Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher

By Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper

As a ‘child’ of the sixties, I listened to a lot of Motown music from Stevie Wonder to Mary Wells; from the Temptations to the Supremes; from the Miracles to the Marvelettes; from Gladys Knight and the Pips to Marvin Gaye, just to name a few. I went from “Up on the Roof” to “Under the Boardwalk;” from “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” to “Dancing in the Street;” from “My Guy” to “My Girl;” from “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” to “It’s Your Thing;” from “I Do Love You” to “Hit the Road Jack.” And surprisingly I still know many of the lyrics to these 50+ year old songs (and so do some of you, and you’re not yet 50!). 

My love for music began early.  Before he succeeded his father, AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr., as publisher of the family enterprise, my grandfather, Carl Murphy, taught German at Howard University.  He was adamant about his 16 grandchildren developing an appreciation for classical music. I can still remember coming into my grandparent’s home and hearing German opera blaring in every room. While some of it was quite melodious,  I can’t say I actually developed the same fondness for this particular genre of music as I did for the soulful sound of Jerry Butler or Aretha Franklin. But I did learn to distinguish instruments by listening to classical music.  And I did broaden my knowledge of music, even though I could only play piano a little and my singing was….let’s just say I could hold a tune, but I was rarely selected to sing a solo.  I sang in many choirs, and was content to just blend in with the other altos.  But I knew good music when I heard it!  And I especially loved music by the multi-talented Black musicians I listened to day in and day out.  Back in the day, we didn’t have Apple Music, Spotify or Sound Cloud.  We had 45’s, 33 1/3’s and 78’s—I still have some—which are back in style and popular among the Millennials! I had so many albums that I lined them up in alphabetical order against the wall and recorded the names on file cards that I stored in one of those little metal boxes. And, if you borrowed one of my albums (which didn’t happen often), you had to sign the card pledging your next paycheck as collateral! 

In 1961, just as the Motown era was beginning, my father James “Biddy” Wood married singing sensation Damita Jo (Deblanc).  Damita had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard.  Her range was incredible, and she was quite a performer. My favorite Damita Jo songs include “You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Loves You”, “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” and “If You Are But A Dream.” Thankfully, many of her songs are on YouTube.  As a young teenager, I spent many summer months on the road with Biddy and Damita either in the Club Harlem in Atlantic City or the Copacabana in Manhattan (by the time the 6 a.m. breakfast show began, my underage self was usually sound asleep under the table).  Biddy managed other artists such as the Four Tops and Nipsey Russell, and he considered himself a singer of sorts as he readily and regularly performed his singular hit song, “Meet Me With Your Black _______ On!” He was elated that his grandson, Kevin followed in his footsteps (managing musicians, not singing), and would be so proud that grandson, Aaron, and great grandson, Ryan, are pursuing music careers.

Today, while I still love all kinds of music, I get my inspiration and my peace from Kirk Franklin, Sinach, Maverick City Music, Anthony Evans and CeCe Winans to name just a few of my favorite gospel artists.  And every now and then, when I just need to exhale and reflect, I encourage myself by singing (at the top of my lungs)  “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” or  “Lord, You Are Good.” 

In this edition, the sixth in our “We’re Still Here” series, we are pleased to highlight Black Music Month as we salute Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and many more. Thanks to guest editor Brenda Alford (a super star singer and songwriter), managing editor Dorothy Boulware, production manager Denise Dorsey, executive director Lenora Howze and everyone who helped to create this keepsake edition.

Music is truly the universal language. Enjoy! 

Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper
AFRO CEO and Publisher

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