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Chicago Radio Legend Herb Kent 'The Cool Gent' Dies At Age 88

By Angela Myers | October 23, 2016 2:11pm | Updated on October 28, 2016 11:36am
  Chicago radio legend Herb Kent
Chicago radio legend Herb Kent "The Cool Gent" has died, radio station WVAZ announced Sunday. Here he's photographed with WVON President Melody Spann-Cooper.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson (File)

CHICAGO — Chicago radio legend Herb Kent "The Cool Gent" has died, radio station WVAZ announced Sunday.

The honorary mayor of the city's Bronzeville neighborhood, who grew up in the Ida B. Wells housing development, died Saturday evening at age 88.

Kent aspired to become a radio announcer while attending Hyde Park High School, joining and eventually becoming president of the radio club, he told Soultrain.com in a 2015 interview.

He worked with a local theater company, the Skyloft Players, after high school, developing and honing the improv skills that would later lead to the creation of radio characters he made famous at WVON, including The Wahoo Man and Gym Shoe Creeper.

In 1949, he landed his first paid radio job at WGRY in Gary, earning $35 a week, he told website The HistoryMakers.

But the height of Kent's popularity was as a WVON "Good Guy," a colorful stable of DJs that ruled black radio in Chicago from the early 1960s to early '70s and included Joe Cobb, who would go on to produce "Soul Train" and Kent protege and "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius.

"Cornelius had retired from the Chicago Police Department and knew nothing about radio," Kent told Soultrain.com. “At WVON, we took him under our wings and taught him almost everything we knew."

Kent was involved with the station that launched in 1963 as the "Voice of the Negro" for more than 50 years and was instrumental in calming rioters in Chicago from over the airwaves after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We spoke to the city of Chicago and asked them to stop the violence.  Some of us went out into areas and talked to gang leaders, teens, and others about living Dr. King’s dream," Kent said.

After a stint at WGCI, Kent joined adult contemporary radio station WVAZ/V103 in 1989, where he continued playing the old-school tunes he coined "dusties" and conducting radio "Battle of the Best" competitions between similar old-school artists, like Michael Jackson versus Prince, until his death.

In 2009, he collaborated with David Smallwood on his biography, "The Cool Gent, the Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent," the foreword written by former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Among the honors Kent received was having a street, "Herb Kent Drive" named after him near his former high school, from the 6000 to 6700 block of Stony Island Avenue. In his biography, Kent writes he selected the section of Stony Island "hoping it might be an inspiration to the students who go there now." 

In 1995, he was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communications Hall of Fame with the first class of black radio inductees, an honor he called at the time "the high point of my career."

He's also at the Gwendolyn Brooks Hall of Fame at Chicago State University, "for creating and writing all these pieces about the Wahoo Man, the Gym Shoe Creeper, and those other creative bits I did back in the 1960s at WVON," he said in his biography.

Kent was voted mayor of Bronzeville in 1999, in a contest started by the Defender newspaper in the 1930s and revived by the Bronzeville Merchants Association. He basked in the honor, describing in his biography how he took his oath of office before hundreds of people and "jammed like a big dog" at the House of Blues at his inaugural ball.

In a statement Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Kent would "forever be remembered for his incredible talent, infectious passion for music and unique ability to entertain and uplift.

"Herb Kent gave so much and meant so much to the people of Chicago. Amy and I send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and legions of loyal listeners."


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