play the music of black performers on the radio is coming to Omaha January.
The musical play, Memphis, is a story based loosely on the life of Dewey Phillips. Phillips, aka “Daddy-O” was a radio DJ in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950s and one of the first broadcasters of rock ‘n’ roll. (Click the audio button above to hear an excerpt of Phillips on WHBQ in Memphis)
Phillips was one of the first white DJs to play rhythm and blues and soul music of black performers like Rufus Thomas and B.B. King. In the 2006 American Radio Works documentary Hearing America: A Century of Music on the Radio, University of Michigan professor Susan Douglas explained the significance of crossing those racial lines. “White people listening to African-American music on the radio has played an underappreciated role in having white people first embrace black culture and then begin to appreciate that there were commonalities,” Douglas said. “And that forged an important beginning bridge between the races.”
The play, Memphis, takes some artistic license, enhancing the Phillips story and the role of radio in breaking the race barrier, along with adding a romance with a black club singer searching for her big break. (Click the audio button above to hear music from Memphis)
The Tony-award winning production features music by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan. It will be performed at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater January 15-20.
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