During Black History Month, we usually review the past and those who made history. This February, Austin Weekly News will be featuring something different”interviews with daughters whose fathers are legends in our community. Many children of legends are carrying on the family name and business, and many of them are daughters. In this first installment we meet Melody Spann Cooper, president of WVON Radio and daughter of the legendary radio entrepreneur Pervis Spann.
Spann, “The Blues Man,” and Wesley South of “Hot Line” fame purchased WVON radio in the 1980s, the only black-owned radio station in Chicago. Spann has been a well-known personality in Chicago for many years and managed many of today’s famous artists, such as The Jackson 5 and B.B. King. Older Chicagoans will remember the Burning Spear nightclub (once called Club Delissa) at 55th & State, where there was a retractable stage used for dancing and performances. Many legendary performers appeared at the Burning Spear, such as Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Godfrey Cambridge, Elton John and even The Beatles. Pervis and his Burning Spear partner, E. Rodney Jones, had their finger on the pulse of soul music. Spann’s recent book 40 Year Spann of WVON, published in 2003 by the National Academy of Blues is a walk through black music history. The book is filled with information and photos of past and present musical giants.
Can you imagine being a kid and having your father bring home Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, B.B. King, Gene Chandler, Rev. James Bevels, Aretha Franklin or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr? This is the wonderful environment Melody Spann Cooper, along with her siblings, Darryl, Chante and Latrice, grew up in.
Melody today is president WVON Radio, the oldest black-oriented radio station in Chicago, and chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, the station’s parent company. Spann-Cooper is the only female to hold these coveted positions in the third largest broadcast market in the country. She joined an elite list of female broadcast owners in 1999 when she purchased the company’s controlling interest.
Spann-Cooper is considered a visionary who has used her media vehicle as a change agent to address the social issues that affect our society. Under Melody’s leadership, WVON has been responsible for more than 1,400 families becoming homeowners, with the home-buyers seminars the station has provided. Among her accomplishments, Spann-Cooper has been recognized by the Chicago Sun-Times as one of the 10 most powerful women in media. Crain’s Chicago Business ranks her as one of the 100 most influential women in Chicago. Under her leadership, WVON became the first and only media institution to receive the prestigious Studs Terkel Award from the Community Media Workshop.
Other professional affiliations include the board of visitors at Medill School of Journalism; the hearing board of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois; the independent Task Force for Television Measurements for Nielsen Media Research; the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs; the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters; the Provident Foundation; and African International House.
AWN: About what age did you realize your father was someone “special?”
Spann-Cooper: I realized my father was special between 5 and 7 years old. It’s hard to grasp at that age, but I knew we received special treatment and that people always made a big deal of us.
AWN: Did your father spoil you?
Spann-Cooper: Yes, Mama was a “needs” person. Daddy was a “whatever she wants” person. We did not spend a lot of time with our father when we were young because he was so busy, so I had my own personal Santa all year long. I think he did so to compensate for his absence.
AWN: What are the good point of being the daughter of a legend?
Spann-Cooper: The greatest point of being the daughter of a legend is the value of the brand. It’s sad but true … you have doors opened up much quicker for you because of the affiliation. The point is that you don’t allow your father’s legacy to consume you so that you come to expect to be treated better because of him. But you remain humble and gracious in the fact that people respect him enough and care about him enough to treat you special.
AWN: Are there any disadvantages of being the daughter of a legend (for example, people wanting favors, etc.)?
Spann-Cooper: The biggest disadvantage for me is I think that people paint a broad brush or make assumptions on how you are, based on their preconceived notion of who your dad is, rumors that spread because of his public persona, or what they believe to be his character. Needless to say, most of it is innuendo because the public has very limited exposure to the real Pervis Spann. Therefore, they know very little about him.
AWN: Did you feel your father was a stern disciplinarian?
Spann-Cooper: Hell No. Daddy was not a stern disciplinarian. In fact, he may have spanked me twice in my entire life. Daddy tried to avoid family drama. He left that to my mother to sort out.
AWN: Has your father been instrumental in promoting your career?
Spann-Cooper: I have a career because of my dad. It goes back to question 3. If you are lucky enough to be born into a family with a semblance of notoriety, it is important for you to maximize the opportunities it affords you by using it as a stepping stone. But you must prove your own worthiness because people only come to respect you as an individual when you prove your own capabilities. Then your father’s legacy becomes secondary. After all, it is his. Allow him to own it and create your own.
AWN: How would you describe your father’s legacy?
Spann- Cooper: Interesting. My dad is the most unorthodox person I know. He is strong-willed beyond human capacity. He has a “My Way” attitude beyond definition. Based on his upbringing, he was not supposed to be here at this place in our society. He is such a large presence on this earth that’s he’s gone largely unnoticed by mainstream. His legacy and contribution to our society will not be fully appreciated until he is no longer here. He will become this big folk hero, similar to how many in America have come to idolize Malcolm X, but in a less controversial capacity. Pervis is interesting.
AWN: What was the most important thing you learned from your father?
Spann-Cooper: Too many things to mention. But the most important for me where I am in my life right now is that most things are not what they seem. He’s taught me that all problems have their way of working themselves out, most times with little to do with you solving them. Daddy says, “That’s life, Baby.” Simple, but powerful!
AWN: Did your father have a familiar quote that he used on you over the years?
Spann-Cooper: Pervis is a rapper. He can think of a Blues song for every scenario in life. He is always using a lyric for a quote and applying it as one of life’s lessons. His most famous is one he wrote: “No one loves me but my mama, and she might be jiving too.” This song has its own melody and all of his children know it.
AWN: Marital status; children and your future goals?
Spann-Cooper: I’ve been married for 10 years to Pierre Cooper; we have no children. Thanks Delores for including me. Pervis is truly someone special.