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Jones, Bobby(1938–) - Television show host, musician, Chronology, Pursues Degree in Elementary Education, Enters Teaching Profession

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Gospel music was not popular on television before the advent of Bobby Jones and his TV program Bobby Jones Gospel Hour . In 2004, he celebrated his twenty-fifth season as one of the most popular shows on Black Entertainment Television (BET). As host and executive producer of the number one syndicated gospel television program, seen by millions of viewers, Jones is synonymous with gospel television. Over the years, he established himself as a major principal in the gospel music industry by providing a medium for new talent while reaching a broader audience. Fundamentally, he changed the gospel music industry. An award-winning artist and host of the first and only nationally syndicated African American gospel television show and Video Gospel , Jones has worked with and introduced some of the most noted artists in the industry. Considered an icon in gospel music, Bobby Jones has received numerous awards, including the Grammy, the Gospel Music Association’s (GMA) Dove Award, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Image Award, and the GMA’s Commonwealth Award for outstanding contribution to gospel music, to list only a few.

Born into a family of sharecroppers on September 18, 1938 in Henry, Tennessee, Bobby Jones was the youngest of Jim and Augusta Thorpe Jones’s three children. Delivered by his paternal grandmother, Lydia Jones, he spent his early years in Henry, which is in the western division of the state, just south of Paris, Tennessee. A shy child, Jones was reared in a three-room, wood-framed house, with no electricity or running water, and at times barely enough food to eat. Although his early life was somewhat traumatic because his parents abused alcohol and his father verbally abused him, his paternal grandmother, who was responsible for his formative years and provided a much needed support system, strongly influenced Jones and gave him the love and guidance he needed.

In 1943, Jones began attending Caton Elementary School, which only operated during the winter months, since the spring and fall were reserved for crop harvesting. Caton, an all black, one-room schoolhouse, catered to children in grades one through eight. Because of his ability to read and do mathematical computations, the teacher moved him to the second grade.



Born in Henry, Tennessee on September 18


Graduates from Tennessee A & I State University


Receives M.A. from Tennessee State University


Serves as educational consultant, McGraw-Hill, St. Louis, Missouri


Co-hosts Fun City Five TV show, Nashville, Tennessee


Instructor, Tennessee State University; forms the gospel group Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers


Introduces the Nashville Gospel Music Show , which later becomes Bobby Jones Gospel Hour ; Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers record first album, Sooner or Later on Benson Records


Hosts Bobby Jones’s World , a community-affairs talk show


Receives doctorate from Vanderbilt University; Bobby Jones’s World wins Gabriel Award; Bobby Jones Gospel Hour appears on Black Entertainment Network (BET); Gospel Opera Make a Joyful Noise airs on PBS


Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers win a Grammy for best performance by a black contemporary gospel group for album Soul Set Free; appears in the NBC-TV Movie of the Week Sister, Sister


Receives Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association for the black Contemporary album of the year Come Together; receives Grammy Award for duet with country music singer, Barbara Mandrell, “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today”


Video Gospel premieres on BET


Receives the GMA’s Commonwealth Award for outstanding contribution to gospel music; the Bobby Jones Gospel Explosion is founded


St. Martin’s Press publishes memoir Make a Joyful Noise: My 25 Years in Gospel Music


Receives the Chairman’s Award from BET


Receives Next Level Award at About My Father’s Business conference


Receives the Trumpet Award for Television

Jones attended Central High School in Paris, Tennessee. He walked a mile to meet the school bus by 7:00 A.M. and then rode at least an hour on the back roads as the bus driver picked up other students. Because of his parents’ breakup, the family moved to Paris during his second year of high school. While in high school, Jones participated in extracurricular activities, and he worked as a dishwasher at the Paris Landing State Park restaurant, where he advanced to being a waiter. In the top five of his class, Jones graduated from Central High School in 1955. Influenced by the class valedictorian, who planed to pursue a college degree, Jones decided to do the same.

Pursues Degree in Elementary Education

With the help of his uncle, Johnny Thorpe, who lived in Nashville, Jones entered Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University) in the fall of 1955. Thorpe provided his nephew with a place to stay and paid his tuition. While standing in the registration line to select classes, he struck up a conversation with a fellow student who asked him what major he was going to pursue. It was during this dialogue that the freshman decided to major in elementary education.

While living with his uncle and attending Tennessee A & I, Jones learned to play the piano and became interested in gospel music. Unlike his hometown, which primarily played country music, the radio stations in Nashville played gospel music. With his aunt’s tutelage and his persistent practicing, Jones learned to play a few church songs. Practice paid off when he answered a First Street Baptist Church radio ad seeking a piano player for its Sunday school. Although his repertoire was limited, he was hired. Soon Jones played for the Sunday school and for the senior choir, and later he became responsible for the church’s entire musical department. All of these factors caused Jones to identify with gospel music, which held the path to his future career.

Jones stayed with the Thorpes for approximately nine months, and as promised he repaid his uncle. While there, he worked with his uncle doing construction, played the piano at a number of churches, and waited tables. Although Sundays were full and exciting, Jones had trouble adjusting to college and urban life. He missed family and friends. Those to whom he was closest were still in high school. At the end of the second quarter, he dropped out and returned home to Paris, where he remained until the fall of 1956.

Jones returned to the university when one of his friends and a cousin entered in the fall. Their presence made college bearable for him. They facilitated his reentrance, and they also helped him make the transition to an academic environment. Jones’s grade point average began to improve, and he made the honor roll. Although he made the impulsive decision to major in elementary education as a freshman, he now knew for sure that he wanted to teach and help mold the minds and character of elementary age students. In 1959, at the age of nineteen, Jones graduated from Tennessee A & I State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Enters Teaching Profession

In 1959, Jones began his teaching career at Farragut Elementary School, in St. Louis. Assigned to teach fifth grade students, he found that they were only a few years younger than he. Observing that other teachers were strict disciplinarians, he knew he faced a challenge. The new teacher used music to bring discipline into his classroom by teaching his students to sing in addition to their other coursework. It was an imaginative tactic and it worked well. As he had done in Nashville, Jones found a way to continue his gospel music interest. He affiliated himself with a small Baptist church in Braden, where he played gospel music.

Jones taught in the St. Louis school system for seven years before returning to Nashville to accept a teaching position there. While in St. Louis, Jones pursued a master’s degree. However, the teaching position may not have been the only thing that persuaded Jones to return to Nashville. Crime permeated St. Louis. Being from the rural South, Jones was naive about people, and it caused him problems. On more than one occasion, people he knew broke into his apartment and stole his possessions. During another incident, a male attacker jumped into his car, put a knife to his throat, and demanded money. Escaping unharmed, these incidents aided Jones in making the decision to return to Nashville.

In 1965, Jones earned a master’s degree in education from Tennessee A & I State University. The same year, Jones returned to Nashville to accept a teaching position at Lakeview Elementary School, a predominately white school. Nashville was in the midst of desegregating its school system and hired Jones to assist in that process. The only African American teacher at the school, he taught fifth grade students. Later, he transferred to Head Elementary School, which was located in north Nashville where all the students were African American. There Jones taught math and science courses. McGraw-Hill then hired him as an educational consultant in 1967. Although it meant returning to St. Louis, Jones accepted the position.

A year after he moved to St. Louis for a second time, in 1968, the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. shattered the country. That night as Jones traveled to be with friends, the police stopped his car, made him get out, and searched him. One of the officers butted him with his weapon. They held him in custody and carried him to jail. Once Jones reached the jailhouse, he was fingerprinted, handcuffed, and shackled. His emotions ran the gambit from being afraid and angry to being devastated by King’s assassination. With his one phone call, he telephoned his godmother and was ultimately released.

Jones continued to work for McGraw-Hill as a traveling educational consultant, but after approximately eight years of traveling, Jones grew weary of living out of a suitcase. He returned to Nashville and accepted a position at Tennessee State University.

Soon after his return to Nashville, Jones became actively involved in the community. Ever true to gospel music, he organized the Love Train Choir, which had 350 members from all socio-economic groups, occupations, professions, and lifestyles. He organized Project Help, a program designed to assist the elderly. On the first Sunday of each month, the Love Train Choir performed in concert, the proceeds from which went to Project Help. Project Help fed the poor, paid utility bills, and purchased medicines for Nashville’s poor senior citizens. Jones also became involved in Nashville’s Black Expo, an organization that gave exposure to the city’s African American intellectual and artistic individuals. He became the organization’s first president. Under Jones’s leadership, Nashville’s Black Expo was a success.

Hosts Television Show

After his tenure with the Black Expo ended, Jones became affiliated with Channel 4 (WSMV), a local affiliate of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). However, this was not Jones’s first appearance as a television host. In 1973, he co-hosted Fun City Five , a Saturday morning children’s show on Channel 5 (WTVF), the local Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate. Fun City Five allowed the aspiring news reporter to put his acquired skills from working with McGraw-Hill to use in a different venue.

In 1976, Theresa Hannah, an assistant of Nettie Stowers, who hosted an African American community-affairs program, approached Bobby Jones about doing a regular gospel music show for television. Thrilled about the possibility, Jones put together a pilot. Accepted by the station, the Nashville Gospel Music Show was born. The pilot was given a thirteen-week trial. To produce the show, Jones received an expense account of approximately $500. The Nashville Gospel Music Show aired on Sunday mornings at 9:00. Featuring known gospel artists as well as local artists, the Nashville Gospel Music Show eventually captured the highest ratings during that time slot. Within two years, officials at the city’s public broadcasting station asked Jones to produce a community-affairs talk show. Bobby Jones’s World aired on Nashville Public Television’s (NPT) Channel 8, the Public Broadcasting System’s (PBS) affiliate, and remained on the air for approximately six years.

Jones, Edward P.(1950–) - Writer, Lost in the City, The Known World, Chronology [next] [back] Jonah

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