Felix Grant, 74, a radio host who entertained and educated Washington jazz lovers for more than 40 years and who helped introduce bossa nova and reggae to American audiences, died of liver cancer Oct. 12 at his home in Washington.
His nightly "Album Sound" program was broadcast on radio station WMAL for three decades, one of the longest stints in the business, before it went off the air in 1984. Along the way, Mr. Grant nurtured the careers of uncounted young musicians by introducing their records to Washington and playing them regularly. Since 1987, his Saturday "World of Jazz" program on WDCU-FM continued as a showcase for new talent.
"The Album Sound" gave Washington its first regular exposure to jazz and was the first radio program in the country to feature Brazilian music. Many credit Mr. Grant for the craze for bossa nova that began in the United States in the 1960s.
In 1974, Mr. Grant became acquainted with reggae and traveled to Jamaica to record performances by Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and other reggae innovators. He later played the tapes on his program, creating an audience for reggae here.
Mr. Grant's popularity as a jazz broadcaster on a middle-of-the-road AM station was an anomaly at a time when jazz was virtually unheard on AM radio and little broadcast by FM stations.
But jazz was popular on college campuses and in urban neighborhoods, and his appeal here proved broad. His program came to be regarded as a cultural common ground at a time when there were no black-owned radio stations.
"The Album Sound" kept cabdrivers company at night and wafted into bars and living rooms all over the area. Mr. Grant's theme song, "Tenderly," signaled the start of study hours for many students. He claimed to have dozens of versions of "Tenderly."
He played everything from blues and boogie to mainstream popular singers such as Nat "King" Cole, programming music that could please a wide variety of listeners. He gave Washington its first taste of artists such as Mose Allison, George Benson and other newcomers but made sure that there was a good measure of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other international stars.
"He had an incomparable sense of timing, of when to play what," said pianist John Eaton, a fixture on the Washington jazz scene who was one of many musicians whose work Mr. Grant promoted. "You would listen to one thing, and it would not necessarily be your cup of tea. But he would make you stay on to see what was next."
Eaton called Mr. Grant "a member of a very, very small group of truly great broadcasters and cultural figures" who was "far greater than a local phenomenon. . . . He broadened in a major way the audience for jazz music and for good music generally. He didn't just preach to the converted. He was a force for good, because he brought a lot of listeners into the fold."
Washington area guitarist Charlie Byrd, one of the foremost American interpreters of Brazilian jazz, said his first exposure to the music was through Mr. Grant's "Album Sound." "I heard it on his program and went to Brazil," Byrd said. Mr. Grant "brought the international community into jazz in a way that no other deejay did."
"If you made a list of all the people whose early careers he had something to do with, it would be a very long list," said Byrd, who broadcast a television program with Mr. Grant on WMAL during the 1950s.
Felix Grant was a native of New York and an early aficionado of music on the radio. "All the guys I went to school with knew all the lineups of the Giants and the Yankees," he told Washington Post staff writer Ken Ringle in an interview in 1989. "I knew none of that. But I knew bands and music and songs. I had this radio thing right from the beginning."
After being cited for heroism in the South Pacific while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, he was sent on a tour of defense plants to give motivational talks to workers. He told Ringle that the experience polished his public speaking and in 1945 led to a regular spot as the emcee of a weekly radio program in Washington, featuring a women's Coast Guard band.
That in turn led to an offer from radio station WWDC for an announcing job. Then one of only six stations in the city and Washington's only 24-hour station, WWDC catered to white audiences during the day, but at night, "it became essentially a black station, playing jazz and rhythm and blues and the rest," Mr. Grant recalled. "The nighttimes were great."
He took on remote broadcast assignments and became part of the burgeoning night scene in Washington. The many nightclubs attracted jazz musicians from all over the country, and there was jazz to be had every evening of the week, said Mr. Grant, who broadcast his own all-night show for more than two years.
In 1953, he took a 50 percent cut in pay to go to WMAL, where he saw greater career possibilities. The station managers were leery of jazz, which they viewed as too cerebral or too ethnic for broad audiences. But Mr. Grant, whose careful delivery and quiet erudition were often in contrast with the music he played, said he dealt with them in the beginning "by never using the word 'jazz.' I would play Sinatra, who was very big then, but I would play the hipper things that Sinatra did that nobody else was playing."
"The Album Sound" evolved into a kind of ongoing course in music appreciation, based on considerable pre-show research by Mr. Grant and augmented by appearances by visiting jazz musicians. Mr. Grant amassed a collection of more than 22,000 recordings and books. They are forming the basis of an archive at the University of the District of Columbia, along with interviews with jazz artists taped by Mr. Grant during 40 years.
He had also steeped himself in the life and music of Washington native Duke Ellington, whose work was a regular feature of his programs. Some of the 150 Ellington records Mr. Grant gave to the Smithsonian were part of the exhibit on the composer and orchestra leader at the National Museum of American History this year.
For years, "The Album Sound" was a top-rated program in Washington, surviving the burgeoning popularity of rock-and-roll. "The Album Sound" was rebroadcast, minus its commercials, by Armed Forces Radio to troops in Vietnam and was syndicated in the United States for a time. Mr. Grant lectured on jazz in forums outside radio, hosted jazz festivals and participated in international tours for the State Department and other sponsors.
But as the national popularity of jazz began to slip and as Washington's radio scene became crowded with the many offshoots of popular music, ratings of "The Album Sound" began to fall. In 1979, WMAL announced plans to cancel the program after 25 years on the air.
The outpouring of public protest made the station reverse itself and apologize to listeners. "We made a huge mistake, a horrendous mistake," WMAL Executive Vice President Andrew Ockershausen said. But five years later, after increasing preempting of "The Album Sound" for sports events, WMAL pulled the program without notice, and there were fewer protests.
That he was able to broadcast jazz on a mainstream station for so long "was a rarity," said Reuben Jackson, an archivist with the Smithsonian's Duke Ellington Collection who grew up listening to "The Album Sound" and credits Mr. Grant with his foundation in jazz. Stations increasingly depend on predictable playlists of popular music, not on the programming skills of music experts, Jackson said.
Mr. Grant broadcast on radio station WRC-AM after leaving WMAL in 1984, and joined WDCU in 1987. He was featured regularly on Saturday afternoons until June 26.
His honors included Brazil's highest award for a foreigner, the Order of the Southern Cross; awards from the D.C. government that included plaques, proclamations and the designation of a "Felix Grant Day" in 1985 in the city and in the state of Virginia; and the naming of a music-radio library at the University of Jamaica.
He was chairman of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute and president of Partners of Brasilia.
Survivors include his wife of 39 years, June Grant, of Washington; two brothers, Peter Grant of New York and Raymond Grant of Yonkers, N.Y.; and a sister, Mary Smith of New York.
RICHARD P. BURKE
Richard P. Burke, 54, a senior program officer with the Agency for International Development, died of cancer Oct. 11 at his home in Falls Church. He had lived in the Washington area off and on since 1969.
After joining AID in 1969, he was an area development officer in Vietnam, where he managed a land reform program. He was later a program officer in Turkey and Nepal and a program chief in Eqypt, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Mr. Burke was a native of Boston and a graduate of Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J. He served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala before joining AID.
Mr. Burke, a member of the senior Foreign Service who worked on a number of disaster relief efforts, was given the AID Distinguished Honor Award.
He was a member of the American Foreign Service Association.
Survivors include his wife, Hoa Thuy, and three children, Laura, Joan and Bruce Burke, all of Falls Church; and four brothers, Thomas Burke of Worcester, Mass., Robert Burke of Chicago, James Burke of Lynn, Mass., and William Burke of Buffalo.
Herman Olefsky, 81, a retired musician who played clarinet and saxophone, died Sept. 29 at Holy Cross Hospital after a heart attack.
Mr. Olefsky, a resident of Silver Spring, was born in Chicago. He moved to the Washington area in the 1930s and began his professional career here with the National Symphony Orchestra. Later, he performed with the National Art Gallery Orchestra. From the late 1940s through the 1970s, he played in orchestras at musical shows at the National and Schubert theaters, Carter Baron Ampitheatre and the Kennedy Center. He also had played at the White House and at baseball games at Griffith Stadium. He was a life member of the D.C. Federation of Musicians.
He also had been a machinist with the U.S. Postal Service for about 15 years before retiring in 1983.
His wife of 49 years, the former Clara Winik, died in 1986. Survivors include two daughters, Ellyn Bache of Wilmington, N.C., and Judy Vance of Silver Spring; three brothers, Sam Olefsky of Chicago, Sol Olefsky of Des Plaines, Ill., and Alvin Olefsky of Urbana, Ill.; and six grandchildren.