I woke today to the sad news that Herb Kent had passed away. Herb was a long-time DJ here in Chicago, and had been a radio personality for nearly 70 years. He had an amazing career that included working at Chicago’s first Black radio station. When I started listening to him, it was on AM.
70 years of radio…there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen of the business. He was also credited with launching some highly successful careers, including those of Smokey Robinson and The Temptations. His musical knowledge was amazing, and he consistently played songs I’d long forgotten, as well as some I’d never heard. He coined the term “dusties”, which is why, here in Chicago, we don’t listen to oldies…we listen to dusties. He spun up until the end, and worked weekends. Last weekend, my mom, daughter and I were out, and when I heard the DJ, I said, “Who’s that? That’s not Herb.”
Little did I know, but I wouldn’t be hearing Herb again.
Herb was also known as “The Cool Gent”, and the only time I got to meet him proved that to be the perfect nickname. I met him about twenty years ago, at a station-hosted steppers’ set that happened to be across the street from my post office job. I’ve never been much of a stepper, but my friend and I went on a whim.
I’d been hearing him on the radio ever since I could remember, but had never seen him. My impression of him was that he was, indeed, a “cool gent”. He shook hands, smiling and looking his fans in the eyes as he did so. He was an older man, with a cap and a ponytail, and, in my youth, he seemed older than he was, but had a youthful twinkle in his eye that belied his years.
From the earliest part of my childhood, I remember listening to Herb’s silky-smooth tones. He had an incredibly vast knowledge and collection of music. I can’t shake the feeling that so much of that music is gone with his passing, and that there are a great many songs that I’ll never again hear played on the radio.
Herb was in the background for my family’s card parties, when I was a little girl trying to sneak in to catch tidbits of adult conversation. He provided the music for countless backyard barbecues. Up until last week, he played the soundtrack for hundreds of car sing-alongs for my mom and me.
Herb’s passing feels like the death of an era. Over the past couple years, Chicago radio has lost Ty Wansley and Doug Banks, both voices I remember from my childhood, and losing The Cool Gent comes as a crushing blow. Chicago radio won’t be the same without him. With the passing of Herb Kent, we lost an icon, living history, and a musical treasure.
Rest in paradise, Herbie Baby. Thank you for all the good times.
As always, thank you for reading.