Marion “Boo” Frazier was a giant in this thing of ours. He was my mentor and he died last weekend. The buzz amongst vets on the Interwebs was that he was sick and in need of prayer. I passed on the prayers, and instead chose to call him. Always the optimist, who was heard from time to time to say, “Everybody got to have a man, and you mine,” he assured me he was fine, and told me not to worry. Like a promotion man who was working a record with little opportunity to become a hit, he made me feel good about his chances, but less than a week later he died anyway.
I met him when I was still a green kid, and a part-time disc jockey at the dual AM/FM property, WEAL/WQMG, Greensboro, NC in early 1982. He was passing through doing what he did… getting records played. Later that same year, I would return to Soul City and begin a career in records myself by joining the promotion staff of Sugar Hill Records. The label’s studio and offices were located on what was then West Street, and has since been renamed after Sugar Hill founder and Black Music legend, Sylvia Robinson. This was one block west of Dizzy Gillespie Place, a street named after the great John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, the Bebop architect, trumpeter, a resident of Soul City and older cousin to Boo Frazier.
Two blocks east of Dizzy’s street, A&M Records kept a low key, two room office from where Boo was a key Black Music operative for the label for a decade and a half. On the wall of his private domain were pictures of Boo and Dizzy, Boo and Johnny Carson, Boo and Quincy Jones, Boo and Nancy Regan, Boo and The Police, Boo and… His life was a living example of the places Black Music could take you, and he was a living link from the independent mom and pop days, AM radio, and the chitlin circuit to the corporate-backed Black Pop that was heard on stereo FM. Over the thirty plus years that I knew Boo, I found myself in that office, as often as my time would allow, soaking up the knowledge of the promotion man’s craft that would eventually lead to a shot and success as an A&R man.
Boo’s story began when he was a teenager. During the Eisenhower administration, there’d been some political unrest and unease in Turkey, and the great Harlem political don, and US Congressman, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., arranged through the US State Department to have Dizzy play the region as a goodwill ambassador. Dizzy agreed to go and brought Quincy Jones as the band’s musical director and Boo as a personal valet.
Thus began the career of one of the most storied behind the scenes string pullers in the history of Black Music. In different stops along the way, Frazier eventually worked as an independent operative, owned his own label and worked for A&M, the legendary diskery founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Frazier was involved in the careers of The Beatles, Black Ivory, The Brothers Johnson, Jeffrey Osborne, Atlantic Starr, L.T.D., Janet Jackson, The Police and yours truly. I was just one of the many executives groomed and guided by Boo. My old friend Ed Eckstine, the first Black president of one of the US major labels was another. Please find below Ed’s tribute to our mutual friend and mentor. For now, I’ll just leave it to one of the pros.
In the summer of 1974, Quincy Jones hired me to work for his budding production company in an untitled capacity, “just find shit that needs to be done, if you do it wrong, remember what you did wrong and don’t do it again,” he said. Those were my initial marching orders and I carried them out well (at least I thought so for the better portion of 10 years.) He had just released his album “Body Heat” and it became quickly apparent that he needed me to interface with the various departments of his distributor, A&M Records, carry the word of his new musical and entrepreneurial direction to the media, (black press in particular) and interface with Black Radio, trumpeting the laurels of “Body Heat” and all things “Q”.
I was working for him less than a week when he handed me a phone number and said, “Call this man, he will teach you every thing you need to know.” A truly Herculean task considering my inexperience and shortcomings. That man was Marion “Boo” Frazier, cousin to Dizzy Gillespie, ace partner to Quincy, Griot, and Yoda-like figure when it came to matters relative to the record (particularly Black) business, and my personal Mr. Miyagi if there ever was one. 4 days ago the great Harry Coombs, the legendary promotion man who broke The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, and The Intruders for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, posted on Facebook that he had heard that Boo wasn’t well and he needed a number to contact him. I called the insideplaya who also holds Boo close to his heart and he hit me with the number. The playa told me to call him as word was that Boo wasn’t well, but that when he reached out to him, his wife Brenda put him on the phone and Boo told him”I’m fine MF’er, what’s wrong with y’all ?!@!” Nevertheless, the playa said call him, he had asked for me, and he felt he was masking his infirmities. I said I would, but as someone who battles the demon of procrastination I told myself I would reach out to him tomorrow morning while ensconced on the couch watching football.
A couple of hours ago I read the “the news today, oh boy” in the fond remembrances of fellow record warrior Al Marks (former sales exec for A&M Records) here on FB about the passing of “The Boo-man”. I learned so much from him, about radio, retail. the juke box business, the importance of impacting a market when pushing a particular project whether I was in a town 30 minutes or 30 days. Wise, caring, insightful, funny, guiding, sweet & kind are words that only begin to describe him, with some of the most amazing stories of triumphs and defeats with a galvanizing lesson in them all.
At Quincy’s behest he was the first person that Herb Alpert, Jerry Moss, and Harold Childs hired when they decided (or were pushed) to assemble a Black Music promotion staff in 1975 and he immediately became a guru to all who were in his midst. When I first became President of Mercury Records, David Weyner, then head of the Classics and Jazz division, shared with me that he was having problems with getting exposure at Jazz and Adult Black Radio and did I have any thoughts. Just one; Boo Frazier, and he proceeded to put points on the board Jordan style much to David’s satisfaction. A saline stream of love flows from my eyes as I think of him and hope his transition was peaceful. He always signed off when we spoke with his favorite catchphrase / ‘Boo-ism’: “Back to the pro’s baby, back to the pro’s”..Sleep peacefully with those angels, I was blessed to have known you and receive your wisdom Boo. R.I.P.