When it comes to radio and music, there are certain individuals who are great, and then there are those who come along and set the bar so high that they become iconic and legendary. Sadly, Houston just lost one of the most iconic figures to ever grace the radio airwaves of Houston.
Legendary radio veteran, community advocate, producer, promoter, manager and businessman, Skipper Lee Frazier, known for his signature voice and “Mountain of Soul” trademark, has passed away at the age of 89. He died this past Saturday, October 15, at his home surrounded by family members. Since 1954, until his death, Frazier has been involved with radio in Houston, and has served in various capacities, from disc jockey to ownership.
Frazier excelled beyond just merely being a radio personality. He was one of the greatest to ever grace the radio airwaves, but was also a successful businessman and one of the most successful music promoters to come out of the Greater Houston area.
“Skipper Lee was a true inspiration to me and was like the older big brother you never had,” said legendary sports talk show host Ralph Cooper. “The very first time I was on the radio was on his show, and he would bring me on his show on Fridays to predict football games. I was writing for the Forward Times at the time, and because of him I gained confidence to be a better broadcaster.”
Cooper emphasized how positive and encouraging Frazier was with everybody, and how he pushed people to do things that they could not see themselves doing.
“Although he was a local giant here in Houston, he always reached back and helped people,” said Cooper. “He included everybody on his program, including business owners and just regular members of the community. He also helped numerous local musicians and gave them exposure to show their talents across the country, like Archie Bell & The Drells. He will be truly missed.”
Another legendary disc jockey and signature voice talent, Don Sam, chimed in on Frazier’s passing.
“I remember meeting Skipper Lee in Barrett Station when I was about 13 years old and helping him bring his music in,” said Sam. “I remember cutting commercials with him and doing his drops on KWWJ. It was quite the journey to say the least and I will miss him much.”
From the time he was born on July 31, 1927, in the small Texas town of Magnolia Springs, TX, Frazier was an active and busy man. After finishing high school in Orange, TX, his father wanted him to study to become a doctor, so he went on to study at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. Frazier never wanted to become a doctor, so he decided to start taking some business courses. He gained a healthy appreciation for business ownership. After completing a certificate in tailoring, Frazier went into business for himself in Orange, making and selling clothes. Because most of his customers were in the construction business, however, he soon learned that they did not have enough spare money to buy his clothing because of the extended bouts of bad weather they had experienced over a several month period, causing him to shut down the business and do something else.
Frazier eventually found his way to Houston, and while working at Finger Furniture Company, he realized he wasn’t making much progress so he decided to apply for a job at the post office. While working at the post office for several years, he found himself listening to the radio one day and heard that a school for disc jockeys was opening in Houston. Frazier enrolled and finished the course, and after receiving his certificate, he learned that there was an opening at the legendary KYOK 1590 AM. A friend of his recommended him to the station owners, and while visiting his mother in Magnolia Springs, he received a phone call from his friend asking him if he wanted to be a disc jockey on KYOK. He hurried back to Houston, applied for the job and was hired as a part-time weekend disc jockey. Frazier worked on Sundays, all the way from 6 am to midnight. He would play gospel music in the morning, R&B in the afternoon and jazz at night. Frazier also had two radio personality names. In the morning and at night he went by the radio handle Lee Frazier, but during the afternoon he went by “Hip Skipper,” and that is when he became more and more popular. It was during that time that Frazier did record hops and talent shows, which eventually led him to manage many of Houston’s up-and-coming talents.
After working weekends at KYOK for three years, Frazier applied for a full-time job at KCOH radio, after they heard him doing his thing on KYOK for years. KCOH eventually hired him and he took over the 3 pm drive-time slot, which is when he began using his “Mountain of Soul” trademark theme song. It went like this:
“Skipper Lee, tell us your story. When did you come to Houston and why? This is my story. Last night as I tried to sleep, it seemed I could hear voices. These voices kept telling me, ‘Skipper Lee, steal away and carry a mountain of soul to Houston.’ Over and over again I kept hearing those voices. So I called my mother and I kissed her goodbye. I called my father in and shook his hand. As I walked out the door with my bags in my hand, I knelt down and kissed my little sister. Then I began the long, lonesome journey to carry a mountain of soul to Houston because I could not ignore those voices. Over and over again I kept hearing those voices. ‘Skipper Lee, steal away and carry a mountain of soul to Houston.’ Have mercy, have mercy. So here I am Houston! Here I am, Houston! I’ve brought a mountain of soul to this city. Have mercy, have mercy.”
Frazier came on every day with that signature trademark and it elevated him to one of the most popular radio personalities in Houston. His career in radio eventually led to his involvement in the music recording industry, where he set the bar for himself as manager, producer and promoter of several successful acts out of Houston, such as the Masters of Soul, Beau Williams (who was known then as Bobo Mr. Soul), the TSU (Texas State University) Toronadoes, as well as managing the group Archie Bell & the Drells, who became well-known for their 1968 gold number one R&B hit “Tighten Up,” written and produced by Frazier.
“Tighten Up” brought national acclaim to the city of Houston, and throughout Frazier’s association with the music industry, he was afforded the opportunity to promote shows for renowned artists such as James Brown, B. B. King, the O’Jays and Wes Montgomery. Frazier also became an extremely close friend of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Through his involvement in both radio and music management, he became the producer, promoter, booking agent and master of ceremonies of the KOOL Jazz Festival. The KOOL Jazz Festival was presented in several cities across the country and turned out to be a resounding success. He also hosted his very own television variety show titled “The Skipper Lee Show,” as well as ran an advertising business and operated budget motels. Then after a 55-year career, Frazier captured his iconic life in his very own autobiography entitled, “The Man Who Brought a Mountain of Soul to Houston, Texas: Autobiography of a Disc Jockey.”
Frazier eventually purchased a funeral home, which is known all across the city as Eternal Rest Funeral Home. After being out of radio for some years, Frazier eventually went back into radio as a gospel disc jockey on KWWJ Gospel 1360AM.
Frazier was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame on October 30, 2004 in San Antonio, TX, and donated all of his radio memorabilia, music and music contracts to the University of Texas Music Department.
The Celebration of Life and Homegoing Service for Skipper Lee Frazier will be at Jones Memorial at 11 a.m. on Friday, October 21, 2016. He will lie in state from 12-9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, with wakes on both days from 6-9 p.m. at Eternal Rest Funeral Home located at 4610 South Wayside, Houston, Texas 77087.
Expressions of sympathy may be sent to:
Sister Joyce Frazier & Family
4606 Wilmington St.
Houston, TX 77051
The Forward Times wishes to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Skipper Lee Frazier, and we celebrate the legacy he has left us all here in Houston.