Tex Stephens, a pioneer black broadcaster in New Orleans, died Saturday Feb. 23 of cancer. He was 80.
A lifelong New Orleans-area resident who also worked in print journalism, Stephens first became interested in radio in the late 1940s.
World War II vet especially admired a white announcer he heard regularly on WJDW and wrote the man a fan letter. In response, the flattered disc jockey invited Stephens to the studio. “I told him I’d like to be a disc jockey, too,” Stephens recalled. “The people who owned the station were very nice, but they said I’d have to do a remote broadcast. They wouldn’t allow my black face in the station, to sit down next to the whites.” So in 1948, broadcasting once a week from Roger’s Gladstone Hotel, he became Tex “Mr. Cool” Stephens, spinning jazz records. A year later, “Tipping With Tex” debuted on WMRY, a station that became the New Orleans powerhouse WYLD and Stephens’ radio home until 1963.
In addition to playing music, he did public affairs programming, including reports on the civil rights movement. In 1963, Stephens moved to TV, broadcasting high school sports. He also wrote for various publications and was a master of ceremonies at all sorts of gatherings, from political rallies to the Gospel Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Stephens met Louis Armstrong in 1935 when he was hired as an extra for an Armstrong movie. Fourteen years later, Stephens was Armstrong’s chauffeur and escort when the trumpeter reigned as King Zulu at Mardi Gras.
During World War II, Stephens was attached to the Army’s 92nd Division, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers. In his later years, he pushed for recognition of African-American soldiers’ work.
He is survived by wife Marion, a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.