In a fantastic clip uploaded to youtube by veteran radio personality, Ellis B. Feaster, Baltimore-born, Philly radio legend, Douglas “Jocko” Henderson can be heard holding it down live on air at WDAS-FM 105.3. Recorded on New Year’s day, 1982, the brief clip is vintage Jocko and his charisma shines through.

As was Jocko’s custom, he signs off with a slick rhyme before turning the airwaves over to another Philly radio legend, Joe “Butterball” Tamburo: “Oh Papa Doc, this is the Jock. Oh papa dare….happy happy New Year!”

Henderson — who was born on March 8th, 1918 — got his start in radio in 1952 in his hometown of Baltimore before moving to Philadelphia to work with WHAT one year later. It was here in Philly that Henderson adopted the stage name “Jocko” and gained fame for the rhymed routines that he would perform on live on the air. Often referred to as “the father of rap”, Jocko’s rhymes were often performed in between songs, without music and sometimes he would rap with an instrumental accompanying him. Dividing his time between Philly and New York, hosted and promoted shows at storied venues like The Uptown Theater in North Philly, The State Theatre on 52nd Street in West Philly and the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Jocko’s popularity surged throughout the 60s and this popularity was at least partially due to the swinging, syncopated rhyme routines he performed on the radio which pre-figured the birth of hip hop by decades.

“I go, you go, everybody goes for the Rocket Ship Show. It’s big, it’s boss and mighty bad. It’s the swingingest show New York’s ever had.”

In a 1992 Philadelphia Daily News profile on Henderson, the writer Mark de la Viña quotes Dick Clark about Jocko’s influence. “Jocko had a delivery that was unlike anybody else on the air. A thousand and one DJs have copied Jocko’s style over the years.”

In 1979, Jocko hooked up with Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International to release the song “The Rocket Ship” and “Rhythm Talk.” “The Rocket Ship” is a spacey-jazz influenced Disco cut that sounds like nothing else from the era and, “Rhythm Talk” finds Jocko he’s rapping over the music from McFadden & Whitehead’s classic, “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now.”

“Rhythm Talk” is noteworthy because not only was it one of the earliest Philly Hip Hop records it’s also one of the earliest rap records to feature someone rapping over a pre-existing recording, as opposed to contemporaneous rap records that featured studio musicians replaying popular grooves. Jocko would also release “Uptight (Everybody’s Tryin’ To Get Their Money Right)” in 1983 on the pioneering rap label Sugar Hill records.

Throughout the 1980s, Henderson set his focus on the educational potential of rap music with Get Ready, a series of rap tapes produced for school-age children. A successful initiative with over 30,000 cassettes circulated to school worldwide, a handful of the tapes have been archived in The Jocko Henderson Collection (1971-2003) at the Indiana University, Archives of African American Music and Culture. On the Get Ready tapes, Jocko raps over minimal, electronic beats teaching kids about math and American history as well as warning them about the dangers of drug abuse.

After spending his later years working in politics, activism and hosting nostalgic, old school reunion shows, Henderson passed away in 2000 at the age of 82. His legacy as an innovator and promoter of Black music ranging from rock n’ roll, to R&B and rap is undeniable and his influence still shining.

A special thanks and shout out to Brenda Nelson-Strauss and William Vanden Dries with The University of Indiana for granting us access to the Jocko Henderson collection.