Palm Springs, California – Art Laboe, the pioneering DJ credited with helping end segregation in Southern California, has died. He was 97 years old.
Joanna Moronis, a spokeswoman for Laboe’s production company, Dart Entertainment, said Laboe died Friday night after contracting pneumonia.
Laboe’s latest show was produced last week and aired Sunday night.
Laboe is credited with helping end segregation in Southern California by organizing live DJs in restaurants that attract whites, blacks, and Latinos who danced to rock and roll and shocked an older generation who still listened to Frank Sinatra and Big Band music.
Labo is also credited with coining the phrase “old stuff, but good stuff.” In 1957, he started the Original Sound Record Company, Inc. And in 1958, he released the compilation album “Oldies But Goodies: Vol.1”, which remained on the Billboard Top 100 for 183 weeks.
He later developed a strong following among Mexican Americans for hosting “The Art Laboe Connection Show”. His baritone voice called listeners to call for dedication and asked for a rock and roll love song from the 1950s or a rhythm and blues tune from Alicia Keys.
His broadcasts gave families of imprisoned loved ones, in particular, a platform to speak to their relatives by dedicating songs and sending heartfelt messages and updates. California and Arizona guests will send in their own gifts and ask Laboe for updates from the beds.
It’s a role Labo said he was proud to play.
“I don’t judge,” Labo said in a 2018 interview with the Associated Press in his Palm Springs studio. “I love people.”
He would often tell a story about a woman who came into the studio so her child could tell her father, who was serving time for a violent crime, “Dad, I love you.”
“It was the first time he had heard his child’s voice,” Labo said. “And that cruel, stubborn-nosed man burst into tears.”
Anthony Macias, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside, said the music played by Lapu goes along with the dedications that reinforce messages. For example, songs like Little Anthony & The Imperials The “I’m out (looking in)” and “Don’t let anyone put you down” of war spoke of perseverance and the desire to be accepted.
Born in Salt Lake City to an Armenian-American family, Labo was raised during the Great Depression in a Mormon family run by a single mother. His sister sent him his first radio when he was eight years old. The voices and stories that came out of him covered him.
And I haven’t left him since then,” Labo said.
He moved to California, attended Stanford University and served in the US Navy during World War II. Eventually, he landed a job as a radio presenter at KSAN in San Francisco and adopted the name Art Laboe after his boss suggested he take the secretary’s last name to sound more American.
When the United States entered World War II, Labo served in the Navy. He later returned to the Southern California area, but a radio station owner told the aspiring radio announcer that he should work on becoming a “radio personality” instead. As DJ for KXLA in Los Angeles, Laboe bought station time and hosted overnight live music performances from indoor cars where he met Rockabilly Underground and R& b musicians. “I’ve got my own inner search,” Labo said.
Laboe soon became one of the first DJs to play R& B and Rock-n-Roll in California. Teenage listeners soon recognized Labo’s voice in the nascent rock ‘n’ roll scene. By 1956, LaBoy had given an afternoon show and had become the city’s top radio program. Cars crowded onto Sunset Boulevard where Laboe aired his show and advertisers jumped in to get a bit of the action.
When Elvis Presley came to Hollywood, Labo was one of the few to get an interview with the new rockabilly star.
The scene that Laboe helped raise in California has become one of the most diverse in the country. Places like the American Legion Stadium in El Monte played much of Laboe’s music that was broadcast on his radio show, giving birth to a new youth subculture.
Laboe has maintained a strong following over the years and has turned into a promoter of old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll that never faded from older Mexican-American fans. There is a permanent display of Laboe’s contributions at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland.
In 2015, iHeartMedia’s KHHT-FM (92.3) dropped the old Laboe program after the station suddenly switched to a hip-hop format, sparking angry protests in Los Angeles. “Without Art Laboe, I’m so lonely that I can cry,” columnist Adam Fine wrote. Later that year, Labo returned to the Los Angeles airwaves on another station.
Lalo Alcaraz, a cartoonist and co-television writer who grew up listening to Art Laboe in San Diego, said the DJ has maintained a strong following among Mexican Americans for generations because he’s always played Latin, white, and black artists together in his shows. Alcaraz said Labo did not judge his listeners who asked for gifts for loved ones in prison.
“This is someone who has given voice to the humblest of us through music,” Alcaraz said. “We got it together. That’s why we went after him.”
Generations of Latino fans have attended Laboe-sponsored concerts to listen to the likes of Smokey Robinson, The Spinners or Sunny, Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Alliance, said. and Sunliners.
“I see these really tough-looking guys in the crowd. I mean, they look intimidating,” Nogales said. “Then the art comes out and they melt. They love it.”
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