He is credited with helping to end segregation in Southern California by organizing live DJ shows at drive-in eateries that attracted white, black, and Latino audiences.

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Art Lebo, a pioneering radio DJ who sang by heart to generations of loyal listeners and was credited with helping to end segregation in Southern California during an eight-decade broadcasting career. He was 97 years old.

Joanna Morones, a spokeswoman for Lebo’s production company Dart Entertainment, said Lebo died Friday night at home in Palm Springs, California, after suffering from pneumonia.

His last show was produced last week and aired on Sunday night.

Lebo is credited with helping to end segregation in Southern California by performing live DJ shows at drive-in restaurants that attracted white, black, and Latino audiences who embraced rock ‘n’ roll. danced to — and shocked an older generation listening to Frank Sinatra and the Big Band. Music

DJ is also credited with coining the phrase “oldies, but goodies”. In 1957, he founded Original Sound Record, Inc. Released and released, in 1958, the compilation album “Oldies But Goodies: Vol. 1,” which spent 183 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

He later developed a strong following among Mexican Americans hosting the syndicated “The Art Labo Connection Show.” His baritone voice invited listeners to call out breaks and request a ’50s-era rock ‘n’ roll love ballad or a rhythm and blues tune from Alicia Keys.

His radio shows gave families of jailed loved ones a platform to talk, especially to their relatives, by dedicating songs and sending heartfelt messages and updates. Prisoners in California and Arizona will send their own tributes and ask Labo for family updates.

It’s a role Lebow said he felt honored to play.

“I don’t judge,” Lebow said in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press at his Palm Springs studio. “I like people.”

He often told a story about a woman who came to the studio so her young child could tell her father, who was serving time for a violent crime, “Daddy, I love you.”

“It was the first time she heard her baby’s voice,” Lebow said. “And this hard, hard-nosed man burst into tears.”

Anthony Macias, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside, said the music Lebow played was full of dedication, which added to the messages. For example, songs like “I’m on the outside (Looking In)” by Little Anthony & the Imperials and “Don’t Let No One Get You Down” by War spoke of perseverance and the desire to be accepted. were

Born Arthur Agnoen to an Armenian-American family in Salt Lake City, Lebo grew up during the Great Depression in a Mormon household run by a single mother. When he was 8 years old, his sister sent him his first radio. The sounds and stories that came from it engulfed him.

“And I haven’t let go since,” Lebo said.

He moved to California, attended Stanford University and served in the US Navy during World War II. Eventually, he landed a job as a radio announcer at KSAN in San Francisco and adopted the name Art Labo after a boss suggested he take the secretary’s last name to sound more American.

He later returned to the Southern California area, but a radio station owner asked the aspiring announcer to work on becoming a “radio personality” instead. As a DJ for KXLA in Los Angeles, Laboe bought station time and hosted nightly live music shows from drive-ins where he would meet underground rockabilly and R&B musicians. “I did my own research,” Laboe said.

He soon became one of the first DJs in California to play R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Teen audiences soon recognized Lebo’s voice from the emerging rock ‘n’ roll scene. By 1956, Lebow had an afternoon show and became the biggest radio program in the city. Cars jammed Sunset Boulevard where Lebow aired his show, and advertisers jumped to get a piece of the action.

When Elvis Presley came to Hollywood, Lebow was one of the few people to interview the new rockabilly star.

The landscape Lebo helped cultivate in California became one of the most diverse in the country. Venues such as El Monte’s American Legion Stadium played much of the music Labo broadcast on his radio show, spawning a new youth subculture.

Laboe maintained a strong following over the years and evolved into a promoter of aging rock ‘n’ roll acts that never lost its appeal to older Mexican-American fans. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland has a permanent display of Lebo’s contributions.

In 2015, iHeartMedia’s KHHT-FM dropped Laboe’s syndicated old show after the station abruptly switched to a hip-hop format, sparking angry protests in Los Angeles. “Without ArtLabo, I’m so lonely I could cry,” essayist Adam Wine wrote. Later that year, Laboe returned to the Los Angeles airwaves at another station.

Lalo Alcaraz, a syndicated cartoonist and television writer who grew up listening to Lebo in San Diego, said the DJ had a strong following among Mexican Americans across generations because he always featured Latinos, whites, and blacks in his shows. Black artists pay together. Alcaraz said Lebo didn’t even appear to judge listeners who asked to be dedicated to loved ones in prison.

“This is someone who gave voice to the most humble in all of us through music,” Alcaraz said. “He brought us together. That’s why we looked for him.”

Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition, said generations of Latino fans have attended Lebo-sponsored concerts to hear the likes of Smokey Robinson, The Spinners or Sunny and the Sunliners.

“I see these really tough-looking guys in the crowd. I mean, they look scary,” Nogales said. “Then the art comes out and they just melt. They love it.”

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