Tommy Smalls, was born in 1926 – 1972, known as “Dr. Jive,” and the “Major of Harlem,” was an influencer before the Influencers we know today.
Tommy Smalls knew everybody, and everybody knew Tommy Smalls. He was a radio disc jockey, publicity man, he had his own fan club, founder and owner of Smalls Paradise Club in Harlem, in the 1950s.
Born Thomas Smalls in Savannah, Georgia on August 5, 1926, he attended Savannah State College, and, after a period in the US Coast Guard, became the first black disc jockey in Savannah in 1947 on radio station WSAV. In 1952 he moved to New York and became the original “Dr. Jive,” which included a fan club on radio station WWRL.
Tommy Smalls photo gallery:
His weekday afternoon radio shows used the jingle:
“Sit back and relax and enjoy the wax / From three-oh-five to five-three-oh, it’s the Dr. Jive show,”
The slogan became popular with teenagers and featured vocal groups, blues, rock and roll, and Latin music, and hanging out with superstars from baseball legend Roy Campanella, Jane Mansfield, Bo Diddley and many more.
In 1955 he began to present live rhythm and blues revues from the Rockland Palace and the Apollo Theater, and in November 1955 presented an unprecedented 12-minute segment on the nationally-networked The Ed Sullivan Show featuring Bo Diddley, LaVern Baker, the Five Keys, and Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson.
In the late 1950s, he married teen model Dolores De Vega (below), who years later in 2009, appeared on the TV Land series, “She’s Got the Look.” Their first child, a daughter, Sharon, born in July 1950 from a previous marriage. Then in November 1955, Tommy and Dolores had another daughter, Laura. Soon following was Shawn-nee in June 1957 and finally their son, Tommy Smalls, Jr., in September 1959.
Around that same time during the end of 1955, while he was building a family he was about to start building the Smalls Paradise club on 135th Street and 7th Avenue right in the heart of Harlem, and in May 1956 he was elected to the unofficial post of “Mayor of Harlem”, with a parade held through Harlem one 125th Street in his honor.
In 1960, Smalls, along with fellow disc jockey Alan Freed, was arrested and charged in the “payola” scandal, when both were accused of taking bribes to play records on their radio shows, and his radio career ended. He later became a promotions manager for Polydor Records in New York. He was also one of the founding members of the National Association of TV and Radio Announcers (NATRA).
He later became a promotions manager for Polydor Records in New York. He was also one of the founding members of the National Association of TV and Radio Announcers (NATRA).
Smalls died after a long illness in Harlem, New York on March 8, 1972, aged 45.
Please share your Harlem history story below.
Photo credit: 1) Tommy Smalls Illustration by Danny Tisdale via source. 2) Fan club members Evelyn “Squeekie” Rowe, president, and Arlene “Peaches” Flanagan, Veep. 3) Roy Campanella meets Tommy Smalls and fan club members. 4) Jayne Mansfield and Tommy Smalls promotional gig in Harlem. 5) Bo Diddly and Tommy Smalls at the Apollo Theatre via source. 6) Dolores De Vega. 7) Smalls Paradise Poster.