May 2004

Willis H. Crosby

Black Radio Legend

Willis H. Crosby and his twin brother, West, were born in Anderson County on September 18, 1917—the sons of William Crosby and Rebecca Dean Crosby. Willis H. Crosby and the Silver Bell Quintet stepped to the microphone on September 16, 1947, at WAIM studios, and a radio career which continued at WANS and lasted until February 1997 at WRIX was born. Over the course of fifty years on radio, Mr. Crosby became the first black disk jockey (DJ) in Upstate South Carolina.

Crosby, during his years as a promoter, brought national gospel and rhythm and blues artists like the Williams Brothers, the Swannee Quintet, the Five Blind Boys, Sam Cooke and the Soul Steerers, Percy Sledge, Dee Clark and Joe Simon to Anderson. Proceeds from concerts promoted by Mr. Crosby were used, in part, to sponsor scholarships for deserving students who could not afford financially to attend college. He also raised money to provide food, toys, and clothing for needy families. He was what many considered a legend in black radio around the state of South Carolina.

This honoree used his show and influence to sponsor numerous causes. He took busloads of children to Atlanta for professional baseball games and acquainted many young people with radio through his “DJ for a Day” program. He did custodial work at WANS as well as handling all of his show’s advertising and production duties. His philosophy was that “anything that was legal was good work”, and he worked hard enough to bring home a paycheck second only to the station’s general manager.

Mr. Crosby’s production of the Westside High School Rams’ weekly football games and basketball championship playoff games made this type of visibility among the first for an all-black high school in the late 1950s and 1960s. When public schools were desegregated in the 1970s, he facilitated appearances in the area schools to advance positive human relations. He promoted local talent and professional concerts to raise money for food and clothing, scholarships for the economically disadvantaged, and funding to supply a room at the Anderson Memorial Hospital.

Because of his noteworthy generosity over the years, Willis H. Crosby became one of the first called upon by churches, schools, the March of Dimes, and other organizations when there was a need. Business people, politicians, and others desiring to get their words out to the black community could always depend on the credibility and impact of Willis H. or “Radio Deacon.” He also acquired many white listeners and radio fans over the years. His hard work earned him a lion’s share of awards from the South Carolina General Assembly and from local religious, educational, civic, and charitable organizations.

Mr. Crosby died on December 16, 1997. He was married to Mrs. Alwillie Hardy Crosby, a devoted wife and mother for 54 years, and the father of Dr. Willis H. Crosby, Jr., and Mrs. Della C. Cox.