Friday, March 5, 2010

Helen Wooten

There are a lot of things I love about Chicago. The Chicago Reader is one of them.  I hate the backwards R logo, but everything else about it is pretty fantastic.  For those unfamiliar with this weekly paper, it's free in the city and provides a variety of local news from where to eat to what to listen to.      

It also has pretty fabulous cover stories.  This year's Feb. 11th edition is my new favorite cover ever,  replacing my former fav, the Obama victory cover, which infamously featured a cartoon portrait of the newly elected president and a caption that read "Don't Screw This Up". 

Here is the photo from the cover...
The title read "The woman on the right

It instantly caught my eye.  The three 
women looked really cool and I LOVED the
"Princess Leia" hair.  It all sucked me in and I wanted to know who exactly was Helen Wooten?

Wooten is an entertainment promoter who was heavily involved with the south side club scene in the 70's and 80's.  She was an original investor in the Jackson Five and helped Teddy Pendergrass achieve stardom.  She has been well known amongst black celebrities since the 1960's, from Muhammad Ali to Will Smith.  She is currently working on telling her story so the rest of the world can know about the crazy awesome life she has led. 

Wooten is a self made woman.  Getting her start booking R&B acts as a teenager she worked tirelessly for her success.  Her original investment in the Jackson Five was a result of saving years of paychecks from various odd jobs all before graduating high school.   Before achieving financial stability from her booking and club work, she balanced motherhood and "regular" jobs.  It took her years to gain the freedom to rely on the entertainment industry as a stable source of income. 

Before I say more about Helen, I think I should explain what has happened to my life in the past month.  Kelly made her stand up debut about a month ago and nothing has been the same for us since.
Life has been so fun!  We have made great new friends and entertaining nights out have not been lacking.  Spending time with people so passionate about their art has been really good for me.  Especially when it's in a form that I really enjoy.  I love how good stand up requires a lot of intelligence, yet its delivery relies on simplicity.  Pretension does not reign supreme in the comedy scene.

There are a lot of comics out there who have taken huge risks to do what they love.  This is where I think Helen can be an inspiration for people trying to make their way off the beaten path.  Her passion was there even when the security of what she was doing was not.  The night the cover photo was taken was Valentine's Day 1976.  Three days before, she and her boyfriend were shot by some men who had broken into her home.  She is at the club because she had invested a lot of money for a show that was going to be done by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the band that made Teddy Pendergrass a celebrity. Wooten had helped them get their start and she had a lot riding on their performance.  She had to leave the hospital to make sure the show went on because the Blue Notes were on the verge of breaking up and if the night was a bust her career could have gone with it.  She checked herself out of the hospital, bullet wound and all, solidifying her as a devoted professional.

We are used to hearing stories about different men who have done whatever it takes to get to the top of their various fields, especially when it comes to any kind of entertainment work.  Wooten should be considered in their ranks.  She was good at what she did, a fact no one questions. It wasn't overnight success, but the kind of success that lasts and is worthwhile.

Since I'm still figuring out what is my life's passion, I am always envious of those who know exactly what it is that makes them complete.  I recognize this makes people a little crazy (checking yourself out of a hospital with a bullet wound is a bit out of control) but the idea of being regular sounds terrible to me.  There are so many different ways to be unique.  I feel like I'm a little bit lazy for not devoting all of myself to something.  I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually but for now I'm happy to know creative people and to recognize how inspiring someone like Wooten is. 

I think once her story is told it will help shed some much needed truth on the way the music world was shaped back in the early days of R&B.   A lot of credit has yet to be awarded to people who were first on the scene and what really went on.  After reading the article accompanying her photo, an intriguing bit of information is the fact that her "Princess Leia" hair predated the Star Wars movies by more than a year.  She wasn't following the trends but starting them.  Maybe we would refer to Carry Fisher as wearing "Helen Wooten" hair if we had known who she was.  You never know.


  1. Hey Ms. Jones, Helen is my 2nd mom and she is truly an incredible, warm , giving(most times too much) women, mother, metor, prayer partner and friend. I am part of her history and ultimately will be part of her book, movie or whatever her story leads. You will enjoy her and probably will be friends with her from now on.
    Anthony "BigAnt" Mitchell

  2. Hi Anthony! Thank you so much for commenting! So cool that you found my blog! I was definitely taken by Helen's story and I can't wait to learn more about her!
    Julia (My last name is Olson actually, Calista Jones is the woman who inspired my blog!!)

  3. To my friend and wonderful wife, I am so proud to have been apart of your journey Helen, most don't understand how truly Great! you are, and how many lives you have enriched, and opportunities you have provided, Know! I will always Love You!

    Thank you for all you are to me and for being mine