There could be no reference to the word soul without having a table in the round on the subject of Soul Magazine. Without the sharp wits of Regina Jones; black entertainment might have been a bit lopsided and without a calling. Intrigued by the very thought of having a living national treasure return a call and agree to an interview left me in a very high state of life. How could there be such humility from a woman with so much experience and chronicled history that outlines the very essence of a budding culture lifted up by soul.
No words could begin to explain what her eyes have seen, how they have seen, or what they chose to see back in the early 60’s, before black folk discovered they had soul and that soul was worth money and it could be capitalized on. High above Sunset Blvd in radio towers, her then husband Ken Jones sparked the idea of Soul Newspaper. Ken who met Regina in high school saw her brilliance, a black woman full of wisdom and unfettered ingenuity whom could and would put the idea in its entirety all together. This had to be a, we can make it happen, kind of commitment. We failed to mention that the two were busy making five of their kind, while carrying on their respective businesses. Ken as a journalist and radio news reporter; Regina an entrepreneur and financial wizard stayed neck in neck with him who with the vigor of a thorough bred once out of the gate could get them onto the fast tracks. Using her natural marketing ability and promotion skills, not to mention branding themselves as Soul Magazine/Newspaper helped securely place the couple in the historical vaults of black history and American history for many life times to come. The two no doubt had a spiritual contract from a previous time to be born, find each other, marry, have some gorgeous babies, and create the concept of a much-needed Soul Magazine. Born of burned and torn communities made evident from the riots and taken from the cinder of broken hearts in Watts, there stood Soul.
Soul Magazine brainchild of Ken Jones, fed, nurtured and put in motion by Regina Jones had developed from a four room quartered for radio to a simple dining table experience amongst a cluster of papers. It then slipped in place out of necessity. Ebony and Jet were already building in awareness and circulation however, neither reached the black musician, the black entertainer the artistic voices that not only had a different way of thinking than the general populace they had loyal followings to prove it. Regina found herself sharing her skills learned as a police dispatcher to getting major artist such as James Brown, Melvin Van Peebles, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, Cicely Tyson and a host of others too numerous to name to intimately talk about their real life, talk about love and talk about being broke, talented and black in America. In the height of racial disturbances, hatred is as reflected today as it was during that time.
It was the dawn of a newer age one where there was an opportunity to talk about what it felt like to have soul, be soul filled and how to make money at being soulful. Soul Magazine intended to bridge the gap between all of what that meant. With a bed of music provided by the artists themselves, and with Ken and his radio affiliates at KGFJ sending airwaves of groovy sound and talking up Soul it was a win, win for all involved. The conversation that took place between the radio and Soul Magazine was unique. There was a cover and the advertising of club performances the actual artist calling in to speak direct to their fans was pre Facebook and Snapchat as the station only allotted so much time during breaks. Soul preceded the Rolling Stones Magazine starting a year before. This was quite a feat for a local magazine that only had an idea not necessarily any monies to get circulation up to standards.
The visual was to come later through shows like MTV, VH1, and BET but Soul Magazine had already elevated the game by putting 5000 copies out on the stands their very first circulation and then growing that 5,000 to 127,000 an undeniable accomplishment. “Ken came up with the idea to form alliances with the radio stations beginning with KGFJ Soul in Los Angeles; and in San Francisco, we were KDIA Soul. We put the radio’s call letters on the cover of the newspaper, gave them two pages inside the newspaper for marketing and in exchange for that we got on air publicity. Soul is coming out on your newsstand. People were waiting for it to come out,” it was a brilliant idea he had and it worked. It was a matter of time before subscribers from across the country knew where to go if they needed to find some soul, and it was, Soul Magazine.
Wearing many hats, the illness of her mother, the pressure of an ever-changing economy, and with five children growing fast Regina and Ken closed the publication and the magic of Soul Magazine, was gone although non forgotten.
Now in 2016 after having numerous businesses after her run at Soul, Regina has time for short conversations, and is not afraid to simply, just be. Without the demands of circulations, publications, children, the former wife, business extraordinaire and forever mother can finally take a much needed break and get down to the real business of things, the business of looking after Regina.
As we conversed, the words urban and journalism came up. The sense of unity between other journalists and the lack of money came up in conversation. Jones said, “don’t get me started at that time I was colored, then I was a negro, then we became black and then we were black American and then some kind of way we got condensed into urban. I’m black most people refer to themselves as African-American but I’m black. I choose that because it delineates appropriately what I am and what I’m all about. A few days ago two of the guys that worked with Soul, Bobby Holland a photographer, we’re talking early seventies. The other Steve Ivory a writer, we’re sitting there talking and kinda of laughing about, if there hadn’t been a Soul, where would they have gone in the seventies, who would have hired them? Where would they have gotten a chance to work on their trade? Another one that wasn’t here was Leonard Pitt, a Pulitzer Prize winner for syndicated column for the Miami Herald. He came right out of USC, and we hired him at Soul as a writer and then he became my editor. They are still working and still functioning. That’s the point I’m making. We had a picture of Archie Ivy. Archie went on to become one of our writers. He loved Bill Clinton and the Funkadelics. He ended up their Minister of Information, left us, and went on the road with them and he is still working with them as a Minister somewhere in Florida now. Stan West in Chicago, he’s a teacher. He does a lot of art programming and one day he asked me, we were talking, he said. “How did you know I could write”? I had the gift of being able to see talent in people and that was a gift. It was a gut, an instinct, or whatever so I would pull the most out of them.
For young journalist or a young person coming up now, I don’t have a clue and don’t know this market well enough, I know some of the mature, excellent writers that have written for the Washington Post, for Essence Magazine, they’re not doing journalism now, they’re doing other jobs to make a living and keep a roof over their heads. So unless one is a Pulitzer, Nobel Prize winner or a best-selling author on the New York Times best seller’s list, how does one make money? Ms. Jones and her quick-witted thinking responded, it’s very hard today. Everything is online and I don’t know how you pick up a blog and with people following you, how do you make a living? You got to get the numbers up and so somebody’s got to know the marketing to get that done because if you’re creative most likely you don’t know marketing. Book authors Leonard has a new book out that came out last year. He has about five books out right now but he probably couldn’t get those deals unless he wasn’t a syndicated columnist and had years and years of experience. He is established. You can self-publish your own book. There are still some of those ways. Like you’re doing your own show. Where everything in those days, you couldn’t have your own equipment. You had a whole team and we had to get approval from Corporate America. I chimed, “the powers that be.”
In my personal opinion, she said writers have never been given the credit or the respect they deserve for the work that they do. Until they make that breakthrough, there are far too few for the amount of work that a great many do.” “It’s an art, a creative process.” Regina concurred and until you get that top script, you still don’t make the money that you deserve. You have to be passionate and love what you do.
Regina said, “you can have a steady long standing career in writing it’s a matter of what you want as your economic base. I just saw a young lady on Facebook and she had written this piece about what’s going on in the world and the recent killings and everything and she was sitting there with a camera reading it. It was well done, well delivered but there’s not going to be any compensation, fiscally for what she did. She may get a whole lot of that’s fabulous, oh you’re so talented, you’re wonderful but that doesn’t pay the rent. That’s what my biggest concern is. It’s like an artist, if you’re not a graphic artist it’s hard to make a living. Ms. Jones didn’t know of any black female sportscasters, and neither could I recall fresh names however, we did find at least 12 of prominence according to Essence Magazine.
In 2016, Regina enjoys the fact that she doesn’t have to be in the rat race anymore. I’m no longer a part of it and it’s okay to relax and not have the need to be on top of everything. I can remember sitting down at my desk at Soul in the late sixties and early seventies and I thought I had to read, Times, Newsweek, Billboard, Record World, at least a book or two a month, in order to have a conversation with people. Plus, the newspaper, so you know, I was always pushing myself doing my work, dealing with my family trying to maintain a marriage, that’s insanity. Great for a young person but as an elder, I don’t have to.
Lets converse my question again is, do you think that a Kanye West would be on the cover of a Soul Magazine? Let me take it back, said Regina. At the time of artist were delighted to be on the cover of Soul. Something shifted in the seventies where Soul wasn’t the only one. There were other black publications covering black artist. The white market had started to open up. Now don’t forget Soul was started because Ebony wouldn’t put a James Brown on the cover. We got a call from David Ruffin who happen to be on Motown at the time, he told us the whole story of what was happening over there. They were upset with us but our job was to get the news out.
With my heart, beating faster than the clock was ticking; I was shocked after Regina told us why. They wanted a Lena Horne, a Sammy Davis, maybe
a Harry Belafonte. So there was no place for your smaller, and James was by no case small but it was more grass roots music. Not sophisticated enough, he was raw and it’s not just what we love, It’s what those Urban desirous people loved as well. So as Soul was coming along everybody wanted a cover. As time progressed and they sold more records, they had more choices to make then it became a little harder. Then they started having publicist and record companies and then the independent PR people. You couldn’t go directly to the artist, you had to go through the publicist. It was what they wanted and how they wanted to structure it.
We saw people live. We were at the concerts, we weren’t allowed ten minutes or five minutes in front of the stage. We were on the buses, Anywhere they went we had carte blanche. That all left. Now of course not a Kanye would go on the cover of Soul why should he? He would say oh that’s whatever publication, I want to be on, not even Rolling Stones but maybe Bazaar.
Complex is the biggest Hip-Hop now but when people’s families become involved in their entertainment business, I asked because I really wanted to know and to hear her fascinating mind put it all together. In Regina’s case her family was more in the background as were most business people in the field of entertainment in those times but now we have Kanye and the Khardashians. We have reality TV.
Regina cut in with an “Osiris but you’re talking about a different time, were where women then? It was good to get a refresher and without disappointment, she was right on the button. As in the case of this election with Hillary running for Presidential candidate it was like why don’t all of the women rise up and vote for Hillary, not because you love Hillary, but to demonstrate the power of women.
Then there was the story, a real one and definitely a story that only a few black woman could tell. “I was working at Soul and I always handle the money, the bills, and all of that, my husband was more of the creative person. I went one time after we had bought two or three station wagons from the Buick dealer. Knew him, knew everybody there and I went in to get a new car for myself and he said, I can’t sell you a car Regina without your husband. Well I slammed out of there madder than hell. I don’t need his signature, I handle the finances. I went over to Lou Elher’s Cadillac and my plan was to get another stationary. I had planned to buy another station wagon but I drove out in a brand new 1977 Seville and that was my stroke of independence that I don’t need my husband’s signature to buy or lease a car. In those days we couldn’t even do that.
I explained to Regina that in some government structured programs where there are women veterans that in some case they apply pressure to women stating that if you are in a particular financial background they will not be given a loan unless married. This seems odd on one hand the VA is protective of the Veteran as the benefits only apply to veterans and their spouses, however on the other hand, let’s say that the veteran makes a poor choice in a mate. They marry and things spiral downhill how is that protecting the veteran if she has to divorce, of she has to get the man out of her home and untangle her personal affairs with a spouse. It can be very tricky. After I made mention of this, Regina said that it was painful for her because she knows how hard she fought to change things.
I ran into a banker who I hadn’t seen this woman in thirty years and she said I remember you. She said you came in the bank one day and you said, I’m a black woman, running a black business and you people won’t do anything to support me but if I were a white male, you’d be all over me. She said I just wanted to clap and everybody was in a state of shock in the bank and we all knew you were telling the truth but there was nothing that we could do. That was in the seventies. People have no clue how far we came but we’ve given up ground again. I think we moved forward and I think something happened and we got lost and then we moved back.
When I think that sixty-two people own the amount of wealth and half of the whole population of what America has, this is insanity. This is greed. This shows what has gone awry. Black people, I want to look but I don’t believe that we are one of the sixty-two but I would like to find out. I can’t believe who that would be. It’s old money and new money. I remembered a few of them, namely the Rockefellers and the Fords however just to make sure that we had Regina’s back we found a list of the notorious sixty-two offered by CNN on the link below.
Aww the refreshing feeling of listening to the golden words of a woman well loved, well read, and charmed by her presence, this was in fact our Regina Jones. One is made to feel as if it’s a curse to know a bit of history and possess intelligence. This is what she had to say about that one. “No they don’t care anymore and don’t have any idea how many shoulders they’ve stood on. The freedoms that we all have now, it was in somebody else’s shoulders. Mines are my grandfathers who were both businessmen. One had a very successful business one worked the dumps but it was his business and so we’ve stood on shoulders going up and up and up. Now I have no idea for the masses my heart is broken for my grandchildren and for every young person that I see and know. The fact that we’re so caught up in the glitz of materialism. People have nice cars and nowhere to live. It blows my mind. Entertainers who didn’t make good deals were cheated out of their publishing and signed their lives away and broke, they’re still in the newspapers now fighting about their rights.
Marvin Gaye’s situation was one everybody thinks that court case the family’s rich because it got settled in the court. No it was appealed and so nothing is going on. For years, they could be held up in court until hopefully they’re dead as far as they’re concerned; but I gotta say that there was a pleasure and a freedom that we had that people don’t have now. We were free. I can sit here, look at you, and tell you, I’m a free black woman. I am free now not because somebody freed me, I freed myself. “Your mind is free,” I said then I remembered what my mom always said, “they can take everything away but they can’t take your mind unless you allow it.”
As the day got longer, and the heat outside reminded us that summer was still in effect, I asked Ms. Regina Jones, our heroine if she had to day in one word, one sentence or phrase what the soul means to her, what would it be. With a confidence as high as Mt. Everest, and a smile as big as the Sun which crosses the skies of Japan, soul means love.
Ken and Regina Jones so loved the world their black people and all people within it that although the days of soul have come and gone, the Soul they gave us still remains untouched and resides within the depths our own hearts.