The cause was cancer, said a friend, the singer Antoinette Montague.
Ms. Smith began as a gospel singer, performing at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and on other stages with the Back Home Choir of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church in Newark. In 1961 she gave a solo concert at Town Hall in Manhattan.
“Miss Smith has a full-bodied, robust contralto voice,” Robert Shelton wrote in his review in The New York Times. “While many gospel singers, repeating vibrant phrases to stir their congregants, become emotion-driven shouters, Miss Smith never lost sense of her role as a musician. She had her pitch and tone securely in hand, even in the most uninhibited climaxes of her musical sermons.”
The program, organized by the pianist Dick Hyman and the New York Jazz Repertory Company, was repeated in Europe and the Soviet Union. From then on Ms. Smith performed the songs of Bessie Smith (they were not related) often, earning a reputation as a singer as a blues belter, though her repertory was wider than that; her voice, darkly mellifluous and gentle with a melody, was equally suited to jazz and pop.
Ms. Smith’s career gathered momentum through the 1980s and ’90s, gaining more popularity in Europe than in the United States. She found her widest American audience on Broadway in “Black and Blue,” a gaudy song-and-dance tribute to black blues and jazz artists that ran for 829 performances from 1989 to 1991. In that show she sang the standards “Big Butter and Egg Man” and “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.”
Carrie Louise Smith was born in Fort Gaines, Ga., on a date most often reported as Aug. 25, 1941, apparently because, once her singing career began, she wanted it that way. She was coy about her age, but a spokesman for the Actors Home gave her birth date as Aug. 25, 1925.
Her friend Ms. Montague said Ms. Smith’s mother had moved to Newark with Carrie to escape an abusive husband. Once there, she said, the mother joined the cultlike church of Father Divine and left Ms. Smith to be brought up by older cousins. Ms. Smith left school after the eighth grade. She sang in church and taught herself piano while working in a number of jobs, including train announcer at the Newark train station.
Ms. Smith has no immediate survivors. Ms. Montague said Ms. Smith had been married once, briefly, to a mason and small-time hustler who was known around Newark as Swindler Joe.
Michael Ellison-Lewis, a spokesman for the church, announced the death.
Bishop Brookins marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the South; helped start the political career of Tom Bradley, a five-term Los Angeles mayor; was a principal strategist in the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign; and in 1990 prayed with Mayor Marion Barry of Washington when Mr. Barry was convicted of drug possession.
“A whole generation of us, in some sense, grew up under the bishop,” Mr. Jackson said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “He has the touch, the green thumb.”
As a young minister and then a bishop in Los Angeles, Bishop Brookins helped start and was president of the United Civil Rights Council, an umbrella organization of 75 groups, which helped the black community recover from the Watts riots in 1965. Starting with a building fund of $8, he built a multimillion-dollar church and called it a cathedral. It grew to 19,500 members.
He did it all with such style that he came to be called the Hollywood bishop. He rallied stars like Bob Hope and politicians like Robert F. Kennedy to his causes, and organized the first interfaith service at the Hollywood Bowl. His spirited preaching, from whispering in the valleys to roaring from the mountaintops, was renowned.
He drove a Mercedes-Benz and made the best-dressed lists of Ebony and Jet magazines. He smoked, drank and told off-color stories. Bishop Brookins had a knack for getting to the point in a pithy way. “Everyone has a right to be equal, even in mediocrity,” he told The Los Angeles Times.
He called Mr. Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid “the best thing since ice cream.”
But allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud dogged him in Los Angeles, and later in subsequent postings in Arkansas and Washington. The common accusation was that church funds had ended up in his personal accounts.
In 1993, 25 local ministers and lay leaders in the Washington area petitioned the Council of Bishops to demote him, saying he had taken out mortgages on church property for personal use. Though he denied having done so, he was reassigned to head the denomination’s office of ecumenical and urban affairs, a job often given to bishops under fire or in ill health.
In 2000, delegates to the church’s national convention put a new bishop in his seat in Washington but allowed him to serve on an at-large basis for four more years.
In an interview, Mr. Ellison-Lewis said Bishop Brookins was never formally charged with any crime.
“All these matters were resolved in his favor,” he said.
Bishop Brookins retired in 2004 after being bishop in five districts and serving as president of his church.
Hamel Hartford Brookins was born in Yazoo City, Miss., on June 8, 1925, the seventh of 10 children of sharecroppers. For a while he attended Campbell College (now closed) in Jackson, Miss., where he became pastor of his first church.
“It had about 18 members,” said Otis Jackson, who sang with Bishop Brookins in a sextet called Brookins and the Hungry Five. “The collection wouldn’t be but $2 or $3, but he would go down there and preach his heart out, just as if he were preaching to 300 or 400 people.”
He earned bachelor’s degrees from Wilberforce University and the nearby Payne Theological Seminary, both of them historically black institutions in Ohio, and by 1954 was a minister in Wichita, Kan. He was elected the first black president of the 200-member interracial ministerial council there, and led meetings to unite religious and civic leaders following the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate the Topeka, Kan., public schools.
He was transferred to Los Angeles in 1959 and by the time of the Watts riots in 1965 was one of the most visible black leaders in the city. He organized Dr. King’s first Los Angeles appearance, which drew 60,000 people. He helped Mr. Bradley win election to the City Council in 1963 and as mayor in 1973.
In 1972, Mr. Brookins was elected bishop and sent to Rhodesia, where he actively supported forces fighting the white-minority government. He was kicked out of the country, now known as Zimbabwe. In the 1980s, while based in Arkansas, he befriended Bill Clinton, the governor at the time.
“I’ve seen it all,” he once said, “and I’ve been part of 80 percent of it.”
Bishop Brookins’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins; two sons, Sir-Wellington Hartford Brookins and Steven Hartford Brookins; and a daughter, the Rev. Francine A. Brookins.
WESLEY BROWN, FIRST BLACK NAVAL GRADUATE
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: May 24, 2012
Wesley A. Brown, a retired Navy lieutenant commander who endured intense racial hazing to become the first black graduate of the United States Naval Academy, died Tuesday in Silver Spring, Md. He was 85.
United States Naval Academy
Wesley A. Brown in 1949.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Crystal.
Mr. Brown, who entered the academy in 1945 and graduated in 1949, was the sixth black man admitted in the 100-year history of the Annapolis military college but the first to withstand the kind of hazing that had forced the others to leave within a year, according to Navy historians.
White midshipmen refused to sit next to Mr. Brown, racial epithets were whispered behind his back, and fellow plebes barred him from joining the choir — all of it mixed with and hidden behind a torrent of regular hazing that underclassmen were expected to bear. He told interviewers that not a day passed when he did not consider quitting.
But unlike his predecessors, he said, Mr. Brown had the support of a handful of fellow midshipmen, who were friendly to him despite receiving threats from hostile classmates, and from the academy commandant, who intervened to protect him from excessive harassment.
“If not for that, I’m not sure I would have made it,” Mr. Brown told an interviewer.
One midshipman who visited his dorm room to talk and encouraged him to “hang in there,” Mr. Brown said, was Jimmy Carter, the future president, who was then an upperclassman and fellow member of the academy’s cross-country team.
In a speech last year at a Naval Academy event, Mr. Carter recalled Midshipman Brown as part of “my first personal experience with total integration.”
“A few members of my senior class attempted to find ways to give him demerits so that he would be discharged,” Mr. Carter said, “but Brown’s good performance prevailed.”
Blacks had served in the American armed forces since the Revolution. But for the most part they remained in segregated units until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman ordered the integration of the services. Attempts to integrate the academies, beginning after the Civil War, had met intense resistance. Only a half-dozen blacks had graduated from West Point, for instance, by the time Mr. Brown decided to seek a commission as the first black graduate of the naval academy.
Mr. Brown’s career as a naval midshipman was widely covered in both black newspapers and mainstream ones. When he graduated, he told The New York Times that he had “really enjoyed” his four years as a midshipman — except for the publicity, which he called “a bad angle.”
“I feel it is unfortunate the American people have not matured enough to accept an individual on the basis of his ability and not regard a person as an oddity because of his color,” he said. “My class standing shows that around here, I am an average Joe.” He was ranked 370th in a class of 790.
He first publicly discussed his hazing with the Navy historian Robert J. Schneller Jr., who interviewed him for his 2005 book, “Breaking the Color Barrier: The U.S. Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality.” In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Schneller expanded on Mr. Brown’s version of why he made it through four years when others had not.
“He made it because he was a gentle guy, and a hard worker, who came from a community where they taught their children not to believe the bull white people gave them about the black man’s ‘limited abilities’ — who taught them that they could do what they wanted,” Mr. Schneller said.
Wesley Anthony Brown was born in Washington on April 3, 1927, the only child of William and Rosetta Brown. His father drove a truck for a produce market, and his mother worked in a laundry. During most of Mr. Brown’s childhood the family shared a large house near Logan Circle, owned by his grandmother Katie Shepherd, with many other relatives.
Mr. Brown became active in the neighborhood church, a nexus for community activists, including the district’s congressional representative. He recommended Mr. Brown to the Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who wanted to appoint a black candidate for the naval academy.
As a Navy civil engineer, Mr. Brown served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and worked on Navy construction projects around the world before retiring in 1969. He was a facilities manager and planner at Howard University in Washington until 1988.
In 2008, the Naval Academy dedicated a new facility for athletic programs, the Wesley Brown Field House. The $25 million structure was built with many innovative features, academy officials said, including a skinlike shell made from blastproof glass.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Wiletta Scott and Carol Jackson; two sons, Wesley Jr., and Gary; and seven grandchildren.
Throughout his life Mr. Brown loyally attended class reunions. In a 2006 interview with The Baltimore Sun, he described former classmates who sometimes approached him. “They’ll say, ‘I was very mean and ugly to you when you were a midshipman,’ ” he said. “Lots of times I’ll say, ‘I don’t remember you and don’t remember you doing anything like that, so forget it.’ ”
He added: “You remember the good stuff. A lot of the bad stuff — I can’t relate to it.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 25, 2012
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to Mr. Brown as a cadet; he was a midshipman, at the United States Naval Academy.
HAL JACKSON, PIONEER IN RADIO AND RACIAL PROGRESS
By MEL WATKINS
Published: May 24, 2012
Hal Jackson, a veteran broadcaster who broke down racial barriers, becoming one of the first black disc jockeys to reach a large white audience and an omnipresent voice on New York City radio for more than 50 years, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 96.
His death was announced by WBLS (107.5 FM), the New York station where he continued to host a weekly program until a few weeks before his death.
Mr. Jackson, whose eclectic musical taste and laid-back manner helped define black radio, began his career in the late 1930s, when it was a challenge for a black announcer just to get a foot in the door.
At a time when segregation was widespread, he was a familiar voice to black and white listeners alike. At one point in the 1950s, he was hosting three shows — one rhythm-and-blues, one jazz and one pop — on three different New York radio stations.
As a radio executive, he helped found Inner City Broadcasting and establish the urban contemporary format, rooted in black music but appealing to a racially diverse audience. In the 1970s, it came to dominate the airwaves, first in New York City — where WBLS became the No. 1 station in the market — and then across the country.
He was the first African-American inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, in 1990, and among the first five inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, in 1995.
“Hal was the constant voice of black America,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said Thursday. “From M.L.K. to a black president, he literally was the one who connected those dots.”
Harold Baron Jackson was born in Charleston, S.C., probably on Nov. 3, 1915. (He explained in his autobiography, “The House That Jack Built,” that his birth, like that of many Southern blacks in those years, was not officially recorded.) He was one of five children of Eugene Baron Jackson, a tailor, and the former Laura Rivers. Both his parents died when he was a child, and he lived with relatives in Charleston and New York before settling in Washington, where he graduated from Dunbar High School and attended classes at Howard University.
Avidly interested in sports, he approached the management of WINX, owned by The Washington Post, in 1939 about covering black sports events for the station. Told that station policy prohibited hiring black announcers, he took a different tack: he persuaded a white-owned advertising agency to buy time on WINX for a 15-minute interview and entertainment show, without revealing that he was involved. As he recalled, he showed up in the studio at the last possible moment and was on the air with “The Bronze Review” before management could stop him.
“When I started, the business was so segregated,” Mr. Jackson said in 2008. “Fortunately, that didn’t last long.”
Indeed, once the station’s color line had been broken, Mr. Jackson went on to host a music show there and to broadcast Howard University football and Negro league baseball. He also became a sports entrepreneur, assembling an all-black basketball team, the Washington Bears, which won the invitational World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1943.
By the end of the decade Mr. Jackson could be heard on four different stations in the Washington area, most notably WOOK in Silver Spring, Md., where he established his warm, low-key radio persona with the music show “The House That Jack Built.” That approach, in contrast to the hyperkinetic jive-talking style of other black announcers, influenced generations of disc jockeys.
“How are you?” he would begin. “This is Hal Jackson, the host that loves you the most, welcoming you to ‘The House That Jack Built.’ We’re rolling out the musical carpet, and we’ll be spinning a few just for you. So come on in, sit back, relax and enjoy your favorite recording stars from here to Mars.”
While in Washington he was also a civil rights fund-raiser and broke into television as host of a local variety show broadcast live from the Howard Theater in the spring and summer of 1949.
Mr. Jackson moved to New York in 1954, and within a few years he was broadcasting almost around the clock, juggling three shows on three stations, including WABC’s live midnight broadcast from the jazz nightclub Birdland. (He was the first black announcer to host a continuing network radio show.) In the late 1950s, he also briefly had his own Sunday morning children’s television show.
Mr. Jackson’s hectic schedule was interrupted in 1960 when he was caught up in the so-called payola scandal, charged with accepting bribes to play certain records and forced off the air for a while in New York. The charges were eventually dropped.
He began his long career as an executive in the early 1960s as program director of the Queens station WWRL. He went on to produce and host concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, in Central Park and at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. He helped establish the Miss Black Teenage America pageant, later renamed Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens International. He also organized fund-raising events for civil rights causes and was among the first to lobby for making the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
In 1971 he was one of a group of black entertainers, businessmen and politicians, among them Percy Sutton, the Manhattan borough president, who formed Inner City Broadcasting and bought WLIB-AM and its FM sister station, which became the first black-owned radio station in the city.
As vice president of the FM station, which was renamed WBLS, Mr. Jackson hired the disc jockey Frankie Crocker as program director and oversaw the station’s shift from jazz to what Mr. Crocker christened urban contemporary radio: a slick blend of rhythm-and-blues, dance music and other genres designed to appeal to young listeners across racial lines. (In later years hip-hop was added.) When Mr. Crocker left, Mr. Jackson became program director; by the mid-1970s, WBLS was the No. 1 station in New York.
Working behind the scenes at Inner City rather than behind the microphone, Mr. Jackson helped shape programming at stations acquired by the company around the country as it grew into the first black-owned radio empire. But when a slot opened on Sunday mornings at WBLS, he decided to return to the air.
His “Sunday Morning Classics,” a mix of music from different eras and genres, made its debut in 1982. Originally two hours, it grew at one point to an eight-hour extravaganza. As “Sunday Classics,” the program was most recently on from noon to 4 p.m.
Mr. Jackson’s co-host on “Sunday Classics” was his fourth wife, the former Debi Bolling. His previous three marriages ended in divorce. His wife survives him, as do two daughters, Jane and Jewell; a son, Hal Jackson Jr., a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Hal Jackson was one of the last living links to when black voices were as rare on radio as they were on the silver screen,” the author and filmmaker Nelson George said Thursday. “He connected several generations of listeners to the bounty of great African-American music by not always observing the artificial boundaries between jazz, blues, Broadway, and rhythm and blues.”
Mr. George, whose books include “The Death of Rhythm and Blues,” said Mr. Jackson had “helped black people see the best in themselves, both before and after the civil rights movement.”
In recent years, Inner City Broadcasting fell on hard times. In 2011, the company, under legal pressure from its creditors, agreed to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (It has since been bought by the investment group YMF Media.) As part of the process, the company proposed hiring a chief restructuring officer. The one stipulation Inner City requested was that the officer be forbidden to fire four specific people. One of the four was Hal Jackson.
Peter Keepnews and Rebecca R. Ruiz contributed reporting.
ROBIN GIBB, A BEE GEE WITH A TACITURN MANNER
By BEN SISARIO
Published: May 20, 2012
Robin Gibb, one of the three singing brothers of the Bee Gees, the long-running Anglo-Australian pop group whose chirping falsettos and hook-laden disco hits like “Jive Talkin’ ” and “You Should Be Dancing” shot them to worldwide fame in the 1970s, died on Sunday in London. He was 62 and lived in Thame, Oxfordshire, England.
Sean O’Meara/Getty Images
Robin Gibb, center, with his brothers Barry and Maurice in 1971.
Tracy Brand/Associated Press
Robin Gibb performed in Dubai in 2008.
The cause was complications of cancer and intestinal surgery, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Gibb had been hospitalized for intestinal problems several times in the last two years. Cancer had spread from his colon to his liver, and in the weeks before his death he had pneumonia and for a while was in a coma.
Mr. Gibb was the second Bee Gee and third Gibb brother to die. His fraternal twin and fellow Bee Gee, Maurice Gibb, died of complications of a twisted intestine in 2003 at 53. The youngest brother, Andy, who had a successful solo career, was 30 when he died of heart failure, in 1988.
With brilliant smiles, polished funk and adenoidal close harmonies, the Bee Gees — Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb — were disco’s ambassadors to Middle America in the 1970s, embodying the peacocked look of the time in their open-chested leisure suits and gold medallions.
They sold well over 100 million albums and had six consecutive No. 1 singles from 1977 to 1979. They were also inextricably tied to the disco era’s defining movie, “Saturday Night Fever,” a showcase for their music that included the hit “Stayin’ Alive,” its propulsive beat in step with the strut of the film’s star, John Travolta.
But the group, whose first record came out in 1963, had a history that preceded its disco hits, starting with upbeat ditties inspired by the Everly Brothers and the Beatles, then with lachrymose ballads like “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Barry, the oldest brother, was the dominant Bee Gee for most of the group’s existence. But the lead singer for many of the early hits was Robin, whose breaking voice, gaunt frame and gloomy eyes were well suited to convey adolescent fragility. “I Started a Joke” (with the second line, “Which started the whole world crying”), “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Massachusetts” and other heavy-hearted songs brought the Bee Gees to the top of the charts as one of the British Invasion’s most musically conservative groups.
“While other guys, like Ray Davies of the Kinks, were writing about social problems, we were writing about emotions,” Robin Gibb told a British newspaper last year. “They were something boys didn’t write about then because it was seen as a bit soft. But people love songs that melt your heart.”
Robin Hugh Gibb and his twin, Maurice, were born on Dec. 22, 1949, on the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish Sea. (Barry was born there in 1946.) The boys largely grew up in Manchester, England, where the family lived on the edge of poverty. Their father, Hugh, a drummer and bandleader, encouraged his sons to sing. Their mother, Barbara, was also a singer.
According to Bee Gees lore, the boys’ first performance was sometime in the mid-1950s, and unplanned. They had been scheduled to perform as a lip-synching act at a movie theater in Manchester when the record broke, forcing them to sing for real.
The family moved to Australia in 1958, and before long the brothers, performing as the Bee Gees — for Brothers Gibb — began scoring local hits and appearing on television. They left for London in early 1967 and within weeks had signed with Robert Stigwood, the impresario who guided them in their peak years.
The band’s first single in Britain, “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” was released in April 1967 and reached the Top 20.
In performance, Robin and Maurice usually played second fiddle to Barry, and Robin’s taciturn manner was part of his public persona. On “The Barry Gibb Talk Show,” a recurring skit on “Saturday Night Live,” Barry, played by Jimmy Fallon, would repeatedly ask Robin, played by Justin Timberlake, if he had anything to add to his talks with congressmen and Supreme Court justices. “No,” Robin would reply softly. “No, I don’t.”
But in private Robin was far from dull. He and his wife, Dwina Murphy, who survives him, lived in a 12th-century former monastery in Oxfordshire that he had restored and filled with statues of Buddha and suits of armor. In Miami, his mansion was open to celebrities and politicians like Tony Blair.
Robin briefly left the group in 1969 and tried out a solo career. After he rejoined his brothers, they scored their first No. 1 in the United States with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” in 1971. But with harder rock taking over, the Bee Gees’ popularity ebbed, reaching bottom in 1974 with a series of supper-club gigs in England to pay off tax debts.
At that point their label, Atlantic, sent the brothers to Miami for musical experimentation. There, with the 1975 album “Main Course,” they reinvented the Bee Gees’ sound with Latin and funk rhythms, electronic keyboards and vocals that owed a debt to Philadelphia soul. It brought the band its first hits in years: “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin’,” which went to No. 1.
From there it moved further toward disco. The soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever,” in 1977 — with “You Should Be Dancing,” “How Deep Is Your Love?,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever,” all No. 1’s — became the biggest-selling album ever. (It was overtaken by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 1984.)
For many listeners, the Gibbs were the face of disco. Even “Sesame Street” got caught up in the trend, with Robin singing on the disco-themed album “Sesame Street Fever.” It went gold.
The Bee Gees’ 1979 album, “Spirits Having Flown,” produced three more No. 1 singles, “Too Much Heaven,” “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside Out.” Then, in 1980, the band filed a $200 million lawsuit against Mr. Stigwood, saying he had swindled them out of royalties. Mr. Stigwood countersued for defamation and breach of contract. They settled out of court and publicly reconciled.
In the ’80s the band’s popularity waned in the United States but remained strong abroad. Robin released three solo albums, with limited success. The Bee Gees returned with some moderate hits in the late 1990s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. With his brothers, Mr. Gibb won six Grammys.
In addition to his wife and his brother Barry, Robin Gibb is survived by his sons, Spencer and Robin-John, known as R J; his daughters, Melissa and Snow; a sister, Lesley; and his mother. An earlier marriage, to Molly Hullis, ended in divorce.
Mr. Gibb had recently been working on a classical piece, “The Titanic Requiem,” with Robin-John. It had its premiere in London on April 10, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but Robin was too ill to attend.
Despite the Bee Gees’ close association with disco, the Gibb brothers had long insisted that they had no stake in the genre. They had simply written songs that suited their voices and caught their fancy, they said.
“We always thought we were writing R&B grooves, what they called blue-eyed soul,” Robin said in 2010. “We never heard the word disco; we just wrote groove songs we could harmonize strongly to, and with great melodies.”
“The fact you could dance to them,” he added, “we never thought about.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES