Published on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 09:39
One of the most important figures in the history of Chicago radio over the last 50 years, Pervis "The Blues Man" Spann, is being inducted into the National Blues Foundation's Hall Of Fame. The induction will take place during a special ceremony tomorrow, May 9th, in Memphis, TN, the night before the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards. The honor acknowledges Pervis Spann's contribution to the advancement and preservation of Blues Music over the last five decades.
Spann, who is best known for his career in Chicago radio, has long been associated with Blues music and the Blues community in Chicago.
He was born in 1932 in Itta Bena, MS -- the same small southern town that was the birthplace of famed Bluesmen B.B. King and Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he used money from the G.I. Bill to pay for tuition to attend the Midwestern Broadcasting School. From there, he went on to begin working overnights at WOPA-AM in 1959. He went on to be known as "The All-Night Blues Man," which later became simply "The Blues Man."
Phil and Leonard Chess, owners of Chicago's famed Chess record label, purchased WOPA-AM in 1963, making it a 24 hour/7 day Blues station and changing the call letters to WVON-AM. Spann stayed on with the station, becoming a very popular nighttime personality there. He was part of core group of radio DJs on WVON-AM, who would go on to become some of the most famous radio personalities in Chicago history. In a highly-publicized stunt at that time, Spann once remained on the WVON airwaves for 87 straight hours as a fundraiser for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s civil rights campaign.
In addition to his growing fame as a radio personality, Spann became well known as a concert organizer and promoter. For his first concert that he organized, he brought to town Blues artists Junior Parker and Pervis' hometown pal, B.B. King. As the 1960s progressed, so did Spann's concert business, as he was booking top Blues, Soul, R&B and Motown acts. It was Spann that would bring Aretha Franklin to Chicago and gave her the famous nickname "The Queen of Soul." He became a manager for artists such as B.B. King, and was instrumental in the boosting of careers to then-unknown artists such as the Jackson Five and Chaka Khan. He also opened up many small clubs around Chicago, especially on the city's south & west sides, including the large west side club The Burning Spear, a frequent stop for B.B. King. Some of the clubs he owned on his own and some with partners, including other DJs from WVON-AM.
As a promoter for Chicago's Regal Theater, Pervis Spann was often on stage introducing the acts he helped book & promote. Spann's voice can be heard on live albums introducing Little Stevie Wonder on 1962's "Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius" and on 1965's "B.B. King: Live at the Regal."
Following the death of Leonard Chess in 1969, the Chess family began looking for a buyer for WVON-AM, eventually selling the station to Globetrotter Communications. In 1975, Globetrotter moved WVON-AM to a new frequency, from the weaker AM 1450 to the 5000-watt AM 1390. Pervis Spann then formed Midway Broadcasting with fellow WVON-AM DJ Wesley South, along with Chicago Tribune columnist Vernon Jarrett and others, to try and bring a station to AM 1450. It took five years of battles, but eventually, the FCC issued a split license for the frequency, giving half to Migala Communications, who operated a brokered ethnic programming as WCEV from 1:00pm-10:00pm, and half to Midway Broadcasting's WXOL, who operated a Blues station the rest of night & following morning, using many former WVON-AM personalities. In 1983, Spann was able to reclaim the original WVON-AM call letters for the station. In 1986, WVON-AM changed to an all-Urban Talk format. In 2006, the station signed a Limited Marketing Agreement with Clear Channel to move the station to the stronger signal of AM 1690, where it still is today.
Along with his work on WXOL/WVON, Pervis Spann also found time to do a an overnight radio broadcast on WXFM-FM 105.9 during the time period of the late 70s/early 80s.
For many years in the 1980s, Spann purchased and operated WXSS-AM in Memphis, selling it off in 1989. He continued to promote Chicago area Blues concerts and festivals. At one point in the late 1990s, he also ran for Alderman of Chicago's 18th Ward. Spann was the host of a local Chicago cable television show called "Blues and More." His radio show, "Blues with Pervis Spann, The Blues Man" can still be heard on WVON-AM 1690 on Saturday nights from 11:00pm-2:00am.
Midway Broadcasting is still partially co-owned by Pervis Spann. It is now run by his daughter, Melody Spann-Cooper, who purchased controlling interest in the company in 1999 and then took over as President.
Throughout his career, Pervis Spann has tried hard to keep the genre of traditional Blues alive, here in Chicago and beyond. For those many years of dedication and effort, the National Blues Foundation has chosen to honor Pervis Spann by inducting him in their prestigious Blues Hall of Fame.
Due to health reasons, Pervis Spann will not be able to travel to Memphis to attend tomorrow's ceremonies. His daughter, Melody Spann-Cooper will represent him and accept the great honor in his name.
Updated at 2:00pm with additional historical information.