August 8, 2020
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What a Difference A Day Makes

Jazz artist Belford Hendricks broke local radio color barrier
Belford Hendricks arranged Nat King Cole's hit “Ramblin’ Rose” in 1964.Belford Hendricks arranged Nat King Cole's hit “Ramblin’ Rose” in 1964.
Belford Hendricks arranged Nat King Cole's hit “Ramblin’ Rose” in 1964.

If you were an adult living in Evansville from 1947 until 1950, you likely began your morning with a cup of percolated Folgers coffee and the floor model radio in your living room tuned to WGBF, broadcasting from its studios Downtown. A charming woman named Pat Roper hosted the morning show, called “Toast and Coffee,” which featured the smooth piano and singing voice of Belford Hendricks, an African-American whose friends called Sinky.

The same year Jackie Robinson broke the color sports barrier, WGBF took a wild risk by having an integrated program on the air. It featured live music, guest interviews, and the news by J.C. Kerlin. The national networks did not permit integrated live radio shows yet.

Downtown’s nightspots included the Lamplight, the Blue Bar, and the New Yorker. In those days, most bars offered live entertainment all week, and Hendricks could often be found performing on the piano.

Born in 1909, Hendricks graduated from Frederick Douglass High School, which became Lincoln High School. He worked his way through college playing piano at local nightclubs and working as a postal carrier (a rare job for an African-American in the Depression). He also bussed tables in the McCurdy Hotel’s elegant dining room. After moving to New York in the 1950s, Hendricks worked as a music arranger and part-time band musician in various studios, becoming a highly sought after arranger, songwriter, and orchestra leader. Some said he was a genius, arranging hit songs for greats such as Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat King Cole. His arrangement of “What a Difference a Day Makes” for Washington reached No. 4 on the hit parade in 1959.

In 1962, Hendricks was named vice president of Argon Records, which was a division of Capitol Records primarily recording innovative jazz of the early 60s. It was at Argon when he teamed up with Cole, arranging the mega hit “Ramblin’ Rose” in 1964. Shortly after retiring in the early 1970s, Hendricks died in 1977.

Comments

A Musician Till the End

I am the great niece of Belford Hendricks, and I have a small correction. He actually never stopped writing music. He was writing music in the VA hospital where he died of prostate cancer. Also, Dinah Washington won a Grammy for his arrangement of "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," and "It's Just a Matter of Time," a song he wrote with Brooke Benton was one of BMI's 100 most licensed songs of the 20th century, ahead of the Beatles' "Let It Be."

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