Author: Walker Smith
Publisher: Sonata Books LLC/Walker Smith Books
Format: Book (softcover, 270 p.), eBook
Release date: 2015
Based on interviews conducted by Walker Smith over a two year period from 1997-1999, Mello Yello: The Incredible Life Story of Jack the Rapper is part biography, part autobiography—told primarily through the words of Jack Gibson.
Affectionately known as “Jockey Jack,” and later “Jack the Rapper,” Jack Gibson was a legendary figure in Black radio and the Black entertainment industry. Though not well known outside of those circles (amazingly, Gibson doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry), his influence was incredibly broad, reaching all four corners of the nation and extending from the 1940s until his death in 2000, and beyond. A master storyteller to the end, Mello Yello is his final exposé on the industry—with sidebars on life, love, and the pursuit of happiness—edited by Ms. Smith in a manner that’s both informative and entertaining.
Born May 13, 1920 on the South Side of Chicago, Gibson was the son of a prosperous doctor from Barbados, who was also Marcus Garvey’s personal physician. Though Gibson trained at Lincoln University to be an actor, due to his mixed race heritage and light skin he was not able to land one of the few roles reserved for Black actors. Capitalizing instead on his vocal talents, Gibson was given a starring role in “Here Comes Tomorrow,” the first radio soap opera drama to feature an all-Black cast. Produced by another legendary Chicagoan, the African American writer Richard Durham, the show went on the air in 1945 over Chicago station WJJD. As Gibson recalls, “during a time when Negro actors were relegated to playing cartoonish sidekicks, maids and butlers, we were playing three-dimensional characters concerned with voting rights, segregation, and family relationships.” Shortly thereafter, Gibson launched his own music-based radio program, “The Jack Gibson Show,” while also working as a local emcee and helping Black artists such as Sarah Vaughan get booked into Chicago clubs.