George Hines discusses Early Wright’s legacy
“This is Hines in the mornin’ times at WROX, the station that Early Wright built. George Hines, Hines, Hines on your radi-yi-yo. NO! There is nothing wrong with your radi-yi-yo. We are simply…jammin’!” –George Hines, WROX Station Manager
Rumor had it that WROX, the famous old Clarksdale radio station, was to close its doors in then upcoming weeks, so I stop by the station to see if we might conduct an interview with the station manager, George Hines, about what oral culture means in the Mississippi Delta. I walk in the front door of the little building on Highway 49 to a somber-looking group of listeners gathered around Hines, who is tearing up as he speaks on the air. This is his last hour on WROX, he’s telling his listeners, and the power to the station will be cut in a few days. Teary fans are stopping by the studio to say goodbye as Hines explains that the media company that bought the station last year has chosen to close the station due to lack of revenue.
Hines has carried on an oral tradition native to the Mississippi Delta: the blues radio rap, which was pioneered by Clarksdale’s Early Wright. Wright, the first African American deejay in the South, was hired to manage WROX in 1947, where he stayed until1992. Wright was a master of rhyme, rhythm and rap whose quick wit made him the toast of Delta society—white and black. He was best known for his commercial breaks, in which he used the advertising format to promote himself as well as the product in question. “Just tell ‘em Early Wright sent ya. They have a full-figured dry goods store specializing in large sizes, with stockings up to size 200. Wow! Under the same roof is Miss Louise’s Typing Service. She can do letterheads, obituaries, funeral directories, term papers. She’s a wonderful person. Go tell her you heard about her on the radio.”
In an oppressive, segregated cultural atmosphere, Wright used his position and style to create African American agency in powerful ways. Wright would often promise a free dozen eggs or cut of meat for the first listener to visit an advertiser’s business without the permission of the white business owner. When a handful of people showed up at the store, the owner would dismiss the promotion as a trick on Wright’s part while enjoying a boost in business, all the while shaking their heads. He also used a variety of poetic technique to garnish his style. “It’s the right time of nighttime, Early Wright time… Pleasant good evening, ladies and gentlemen, how do you do? This is the Soul Man, to be with you, until I get through. So stand by and don’t have no fear because the Soul Man is here.”
Here’s an audio clip I found of Early Wright announcing an advertisment at WROX in the early 1980s:Early Wright Radio announcement
Hines was joined in the studio by Southern Soul singer Wendell B. and his manager, Big Tim, as well as a number of local friends including Clarksdale resident King Richard, local advertisers and schoolkids. I called my film partner Brian Graves, who hurried over to the station with our lights, microphones and camera, which we managed to set up just in time to catch Hines final station sign-off. In this speech, Hines sends an explicit political message to his listeners in terms rarely used in the public arenas of the Mississippi Delta. I can feel the gravity of his words and know how generous it is of Hines to give me documentary access to this moment.