Twenty years later, Joya Sherrill turned up as the host of a fondly remembered children's program broadcast on WPIX channel 11 in New York. One of Duke Ellington's last TV appearances was on this show.
In the spring of 1970, Joya Sherrill became the second African/American NYC based entertainer to host a kid's TV show, and the first African/American woman to do so.
A former vocalist with Duke Ellington's Jazz Band, Ms. Sherrill was originally slated to host an adult talk show at WPIX TV Ch. 11, but viewers wanted more diversity in the types of children's TV programs that were being aired - something for kids of different races.
The station execs decided to have Ms. Sherrill host a show that would appeal to the needs of kids from many ethnic backgrounds. She liked the idea and "Time For Joya" was seen Sunday mornings on WPIX TV Ch. 11 in NYC beginning Sunday, March 29, 1970.
Joya Sherrill would engage her studio audiences and viewers in games, songs (with musical accompaniment provided by the show's musical director Luther Henderson aka The Professor) stories, craftmaking, hobbies and comedy skits with her puppet pal, Seymore, the Bookworm (created and manipulated by the show's resident cartoonist Brumsic Brandon, AKA Mr. BB). Informational segments and interviews with guest personalities were also regularly seen.
The show was successful with NYC kids and received praise from critics and educators alike. "Time For Joya" remained on the air until Sunday, October 3, 1971.
By this time, TV censor groups like Peggy Charren's Action For Children's Television wanted television stations to create and produce what they considered to be better quality educational kiddie shows. As a result, Ch. 11 moved "Time For Joya" to a weekday morning timeslot and the format was revamped from a kid's variety show to a half-hour educational series - which Joya Sherrill hosted without a studio audience.
The series was seen weekday mornings under its new title "Joya's Fun School" from Monday, January 2, 1972 to Friday, March 27, 1972.
After it's short time on the air, the station execs at Ch. 11 decided not to tape any new episodes of "Time For Joya" and they simply reran the existing shows on Friday afternoons from Friday, April 7, 1972 until some time in 1982.
After Ms. Sherrill left WPIX in the 1970s, she went on to work on other projects. She hosted another kid's TV show in the Middle East during the 1980s - until military and political situations there became too dangerous and she and her family were forced to leave.
Sadly, video tapes of "Time For Joya" and "Joya's Fun School" are lost to history.
Hi, former kids! Remember me? I was Mr BB on the Time for Joya show!
Now that I am retired and living in Florida much of my time is spent writing, dabbling and remembering a lot of good times ... especially the good times we had doing the time for Joya show. Here are a few of my remembrances. I hope they will enhance your memories of a wonderful childhood.
Brumsic Brandon Jr.
First things first
While I was gradually bringing my 14 year stint in a New York City animation studio to an end so I could devote more time and attention to my newly syndicated comic strip, Luther, I got a telephone call from Joya Sherrill. The Joya Sherrill! Being a Jazz fan and therefore being familiar with Ellingtonia, I was deeply moved!
Joya told me that I had been highly recommended and that she called to inquire about my availability to illustrate fairy tales and other stories that she would tell on her brand new children's TV show for WPIX-TV. How could I not be available? At a hastily arranged meeting with Joya and some WPIX officials, I apparently impressed them with my experience and my samples because I got what Joya described to me as an "easy gig."
I wouldn't even have to come to the studio. She could tell me the story on the telephone and I could send in the illustrations by messenger. I was delighted! A little later it was decided that I should be on camera for "a couple of shows" so the audience would know who does the art work.
At the time kids were on the show and during my "couple of appearances" it was noticed that kids "took to me." Therefore I became a regular and had a segment on each show.
Still later I started doing the puzzle art and did the voice over for the Mr. Mix-up segment.
Joya was easy to work with, I discovered right away, and she always displayed a reassuring appreciation for everything I did.
Our little team began to "click" much sooner than anyone had reason to anticipate. From the start we seemed to be able to anticipate each other's thoughts and actions and that made it an "easy gig."
"Mr BB" - The Name
Joya and I had never met prior to our making these work arrangements but she called me "Mr BB" immediately. And she did it so matter-of-factly it seemed perfectly logical. There were no time consuming conferences to choose the right name as had been the case with "Luther", my comic strip. Luther Henderson was "The Professor" on Time for Joya before I came on the scene so I'm not sure, but I'll bet he was dubbed just as readily as I was. Joya called me Mr BB, I was comfortable with it and that was that.
Seymour, the Bookworm
When a requirement for a "one show" appearance of a Book Worm character arose. It seemed to all of us that a puppet would be perfect. Making the puppet in time for the next show became my hurry up assignment. That evening I discussed the project with my wife, a first grade teacher, and together with the assistance of her sewing machine and some scraps of felt we created Seymour, the Bookworm.
Automatically, I became it's voice and puppeteer. Seymour's popularity surprised everyone and the "one show" guest puppet stayed so busy it was almost constantly in need of repairs. Today Seymour, tattered and worn, rests comfortably in a box of my archives in an air conditioned storage facility.
The Professor, Luther Henderson
The professor, Luther Henderson, and I became good buddies during those years and we shared a lot of laughs.
Luther was more articulate by way of the piano than many of us are with words. He was constantly "noodling" (playing bits and pieces of various songs) and if one listened carefully he was actually commenting on what was happening in the studio.
One day Richard, Joya's husband, came to the studio door and tried urgently to get Joya's attention. Joya was engrossed in a discussion with some of the crew and didn't notice Richard at all. Luther switched from whatever he was "noodling" and played a few bars of "Open the Door, Richard" and the contact Richard sought was made instantly.
Never did I have a conversation with Luther about the show in which he didn't mention how surprised and grateful he was that the "easy gig" was still running.
From time to time, due to Broadway show commitments, Luther had a substitute. On one such occasion the piano keys were being repaired and when Luther's substitute, Junior Mance, came into the studio and saw that almost every other key of the keyboard was missing, he gasped the biggest gasp I have ever heard.
Then, with enormous resolve he tackled the task at hand. How he did it is beyond me but much to his credit he played that piano magnificently despite its serious shortcomings.
Years later I ran into Junior Mance again on a Jazz cruise and I asked him if he remembered that episode. He laughed heartily and thanked me for reminding him.
One of my fondest memories of taping Joya's Fun School was when Duke Ellington was our guest.
I had a subject I had been anxious to bring up to him since I was a freshman in High School. I had an art teacher then who had also taught the Duke and he loved to brag about it.
He would regale the class with wonderful stories about Edward Ellington and what a gifted art student he was. For many years I harbored a burning desire to raise that subject if I were ever fortunate enough to meet the Duke.
When he came into the studio to tape a guest appearance on Joya's Fun School I finally got to ask, "Duke, do you remember the name of your high school art teacher?" Without hesitation, Duke responded, "Of course. That was Mr. Dodson!" With enormous pride I told Duke that I had been taught by the same Mr. Dodson, who was so very fond of telling Ellington stories.
Duke's answer satisfied my need to have Mr. Dodson's memories confirmed and it made me wonder how Duke could remember with such alacrity. I was mightily impressed!
Later, on camera, the Duke told the kids that he and Mr BB "went to school together." Luther Henderson and I looked at each in disbelief. I thoroughly enjoyed that moment with the quietest belly laugh I have ever had.
Mr. Dodson must have taught Duke Ellington very early in his teaching career and me just before his retirement. (My mother and Duke Ellington were about the same age.) I think Duke's faux pas ended up on the cutting room floor.
On the same show I was honored when I got to draw a picture with the Duke. He would draw one thing and I would draw something else that was separate but related. Thanks to my wife's tenacity in a tug of war with an Ellington agent, the drawing is still ours. That composite work of art is now framed and is proudly displayed periodically in my home.
Mr. Dodson would have been very pleased with both of us, former students, I am sure.
Oh, No! What'll We Do?
Panic was about to take over the studio once when the hour grew later and later and the bus bringing a load of studio guest kids was unaccounted for. The decision was made quickly to send someone from the staff outside to invite kid passersby in to be on the show.
Soon the studio was full of excited kids and the venue in which parents could watch the taping was packed. I'm not sure how many times we got studio guests that way but I think it was more than once.
Mr BB International?
In London, England, my wife and I were about to embark on a motor coach tour of Europe. We were standing in the lobby of the hotel where we were guests when a lady walked up behind me and asked, with a "Natasha-like" accent, "aren't you Mr BB?" I could hardly believe my ears! My overactive imagination was about to run away with me!
Before it did, I learned that the lady and her husband were members of the same tour group as we, they were from New York City and their young son, who was not traveling with them, was a big fan of Time for Joya.
Joya was quite correct. Time for Joya was indeed an "easy gig" and I believe that was true because all of us, especially Joya, The Professor and Mr BB, respected each other highly and we loved what we were doing. I thoroughly enjoyed being apart of that wonderful experience and I wish we could do it all again.
Thanks Joya! And thank you, kids!
- Brumsic Brandon Jr.
(These are the only known
recordings of Joya's programs)
Joya talks with the kids and her guest, the peerless Duke Ellington. It's the episode referred to by Brumsic Brandon Jr. above!
Duke Ellington great answers questions from the kids in the audience and reminisces about his childhood growing up in Washington, DC.
At one point, Joya thanks Duke for getting up at 8:00am to be on the show. Sir Duke replied, "Eight O'clock in the morning... one never gets up. One only stays up."
This segment offers a rare opportunity to hear Ellington play (and Joya sing) 'Heritage' from Duke's score for the theatrical production "My People." 'My People' was performed only once, in 1963, but Ellington touted this as one of his proudest achievements.
Despite some new, critically acclaimed works and a heavy touring schedule, this was a sad time for Ellington. He lost one of his closest collaborators when Johnny Hodges died earlier in the year, on May 11, 1970.
With the death of Billy Strayhorn three years earlier and the retirement of several key band members, some believe the Duke began to lose his enthusiasm somewhat during this period. Ellington was 71 at the time of this interview, he died in 1974.
Time For Joya's sterling musical director (known as "the Professor") Luther Henderson was featured on this program also, that's him playing the incidental music. These guys had a long history together - Ellington famously called upon Henderson to 'classicalise' his music for major productions like "Black, Brown and Beige" in 1945. Ellington was working on another of his major works in 1970, the Grammy-winning 'New Orleans Suite.'
Henderson was the musical director for the 1982 TV special 'Ain't Misbehavin',' for which he received an Emmy nomination and was nominated twice for Tony Awards. In 1997, he contributed to "Play On," a Broadway musical comprised of songs by Duke Ellington. He died in August of 2003.
The second segment begins with Duke Ellington attempting to tell the story of the Three Bears. But he's a little fuzzy on the details, so the kids straighten him out.
Ellington is very warm and funny as he verbally riffs with the preschoolers and hostess Joya, intentionally messing up the story for subtle comic effect. He also shares an easel later with the show's resident artist (Brumsic Brandon or or Mr BB), drawing pictures that the kid's requested. How priceless is that?
The ending of 'Time for Joya'. Joya says good-bye to her former employer and mentor Duke Ellington and sings "Good-bye, See You Next Sunday."
:Joya's Fun School:
Opening segment to 'Joya's Fun School', as recorded March of 1982 - ten years after the production was originally filmed. Mr. Bebe was her assistant on this show. Sponsored in 1982 by 'Crayon Girl.'
Segment two begins with one of the regular features - Joya singing hello to the kids at home, listing off names in a similar fashion to Romper Room's magic mirror segment.
If you're like me and never saw these shows originally, I think you'll agree these clips are a breath of fresh air and a wonderful discovery - providing some nice insight into Duke Ellington's later years when TV appearances were very rare.
Joya Sherrill died in 2010.
Thanks to our friend Mike Taylor you can hear an episode of "Joya's Fun School" taped from an actual broadcast (see below). He also provided the photo.
"Joya's Fun School" ran on Fridays in the same timeslot as "The Magic Garden" from 1972 until September of 1982. In September of 1982 it moved to a 6:00 AM Saturday morning timeslot until the last episode was shown on the first Saturday of December, 1982.
- Mike Taylor
* The first African/American performer to host a kid's TV show was on WPIX TV Ch. 11 in NYC - Scoey Mitchell as Fireman Frank on the last version of "Let's Have Fun" from Sunday, September 10, 1967 to Sunday, June 2, 1968.
"I was a little past the age of appreciating Joya's Fun School when it aired, but those who do remember the show and the kindly, fun-loving lady who hosted should know that she was Joya Sherrill and, before she became a player in the New York children's show milieu, she was at one time one of the most-often heard singing voices in the United States.
"It was her voice which propelled Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning To See The Light" into a radio hit in the 1940s; she was a member of the Ellington band in the couple of years when the Duke kept three girl singers on the payroll for different styles (Marie Ellington - the future Mrs. Nat King Cole - and Kay Davis were the others). Sherrill left a lasting impression on Ellington; he wrote of her "I'm Beginning To See The Light" recording with the band, "It is a tribute to her diction and her articulation that, whenever we play it today [by the time he wrote, the piece was in the band's book strictly as an instrumental], audiences everywhere seem to know the words."
"I have a question, however. There was a New York children's host in the early 1960s whose afternoon show included a charming piece of silent comedy based loosely on the legendary clown Emmett Kelly, Jr.
"This character, Mr. Rags, invariably performed his routines to a lovely little semi-jazz number, a shivery-sounding clarinet in the style of Mr. Acker ("Stranger On The Shore") Bilk with a mesh of pizzicato and pure bowed strings. In fact, I'm convinced this recording may have been Mr. Acker Bilk himself with the Leon Young String Chorale, the same ensemble who helped him make "Stranger On The Shore" the first British record to top the American charts (it's true; sorry, fellow Beatles fans, he beat the moptops by two years to the top in the colonies!) - my memory is that it's the same soft, loping semi-swing style of the other hit. But I cannot for the life of me recall the name of the song to which Mr. Rags performed. The "hook" line of the tune usually involved the shivery clarinet playing a lovely trio of climb-descending triplets and punctuating it with a middle C, followed by a bassoon playing the same bit, ending each chorus.
"I believe Mr. Rags was a character developed by Fred Hall (Sandy Becker, of course, had the charmingly loopy Norton Nork for silent comedy, and it was brilliant), but I am not entirely sure. Aside from Mr. Rags's charming silent comedy, the music is one of those pieces before which I - yes, I am one of those creatures, for better or worse, even today - I am powerless to stop tears, it touches me so. (It required every drop of what little courage or strength a small boy could muster to hide this from my parents, since when I was unable to hide it, I usually got slapped across the mouth. Subsequently I could not bring myself to reveal this trait of mine to anyone else for many years.)
"I am convinced the recording was by Bilk and the Young ensemble (likely on the Atco label) and I would love to know its actual title. The only thing I know where it does not appear is on the 'Stranger On The Shore' album, a copy of which I owned for many years. And I would love to hear it one more time."
- Jeff Kallman
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