Reggie Lavong, Smooth-Voiced D.J., Dies at 84
By NEIL GENZLINGER SEPT. 29, 2017
Reggie Lavong, right, with Sammy Davis Jr. at the New York radio station WWRL in the early 1960s. Lavong Family Collection
Reggie Lavong, a velvet-voiced radio personality who played rhythm and blues and more in the 1960s on WWRL-AM in New York, died on Sept. 19 in Philadelphia. He was 84.
The cause was complications of an infection, his daughter April Lavong said.
Mr. Lavong was one of a number of disc jockeys who worked under the nickname Dr. Jive, using that handle on WWRL for several years beginning in 1960. He worked at a number of other stations as well, including WHAT in Philadelphia, a station he and Miller Parker bought in 1986 and owned for three years.
Mr. Lavong presented concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and elsewhere and spent several years as vice president for marketing of R&B at Capitol Records beginning in 1969. He also owned a candy store in Germantown, Pa., in the mid-1960s and started a limousine service in Philadelphia in the 1980s.
His already eclectic résumé took another turn late in his career when he became a stockbroker and financial consultant. April Lavong said her father had a description for the varied interests and vocations he mastered.
“He called them dragons to slay,” she said. “When there was a new challenge for him, there were dragons he needed to slay.”
Mr. Lavong was born Reginald Jerome Nelson on April 5, 1933, in Gainesville, Fla. His mother, Honey Nelson, died when he was 2, his daughter said. At 4 he was adopted by a cousin, Mae Lavong, a beautician, and her husband, Walter, a Pullman porter, who lived in Brooklyn.
After graduating from Boys High School, Mr. Lavong attended City College in New York and then Temple University in Philadelphia, where he studied journalism and worked at WRTI, the campus radio station. That led, during the 1950s, to jobs at WHAT and at the flagship station of Rollins Broadcasting, WAMS, in Wilmington, Del.
Rollins then sent Mr. Lavong to a station in Chicago, where he became acquainted with that city’s brand of blues, music he would later feature on the air and onstage in New York.
In the late 1950s, the disc jockey Tommy Smalls was making a name for himself at WWRL in New York as Dr. Jive; his popular afternoon show and the concerts he promoted helped established rhythm and blues in the New York market. But when Mr. Smalls was accused in a payola scandal and cast out of radio in 1960, Mr. Lavong saw an opportunity.
Reggie Lavong in the late 1960s. Capitol Records
Jonny Meadow, a radio historian, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Lavong called WWRL, drove to New York to audition and was installed as the new Dr. Jive.
The R&B focus of the station did not stop Mr. Lavong from varying his musical offerings, Mr. Meadow said. In the early afternoon he would play artists who appealed to an older crowd, like Nat King Cole or Sammy Davis Jr. When schools let out, he would switch to younger-skewing material. And after the late-afternoon news, when blue-collar listeners were getting off work, he’d go with the blues.
Later in the 1960s, Mr. Lavong returned to Philadelphia to work at KYW, and in 1964 he became a part owner of a television station, WPHL. In 1968 he released a recording of his own, “Skin Deep,” a spoken-word cri de coeur about racism. And in 1969, he joined Capitol Records, promoting R&B at a time when he believed that the genre was full of promise, both musical and financial.
Reggie Lavong - Skin Deep.
Reggie Lavong - Skin Deep. Video by tonefloater
“My challenge is to get the powers that be to recognize the dollar potential of R&B,” he told Billboard magazine in 1970, adding: “Motown owned the ’60s. It’s open as to who will own the ’70s.”
Later in the 1970s, he also worked for Island Records and for a subsidiary of MCA Records. As for his late-career switch to the financial world — he worked for Shearson Lehman Brothers — April Lavong said that her father had always been interested in the stock market as a result of his own investments, “so he decided he wanted to be a part of that.”
“Anything that he was interested in, he pursued it,” she said, and he practiced a philosophy that he also tried to instill into his children.
“He said, ‘You always have to do the work,’ ” Ms. Lavong said. “ ‘You always have to do the research.’ ”
Mr. Lavong married Joyce Hightower in 1954; she died in 2013. In addition to their daughter April, he is survived by three other children, Reginald Jr., Daryl and Jocelyn Lavong; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
As a D.J., Mr. Meadow said, Mr. Lavong’s great strengths were his urbanity and his demeanor at the microphone, qualities that worked with a broad range of audiences.
“He wasn’t a screamer,” he said. “He did a very polished show. Very smooth. It was an easy voice to listen to.”