Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Detroit/Windsor Sock-Hop-Jock Robin Seymour

Robin Seymour at the height of his popularity.
Robin Henry Seymour began his career in radio as a child actor on The Lone Ranger show on WXYZ in Detroit. Eventually, he became one of the country's most popular disc-jockeys. During World War II, Seymour spent part of his enlistment as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio.

Seymour's civilian broadcasting career resumed in 1947 in Dearborn, Michigan at WKMH. The newly formed radio station played mainstream pop music with news, sports, and weather segments. Soon, Seymour became the station's top jock who appealed to many of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario listeners. Seymour championed early rock & roll artists and was one of America's first DJs to play doo-wop music and black rhythm & blues which was labeled race music in those days.

As his popularity grew, Seymour began live appearances with his "Original Rock-n-Roll Revue" at Detroit's legendary Fox Theater. Seymour's personal theme song "Bobbin' with the Robin" was recorded in 1956 by a group popular at the time--The Four Lads. They were accompanied by the Percy Faith Orchestra.

Canadian broadcaster CKLW hired Seymour to host a television teen dance show in 1963 entitled Teen Town, modeled on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Clark's show was broadcast nationally, but Seymour's regional show was wildly popular in the greater Detroit area.

With the help of rising Motown artists, the show gained popularity and was rebranded as Swingin' Time. Local teens would dance to Top 40 hits and two kids were chosen from the audience to rate new records with an "aye" or a "nay." National acts performing in Detroit or Windsor appeared on Swingin' Time to promote their live shows and records.

Seymour had the good fortune to feature virtually all the Motown artists--The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, and the list goes on. Many of them recorded on Gordy and Tamala records before the Motown label. Swingin' Time introduced white suburban teens to local black performers, helping bridge the racial divide in heavily segregated Detroit.

In addition to Motown artists, many local white rock group performers appeared on Seymour's show--people like Glenn Frey, Mitch Ryder, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger. Because of technical limitations in those days, all of the performers lip-synced their records. The most frequently booked local group on his show was The Rationals--an Ann Arbor garage band. Seymour managed many of the early Detroit groups.

Robin Seymour shortly before his death.
When CKLW changed ownership in 1968, Robin Seymour was replaced by Tom Shannon, another popular Detroit DJ. America was undergoing drastic political and social turmoil and the music reflected that change. Ever try to dance to psychedelic music? The show dropped in the ratings and ended its run in 1969.

Robin Seymour passed away on April 17, 2020, at the age of ninety-four in San Antonio, Texas. He will be missed by thousands of Detroiters and Windsorites. Robin wrote an indie autobiography The DJ That Launched 1,000 Hits just before he died which is available on Amazon. It is a joy to read.

Robin Seymour's Bobbin' with the Robin theme song:

Early Bob Seger Swingin Time performance:
The Story of Robin Seymour by Robin Seymour with Carolyn Rosenthal.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Remarkable Mother Waddles--Patron Saint of Detroit's Poor

Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission eventually expanded to include her church, a kitchen/restaurant for the poor and downtrodden, a job training program, job placement services, and a health clinic.

Long before Mother Waddles became an institution in the city of Detroit, she was no stranger to adversity. Born Charleszetta Lena Campbell in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 7, 1912, she was the oldest of three children of seven who survived into adulthood, born to Henry Campbell and Ella Brown.

Her father Henry ran a successful barber shop which doubled as a popular meeting place for African American men in their local community, until he cut a customer's hair who had the contagious skin disease impetigo. Unknowingly, Henry Campbell cut other customers' hair with the same clippers, including some fellow church members who came down with the ailment.

Overnight, word spread throughout his community and congregation that Campbell's Barber Shop was the cause of the outbreak. Members of his congregation shunned him and his family. Campbell lost not only his business but also his self-respect.

Charleszetta was only twelve years old when she witnessed her father die a broken man. She never forgot his despair and the lack of empathy shown to him by their congregation. Miss Charleszetta Campbell quit school in eighth grade despite her love of school and good grades. She began working as a domestic servant to help support her mother and two younger sisters. At the tender age of fourteen, Charleszetta became pregnant by her twenty-four-year-old boyfriend who eventually left her to fend on her own. 

During the heart of the Great Depression, Charleszetta met and married a thirty-seven-year-old truck driver named Leroy Welsh. She was twenty-one. In 1936, the family moved to Detroit. Together, they had six children before she divorced him in 1945. She felt he had no ambition and was not doing his share to support her and her children.

Alone and with seven kids to feed, Charleszetta worked as a bar maid and a "numbers" (illegal lottery) collector to supplement her welfare and Aid to Dependent Children checks, and from a tub in front of the house, she sold barbequed ribs on the weekends to make ends meet. In life, circumstances determine actions, or so it seems. Charleszetta spent the next five years in a common-law marriage with Roosevelt Sturkey and bore him three children before he died unexpectedly.

Finally, with ten children in tow, she found Peyton Waddles and married him in 1950. Waddles worked for the Ford Motor Company and helped his wife in her quest to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. They remained married for thirty years until Peyton died in 1980.


In the mid 1940s, Charleszetta began studying the Bible and was ordained twice: initially in the First Pentecostal Church and later, after more study, in the International Association of Universal Truth. By the late 1940s, she began holding Bible readings and prayer meetings in her home with her neighbors and family members.

With the help and support of her new husband, Reverend Charleszetta Waddles founded the Helping Hand Restaurant offering good-tasting, home cooked, soul food meals for 35 cents a plate for Detroit's poor, all cooked by her in her own kitchen and served up in the living room. Nobody was turned away. Her mission ministered to homeless street people, unwed mothers, abused wives and children, the sick, the elderly, and anyone who was hungry and needed a helping hand.

At first, she and her kids did all the work, but soon neighbors and fellow churchgoers volunteered to help. Menu items included smoked rib ends, Southern fried chicken, and ham hocks with two sides of either boiled cabbage, black-eyed peas, rice, grits, baked beans, seasonal vegetables, or collard greens.

If anyone was hungry and did not have a quarter and a dime to pay, dinner was on the house. In the thirty-four years of its existence, the restaurant had several location but never increased the price of its meals. The kitchen/restaurant finally closed in 1984 after a fire destroyed it and everything in the building.

Mother Waddles believed in pragmatic Christianity specializing in emergency help. "The church should get beyond religious dogma and focus on the real needs of people. There is no fire and brimstone after death, but there is plenty of hell in Detroit," she said.

In 1963, Lonnie D. Moore came to her mission a wreck after his mother had died. He had nowhere else to turn. Reverend Waddles calmed him, "I'll be a mother to you." She provided Moore with a place to stay and fed him in exchange for volunteering as a dishwasher. He was the first person to call her Mother Waddles and the name stuck. Her nickname Mother Waddles became the branding her organization was lacking.


On her way to becoming a one-woman social-services agency in one of Detroit's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, Mother Waddles and her Perpetual Mission had many setbacks. In the 1970s, when Detroit and the national economy were reeling from the Oil Crisis, Mother Waddles Perpetual Mission was there to provide services for unemployed autoworkers and their families. In February of 1970, her Mission was burglarized three times.

The first robbery was of typewriters the Mission used to train women how to type. The second time, the Mission's public address system used for Sunday services worth $1,500 disappeared. Then, at the end of the month, thieves took away the Mission's entire filing system that held the contact information for their referral services, emergency shelters, job centers, medical aid, social services agencies, and donor lists. Although police reports were filed, no concerted effort was made to discover who the robbers were or what their motives were beyond money.

Mother Waddles' charities always ran on a wing and a prayer. Dedicated volunteers helped run the kitchen and clothes distribution center, leaving her to concentrate on fundraising from private organizations and church groups, pledge drives, rummage sales, and talent shows, but never government funding. Waddles believed that government red tape and regulations were a fatal noose that wasted time and money.

In an effort to make money for her Mission, Mother Waddles self-published a thirty-six page booklet of her soul food recipes in October 1970. Fifty thousand copies were printed and hand-assembled by volunteers at the Mission. Each copy sold for $2 but only about five thousand sold the first month, prompting Mission spokesperson Maggie Kreischer to remark, "I just hope we can pay the printing bill." When I recently checked for copies of Mother Waddles' Soul Food Cookbook in September 2023, prices ranged from $200 to $450 for used copies.

On November 15, 1970, Lee Winfrey wrote an editorial in the Detroit Free Press titled "Debt-Ridden Mother Waddles to be Absorbed by 'System'." It read, "If Mother's God-intoxicated energies are black-coffeed into financial sobriety, something appealing will be lost." Translated into plain English it means, if the charity is to surive, it will need to be managed better. The Missions' recordkeeping was minimal at best and all but inscrutable. To save her charities, auditors were called in to see how bleak the situation was.

The following year brought more bad news. On February 3, 1971, a "religious fanatic and sick man" (Mother Waddles' own words) named Willie Green (51) entered the Mission ranting scripture and attacked two people in separate incidents, a man and a woman. While the police were in transit, Waddles tried to settle the man down and put him at ease but with little success. 

When two patrolmen arrived on the scene, Green pulled out a handgun. Officier Daniel G. Ellis (29), pushed his partner out of the line of fire and took two slugs in the chest and right leg. He was DOA before medics could get him to the hospital. 

Further investigation revealed that Willie Green had a long criminal record with fourteen convictions extending back twenty-eight years. At his trial nine months later, Green was found innocent by reason of insanity in the slaying of Officier Daniel G. Ellis.

In January of 1984, a warehouse fire destroyed 50% of the food and clothing donations for the needy, and in November, just before Thanksgiving, the Black Firefighters Association delivered a truckload of food and clothing to the Mission meant for distribution to the poor.

That evening or early the next morning, thieves described as neighborhood toughs snapped the locks from two of the warehouse's six doors and emptied the building. Trying to downplay the robbery, Mother Waddles told the press, "You know it hurts, but it doesn't bring me down."


But amid the setbacks the Perpetual Mission battled throughout its existence, bright moments shined through too. For Christmas in 1989, Detroit boxer Tommy Hearns brightened the holiday for many struggling Detroiters by donating $3,000 worth of frozen turkeys and toys to Mother Waddles Perteptual Mission. Hearns was eight years old when Mother Waddles' kitchen fed him and his family when they were hungry. Several Christmases later, Detroit rocker Ted Nugent contributed six hundred pounds of dressed, wrapped, and frozen venison (deer meat) and about 1,000 pounds of clothes for the shelter. 

The 1990s began badly for the Mission. Between January and April, their storage facility suffered nine break-ins. Mother Waddles told the press that the only way to prevent further break-ins was to install iron security bars on all the doors and windows. She mentioned in the newspaper article that the cost would be $3,500 which the Mission could not afford.

As had happened so many times before, Providence smiled upon Mother Waddles. Paul and Lynn Lieberman of Bloomfield Hills read in the local papers about the latest break-ins at the Mission and offered to pay for the installation of the security doors and windows. Once again, Mother Waddles' deep faith in the transcendent goodness of people shone through brightly on this occasion.

Mother Waddles' innercity Detroit charity work caught the attention of Michigan's outgoing governor George W. Romney, who was soon to become a cabinet member in the new President-elect Richard M. Nixon's administration. Romney believed Mother Waddles was the living embodiment of the "Black self-help" platform that Nixon campaigned on.

Romney wrangled an invitation for Dr. Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles to attend the 1969 Nixon Inauguration as part of the Michigan delegation. Included in the invitation were invitations to a tea for distinguished ladies, a Republican Governor's party, the vice-president's reception, the swearing-in ceremony for the President, and the Inaugaral Ball at the Smithsonian Institute. "I feel like a movie star, "Waddles remarked to the local Detroit press.

But what to wear?! To help Mother Waddles dress for the occasion, WXYZ-TV sponsored her wardrobe chosen from Lane Bryant women's store. For the swearing-in ceremony and the receptions, Waddles wore a velvet-trimmed knit suit. But for the Ball, she wore a floor-length, pink silk, caftan gown. Lane Bryant general manager Patti Hanes loaned Waddles her milk stole for the occasion. To chauffeur Reverend Waddles around Washington D.C., Thompson Chrysler Inc. loaned her a charcoal Chrysler Imperial and a driver.

What was a Cinderella-like experience for Mother Waddles was commemorated in a photograph of her decked out in the mink stole which ran in the society pages of the Detroit newspapers.

But in a Democrat town like Detroit, partying with the Republican elite did not sit well with some blue collar folks. Rumors began to circulate that Mother Waddles was getting rich on the backs of the people she purported to help. In a public response, Waddles skirted the issue, "I'm in the business of loving the hell out of folks. It's a joy, it really is."

As Mother Waddles' fame grew, she became honored with testimonial dinners from civic and service organizations for her "service to humanity." Corporate donations and foundation grants increased as Mother Waddles' charity work was celebrated publicly.

Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida began filming a documentary in 1990 about Reverend Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles, underwritten by a $175,000 grant from Warner-Lambery Company (Listerine mouthwash). Mother Waddles' charities were additionally pledged $100,000 over the next five years for Waddles' one-woman war on poverty. The documentary was titled You Done Good! It was widely televised on PBS stations across the country.

Most Detroiters today know Mother Waddles' name from billboards along the highways advertising her car donation program which began in 1992. A used car business was set up to accept running used cars in return for tax write-offs equalling Kelly Blue Book values.

After being cleaned up and minor repairs made, the cars were priced from $300 to $999 and sold from Mother Waddles' Used Car Lot. For its first full year of operation in 1993, car sales totalled 1.4 million dollars, allowing another location to open the following year. All the profits went back into the Mission. This program became the financial backbone of the Perpetual Mission.

Even at the age of eighty, Reverend "Mother" Waddles worked twelve-hour days. But on November 17, 1992, she was hospitalized and listed in serious condition in the cardiac unit of Michigan Health Center. Clifford Ford, acting as Mission spokesperson, told reporters, "(Mother Waddles') health issues are from attempting to stretch that which is virtually unstretchable." Her doctors recommended that she pass on the work of the Mission to others. What she needed most was some prolonged rest.

Almost nine years later on July 12, 2001, Mother Waddles died at the age of eighty-eight from cardiac arrest at her Detroit home. In her lifetime for service to the poor, Waddles received over 300 awards and honors including entry into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. Public viewing was scheduled from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm on July 18th at the Swanson Funeral Home on E. Grand Boulevard.

Over 1,000 mourners gathered at Mother Waddles' funeral ceremony on Thursday, July 19th at the Greater Grace Temple on Schaefer Road. The all-day celebration was attended by politicians, pastors, the press, and many of her admirers.

Detroit Free Press reporter Alexa Capeloto described Mother Waddles' burial this way:

         Immediate family members wore white as a tribute to their famous relative who donned white at funerals because she considered funerals celebrations of life. Relatives carried flowers in her honor, black roses for her children and gold orchids for her grandchildren.

        After the service, a horse-drawn carriage transported Charleszetta Waddles' white and gold-trimmed casket to Elmwood Cemetery for burial. Ten white doves--one for each of her children--were released as a symbolic freeing of her spirit.


Martha Jean the Queen

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Detroit Boxer Joe Louis' Place in American History

Joseph Louis Barrow was best known as the "Brown Bomber." He boxed from 1934 until 1951 and reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. Joe was born in Chambers County, Alabama--the seventh of eight children. Both of his parents were children of former slaves.

Louis' family moved to Detroit after a brush with the Ku Klux Klan when Joe was twelve. The Louis family was part of the Great Migration after World War I. His family settled on 2700 Catherine Street in the now defunct neighborhood of Black Bottom. When old enough, Joe and his older brother worked at the Rouge Plant for the Ford Motor Company.

During the Great Depression, Joe spent time at a local youth recreation center at 637 Brewster Street in Detroit and made his boxing debut early in 1932 at the age of seventeen. In 1933, Louis won the Detroit-area Golden Gloves Novice Division. In 1934, he won the Chicago Golden Gloves championship and later that year became the United States Amateur Champion in a national AAU tournament in St. Louis, Missouri. By the summer of 1934, Joe had gone pro with a management team.

In 1936, Louis got a title shot versus world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium. The German trained hard while Louis seemed more interested in his golf game--his new hobby. Schmeling knocked Louis out in the 12th round handing Joe his first professional loss. Schmeling became a national hero in Nazi Germany as an example of Aryan superiority.

Max Schmeling and Joe Louis rematch.
No path to a rematch was open to Louis until June 22, 1938. Louis and Schmeling met for a second time at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 70,043. The fight was broadcast worldwide in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. It should be noted that Max Schmeling was not a Nazi, but the Nazi party propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels hyped the match proclaiming a Black man could not defeat Herr Schmeling.

The American press promoted the match as an epic battle between Nazi ideology and American democratic ideals. Louis became the embodiment of anti-Nazi sentiment. After the big media buildup, the fight lasted only two minutes and four seconds. Schmeling went down three times before his trainer threw in the towel ending the match. For the first time in American history, every Black person and White person in the country celebrated the same event at the same time. Not until the end of World War II would that happen again.

Joe Louis became the first African-American national hero. He reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 until 1949--longer than anyone else. In 1951, Louis was beaten by Rocky Marciano and retired from the ring. The following year, he was responsible for breaking the color line integrating the game of golf. He appeared as a celebrity golfer under a sponsor's exemption at a PGA event in 1952. How many people know that?

Joe Louis and Max Schmeling
Joe Louis died on April 12, 1981 of cardiac arrest at the age of sixty-six in Desert Springs Hospital near Las Vegas after a public appearance at the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick heavyweight battle. President Ronald Reagan waived eligibility rules for Joe Louis to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on April 21st. His funeral was paid for by his friend Max Schmeling, who also acted as a pallbearer.

In his professional boxing career, Joe Louis won virtually every boxing award there is and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously in 1982. The City of Detroit honored Joe Louis with a monument on October 16, 1989. The sculpture was sponsored by Sports Illustrated magazine and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
When drivers look left at Woodward Avenue from eastbound Jefferson Avenue (now a No Left Turn), they are confronted with a colossal fist and forearm suspended from a triangular superstructure--a testament to the regard and respect Detroiters hold for their hometown hero.

Link to the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling 1937 heavyweight fight

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Alex Karras' NFL Gambling Suspension--Part One of Three

Detroit Lion tackle Alex Karras

The trouble started in 1961 when reports of Detroit Lion Alex Karras' gambling on professional sports and associating with underworld figures reached the desks of Lions owner William (Bill) Clay Ford and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Detroit police commissioner George Edwards and the local FBI had Karras under surveillance for a year because of his association with Jimmy and Johnny Butsicaris and his co-ownership of the popular Lindell AC (Atheletic Club) sports bar.

Alex Karras met the Butsicaris brothers soon after he arrived in Detroit to play for the Lions. The bar was known for its legendary hamburgers and walls festooned with sports memorabilia. It became a hangout for sports writers, sports fans of every stripe, and shady characters who enjoyed rubbing elbows with local team players like everyone else did.

Some of these characters happened to be professional gamblers. Karras liked the place because the owners were Greek and their place reminded him of his hometown Gary, Indiana. The Lindell AC was his refuge where he could relax and relate to people.

Johnny and Jimmy Butsicaris
Karras became a regular customer and was befriended by the brothers. When their bar opened in 1949, Meleti Butsicaris and his sons each owned one-third of the business. After their father died, the brothers asked Karras if he would like to buy their father's share, so they could move the bar to a better location down Michigan Avenue and renovate an available property. For a $45,000 buy-in, Karras became a partner.

To compound gambling suspicions against Karras, his favorite restaurant in Detroit was The Grecian Gardens in Greektown. Gus Colacasides was the owner and basically the patriarch of all local Greeks in Detroit. Karras liked the authentic Greek food and the atmosphere and went there weekly. I can personally vouch for the quality of their food.

The restaurant's late night clientele included gamblers, bookies, and ranking underworld figures. Some pretty tough customers would see Karras and come up and shake his hand and strike up a sports conversation. At the heart of it, they were sports fans and Karras was a Lion celebrity. Soon, he felt like one of the boys.

All the while, Karras was under police surveillance everywhere he went. In 1962, the general manager of the Lions Andy Anderson summoned Karras into his office and cautioned him about being in the bar business with the Butsicaris brothers. "They're gangsters and hoodlums--stay away from them."

"The Hell I will!"

"If you stay in the bar business with them, the Lions will take steps."

"Tell Bill Ford that I need the work because I can't raise my family on the lousy $12,000 a season he pays me."

For the first few years of his NFL career, Karras wrestled "professionally" in the off-season as part of a masked tag team attraction to make financial ends meet. Now that he had a growing family, he was tired of travelling every weekend throughout the Midwest.

Karras had known Jimmy and Johnny Butsicaris for two years and knew they were not connected to organized crime. They were hard-working saloon owners, and these alleged "gangsters" were their customers. It was free enterprise and that wasn't a crime.

But then there was the issue of Karras and a fellow teammate John Gordy riding home after an exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns on a "party bus" owned by Vito Giacalone, but it was registered to Odus Tincher--a retired DSR bus driver, known gambler, and former convict. The Giacalone brothers were also known gamblers and underworld crime figures connected with the Detroit Partnership (Mafia). The Detroit Police and the FBI wondered why the party bus was often parked in back of the Lindell AC when not in service.

End of Part One

Karras Gambling Suspension Part Two