Friday, August 09, 2013



RAY ELLINGTON on a stamp?

I was shocked to see a post office display of commemoratives...and...British comic-singer Ellington's face?? I was also shocked that it took me a half hour to get to the counter, but the lines slow because old ladies tend to spend a long, long time staring at the pretty new stamps available, trying to choose which one to put on all their condolence cards.

I doubt many bothered that's not Ray's JOHN H. JOHNSON. Not a singer or a comic.

John H Johnson was the first black entrepeneur successful enough to make the Forbes 400 (wealthiest businessmen) list. From being a drop-out on welfare, he created the self-made "Negro Digest," a variation on "Reader's Digest," which he and friends pushed at local newsstands.

Johnson was soon able to add a black version of Life Magazine, which is wife dubbed "Ebony," and followed it with the small-format "Jet." From the 50's through the 90's, he actively built up his holdings and diversified. As for his magazines, even in the 90's when so many periodicals began disappearing, his were not doing as badly as "Life" or "Look." He had cornered the black market so there was little competition, and blacks were certainly more likely to leaf through a magazine than spend a fortune on a computer and the Internet.

Still, there were changes that Johnson didn't appreciate. For example, by the 80's, not every African-American to make the cover of his mags was 100% black. A few had a white parent. Worse; some kindly doctors and dentists...WHITE...subscribed to Johnson's magazines as a thoughtful courtesy to black patients in the waiting room. And even WORSE...demographics showed that some households that enjoyed "Ebony" and "Jet" every month were interracial. In a 1990 interview with the New York Times, the prosperous publisher sadly acknowledged that 12 percent of his readers were…white: "This is more than I would like to have,. I want to be king of the black hill, not the mixed hill."

Which means that Ray Ellington would not have been a welcome subscriber to John H. Johnson. Ray's black father Harry was a British Music Hall comic and his mother Eva, a Russian Jew. In a sort of Jolsonesque upbringing, Ellington attending Jewish schools and learned his Orthodox religion, but his heart was in show business and he loved jazz. He joined eccentric Harry Roy's band as a drummer, and was also influenced by Louis Jordan. Once Ray was successful, with his own quartet, he covered Jordan's classic "Five Guys Named Moe" and favored other hep-cat eccentric tunes, along with the standards.

Although John H. Johnson might not approve, both blacks and whites can download this sample of Ellington's swingin' 45's, which shows his range of cool, boogie, and giddy-up ding-dong. Slippin' you five:

DRACULA'S THREE DAUGHTERS, THE MADISON, IF YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING NICE, LEFT HAND BOOGIE, GIDDY-UP-A-DING-DONG Five rarities from RAY ELLINGTON Instant download or listen on line. No capcha codes, wait time, or whines about paying for a premium account.

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