That old black magic has me in its spell, that old black magic that you weave so well.
- Johnny Mercer
Buffalo and all of Western New York is a region that is rich in it’s musical heritage and appreciation. One prominent member of the Buffalo music scene and community at large is Jimmy Lyons. An early stage performer and promoter from the mid 1950s through the late 1960s, Jimmy Lyons became Buffalo’s very first African-American disc jockey. Lyons conducted his own rhythm and blues show, “The Lyons Den,” on WXRA, later WINE. JoAnne Lyons-Wooten, James Lyons Jr, and Gail Lyons-Hawkins came to the StoryCorps booth to pay tribute their father and share their recollections of his many contributions to Buffalo.
Recording artists like Sammy Davis Jr., The Marvelettes, Grover Washington, and Little Stevie Wonder sought out Jimmy Lyons whenever they made their way to The Nickel City. “For me, going to the radio station was heaven,” says James. “The biggest thrill was he’d let me sit next to him when he was on the air doing his [show] Lyons Den. He would let me push the button for the commercials. He’d say, ‘OK champ, standby. OK, now.’” According to Gail there were plenty of perks to being the children of a DJ. “[He had] all the latest music and we didn’t have to buy any because he had the demos! It was years before we had to go to a record store!”
Jimmy Lyons was a born entertainer but he recognized the power of music and radio to both entertain and inform. In 1960 Jimmy became the Public Service Director of WUFO and he used this opportunity to create a new voice for the the African-American community. “He had Malcolm X on his radio show and the majority of the people said, ‘No, no, don’t do that,’ ” says James. “But Dad, that is one thing you don’t tell him, one, and then two, he felt an obligation that he was there to inform.” JoAnne agrees, “Either the first or second day at WUFO he had Wyatt Tee Walker, one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s right hand lieutenants. He took the responsibility, that he had, of using that platform in as effective a manner as possible.”
After achieving so much in broadcasting, going into city government and becoming president of Blacks In Government, Jimmy Lyons passed away on December 28, 1981. For a man whose life was filled with music it seemed appropriate to say goodbye with a song. “When Daddy was in the hospital and he was dying, all I could do was sing Old Black Magic, and that’s what I did,” says Gail. “That’s the last thing, y’know, communication that Daddy and I had. That was my ‘thank you’.”