Regina Jones' Got Soul

Dec15rg6Regina Jones grew up quickly. At the age of 10, she recalls spending time in the South L.A. beauty parlor where her mother worked.

Good customer service was a given there and eventually, Jones figured out that if she picked up clients’ lunches, her tips would add up to a decent personal budget. She also kept an eye on the family bills. Whenever a notice came from the Department of Water and Power, for example, she’d gather the funds from her parents, get a cashier’s check at the post office and put the payment in the mail.

At 15 years old, Regina married Ken Jones and began a family, raising five children, all about a year and a half apart. Her financial skills proved valuable immediately. While Ken made a living as a reporter and journalist, Jones was in charge of using those earnings to take care of the family’s fiscal matters. 

DEC15RG1In 1966, the couple launched Soul, a publication dedicated to telling the stories of black entertainers of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. It was the first magazine of its kind. Ebony and Jet existed, but the main focus wasn't entertainment, and when entertainers were featured, they were generally artists who had successfully crossed over into the white commercial market, such as Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne and Nat King Cole

Regina and Ken moved to Van Ness Avenue in Country Club Park in the same year the paper started.  Regina still resides there. When the newspaper folded in 1982, Jones’ professional life continued. She spoke with TNN about Soul, her life in Los Angeles and her entrepreneurial nature.

TNN: Soul launched in April of 1966 and covered some of the biggest names in music history, James Brown and Aretha Franklin among them.  What was it like to work with such icons?

Regina: I was really all about the nuts and the bolts. I went to the concerts, met the artists, and I enjoyed that. But that was all background for my constant thought: How will I get advertising in to pay for the publication, to pay the bills at home and to take care of the children? My motive was never “Go have fun.” It was a business. I was never a fan of an artist.

TNN: What gave your husband the idea to start Soul in the first place?

RJ: Soul was born out of the Watts riots. At that time, Ken was a runner for NBC news’ Huntley-Brinkley Report and on local radio stations; I was a radio operator for LAPD, and I got the first call for help that night. My husband watched Watts burn from the roof of a radio station. That’s when he thought, “Let’s do something better.” He came up with the idea for the newspaper.

TNN: Tell us about working side by side to create the newspaper for all those years.

DEC15RG4RJ: It was a small investment of money — we just had to pay the printer, so then if the issues sold, that money went to pay the printer next time. If you got an ad, you made more than it cost to print the issue. I was responsible for the books — advertising, sales, distribution, deadlines. I never got into the art side of things. That made my husband and I a good combination. He was the creative one. He would do anything to be on the radio or on television. He loved the music, the parties — if I was at a party, I was there to get an advertiser.

TNN: Soul was associated with local radio station KGFJ. Later, it spread to Oakland then different cities across the country.

RJ:  The instant success in Los Angeles made it clear we were filling a need and in less than one year we were being distributed in the top 30 markets across the country.  At our peak we were publishing 127,000 copies. Ken came up with a unique marketing plan  to affiliate with the top R&B radio stations in each city. By  trading advertising space in the magazine and using their station's name on the cover, the radio stations gave us free advertising on air. Because of Soul, I received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Woman In Business in 1980.  

TNN:  What were some of the accomplishments of soul that you are most proud of.

DEC15rg2RJ: By documenting the history of black entertainment just before it crossed over into white mainstream we recognized and covered important artists early in their careers like Melvin Van Peebles, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Cicely Tyson and Artist Lane whose bronze sculptor of Sojourner Truth was placed in the Capital Building in Washington DC.  We were also a townhall for opinion pieces that reflected the political changes  for African Americans in the 60's and 70's.  The headline for our  first cover was "White Artists Selling Negro Souls".  You can find out more by going to our Facebook Page "Soul Newspaper".

TNN:  What led you to close the publication in 1982?

RJ: My mother had become very ill, my marriage was falling apart, and Soul was in big trouble. There was an economic downturn and everyone was holding their pockets tight — it was a battle to pay the printer and pay staff. I knew I couldn’t work magic any longer. But it did feel like pulling the plug on one of my own children when we printed that last issue. I had emotionally reached a point where I didn’t care or know what others thought. I know many were disappointed.

TNN: What was your next move?

RJ: I stuck my head in the sand and tried to survive. I had teenage kids at home, so I did what I could do to not lose it. I started doing temp work, until a friend of mine at the Ladd Company reached out to me. She wanted me to work on the first “Police Academy” film as the assistant to Alan Ladd, Jr. I knew about deadlines and production. It was the same — my experience carried over. Later, [music producer] Dick Griffey asked me to do publicity for him. I was shocked, and I told him I didn’t know how to do that. He said he was willing to pay me for 6 months to prove that I did. I had five kids, so I took that job as the VP of publicity until he had to make cutbacks. That’s when I started my own firm: Regina Jones and Associates. 

TNN: What sort of projects did you lead with your own firm?

RJ: My first really good account was The Geffen Company.As the firm grew, we started doing the NAACP Image Awards. I did 13 shows — at the Wiltern, then the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. It became a huge televised show, and my life was very high stress three to four months out of the year. Then Maxine Waters called me about a project she thought I was perfect for — a childcare development agency had opened a childcare center in Nickerson Gardens housing project, which was right across the street from my mother’s beauty shop and where I’d played as a child. I said I would do it, and later the ladies asked me to join their firm — Crystal Stairs, Inc. I kept my own PR work going on the side for awhile, but eventually I gave that side work up and focused just on Crystal Stairs. I liked working for non profit. After all those years in the entertainment world, it was nice to give back.

TNN: You’re officially retired now yet still busy. What are you up to?

RJ: I took on the role of Interim President of the Country Club Park Neighborhood Association (CCPNA) recently. I’ve been involved with the group for over 10 years, and I’ve discovered that my neighbors are also my friends. That’s a nice feeling… it’s a feeling of community and connection. We have an important thing in common — our homes. And that’s usually a person’s most valuable asset, and there should be community surrounding where you live. If there were to be a disaster, it’s not your family or friends who’ll be able to come to you. It’s your neighbors.

Learn more about Soul Newspaper on facebook, or visit the archives in their entirety at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library.




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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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