Louise Williams Bishop
Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Annual Banquet
Hilton City Avenue Hotel, Philadelphia
Friday Evening, November 19, 2010
It is rare that one can say the words ‘quiet legend’ and actually mean them. Knowing Louise Williams Bishop affords one that very rare opportunity. Her immediate rise in the radio ratings showed clear sovereignty, giving birth to her radio title, “The Gospel Queen.” It also showed the extraordinary path she was destined to travel.
One woman, three different careers, all going on at the same time. The success from any one of them, would be welcome by any one of us. An extraordinary broadcast career, as famous for its quality as for its longevity, a calling to the ministry and ordination and then repeated re-elections to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Additionally, she never left one to do the other. They were all achieved at the same time. A remarkable feat of juggling. But then she tops herself when we realize she did all of this while raising four great kids, virtually all on her own.
They must have put something very special in the water in Cairo, Georgia where Louise was born. She seems to have been given a magical elixir which could explain how this young southern girl can arrive in Philadelphia, with no social or professional connections, graduate from West Philadelphia High School, end up on the radio just a few years later as the ‘Youngest Voice in Radio’, destined to become an icon hosting her own gospel program for over 55 years. Her program was one of the only continuously top rated radio shows in the history of Philadelphia. She has also been a radio pioneer in Rock, Rhythm and Blues and ‘Talk-Radio’ formats with a wall full of gold records and historic interviews. Her live gospel concerts have drawn thousands for decades. Who knew that her degree from the American Foundation of Dramatic Arts would see her awarded two Honorary Doctor of Laws and Humanities degrees from Eastern University and Monrovia College. She is also the recipient of the highly prestigious Richard Allen Hildebrand Award, the highest honor anyone can receive from the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nobody’s beginnings were ever more humble, nor more contrasted with the towering achievements this quietly powerful woman eventually accomplished. Her ‘power wall’ of VIP pictures runs from Nobel Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu to U. S. Presidents Clinton and Carter with stops for Mahalia Jackson and Smokey Robinson in between. She continues her work today from the studios of WURD (AM) Radio and the state capitol where she continues to serve her constituency there as she has for the past 25 years.
Back in the formative days of her career, she trained and guided future radio programming mastermind Jimmy Bishop. She also married him and together they had four wonderful children Todd, Tabb, Tamika and James Jr. It was while raising those children that Louise also nurtured the budding careers of numerous world famous recording artists. She had an early vision of the giant Sam Cooke was to become and they became very close friends. One of her greatest acts of talent spotting and matchmaking was between Aretha Franklin and her future star makers at Atlantic Records. In 1967, it was Louise Williams Bishop who called Jerry Wexler, of Atlantic Records, and made the introduction - “Aretha, Jerry - Jerry, Aretha.” And the rest is music history. It was Louise again, who predicts and picks Aretha’s first hit,” Never Loved a Man” and told Wexler to be sure and record a song called, “Respect.”
But it doesn’t stop there, Louise co-wrote the O’Jays hit record “You and Me” with Bunny Sigler. Louise says it was easy for her to spot the true artists, make the introductions and write as well. She says it was easy because she grew up in the business when there were really magnificent talents in the executive suites of both the radio and recording industry. Extremely talented visionaries like her longtime friend Bob Klein who made WDAS AM-FM into a legendary powerhouse, of course the aforementioned Jerry
Wexler, Florence Greenberg of Scepter Records, Al Bell of Stax Records, Phil Chess of Chess-Checker Records, Bert Burns, and Don Robey of Peacock Records. These were the first ground-breaking companies to successfully challenge the supremacy of the ‘Big Three’ in R&B; Decca, RCA and Mercury. Louise was surrounded by pioneers and then became one herself.
Her success at this country’s premiere ‘heritage’ radio station WDAS was not all that she was destined for. She was called to the ministry in 1978 and became an ordained Baptist minister feeling she should share the blessings with which she overcame the effects of a devastating divorce. She ministers to thousands of people every Sunday, covering churches in nine states. She takes her lessons, blessings and understanding to the hearts of others, ministering to those in need.
Her entrance into politics was not unlike her calling to the ministry. A 1987 Sunday broadcast turned into a consciousness-raising epiphany when a blind man whose wife had deserted him and their five young children (three in diapers) called into Louise’s program for help. Within 5 minutes, scores of people including the city’s managing director called-in to make that man’s life more livable. Deeply touched by the connecting role she had played, Louise realized how good God had been to her and decided to run for public office. Her 1988 election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was the culmination of Bob Klein’s dream for radio station WDAS. From its early association with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s, to its socio-political programs over the years, the station had backed many candidates of color who did not win, after all it was the 1950s and 60s. Then, oh so slowly, seat by seat, the station’s endorsed candidates began winning their elections. So Louise becomes the embodiment of the political power WDAS fought for all those years, when she herself is elected to public office. From her seat in the state house, she has called upon her considerable skills as a communicator, peacemaker and her friendships with ministers who also became political leaders, like King confidant, Ambassador Andrew Young. She is literally a bridge that connects the religious, political, and musical communities.
While receiving some of the most prestigious awards bestowed in our society, perhaps her ‘Mother of the Year’ award says the most about this Renaissance woman.
Political leaders, radio and recording executives have asked for her good counsel and advice. Similarly, her approving nod on her Sunday gospel program was practically a guarantee of election to aspiring candidates for public office. Fellow public officials hold her in such high esteem that she is now a much sought after inspirational speaker at numerous city, state and federal functions up and down the East Coast. Her words there carrying the weight and prestige garnered from her years of accomplishment. The words that prompted the Bailey Family to ask Louise to deliver the eulogy for her old friend, the beloved Broadway and cinema star, Pearl Bailey, during memorial services held at the United Nations. Those are the same words and ministry she shares with her constituents, listeners and highly diverse coterie of friends and associates who seek and receive her prayers, caring advice and compassion.
Not surprising really for a woman who went from the cotton fields of Cairo, Georgia to the resonant halls of capitols and cathedrals. A quiet legend, whose career of extraordinary duration and length is only outdone by her towering personal strength.
On Friday evening, November 22, 2013, Louise Williams Bishop was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Bio written by Wynne Alexander of the WDASHistory.org website
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