The Legendary “Uptown Janice Brown’s” Greatest Roles – Mother and Friend
By Harold Bell
I checked Google, Twitter and Facebook, the social media vehicles for the world. I was looking for all the articles and comments on the Internet as it related to the life and times of the late Janice Brown aka “Uptown Janice Brown.”
I just discovered my friend had died in Washington, DC on August 20, 2012. She was just 55 years old. The most accurate account written about Janice was found in a small newspaper published in North Carolina called the “Bald Head Island.” The first paragraph described her right on point “Janice Lee Frink Brown affectionately known as “Jan,” was a selfless, loving mother, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher and friend, impacting countless lives. She loved much and lived life to its fullest.”
The accounts of her life written by the local know it all yokels in Washington, DC described her as a “much-loved jazz vocalist in the DMV (District/Maryland/Virginia), known for her wit and warmth as well as her exceptional timing. She was a regular performer at Monday Night Jazz at Vicino’s Restaurant in Silver Spring, MD., and a fixture on the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. She also released a CD, “Two Shades of Brown.”
Janice was also a respected journalist, serving for many years as a reporter and editor for the Washington Afro-American newspaper. But she was probably better known for her efforts as a broadcaster: Janice was a veteran radio personality, including a long stint as an on-air staffer for WPFW-FM radio; in addition, she taught public speaking and broadcasting at the University of the District of Columbia (where she also took classes in the Jazz Studies program). She held a Master’s degree in communications from American University.
There was much more to JB than being a vocalist, dancer, comedian, radio and television reporter, editor and a slave to fashion. Her most important accomplishments were as a mother and friend.
I remember JB or “Little Bits” as I called her when she was just a cute little bag of bones. WUST radio was her first media gig. WUST was the gospel voice of radio in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It was gospel radio legend Lou Hankins who gave JB her first break. He became her mentor, Big Brother and lifetime friend.
History should record her foundation for success was first laid at the front door of WUST radio. Years after the doors of WUST closed Lou and JB stayed in touch. They were in constant contact until she told him she was going home to beat a cough she had developed—shortly after that conversation she died of lung cancer.
When I met JB at WUST in 1980 I was already a well known sports talk show and community personality. I had just been named Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine. She would always tease me each morning after her traffic report by opening the studio door and saying “Good morning legend” and crack up laughing.
JB would always remind me, she was also someday going to be a legend. My response would be “Only in your mind.” Her sense of humor kept us laughing. JB’s never say die spirit and her smile made the station a great place to work.
On her way to becoming a legend she took time out to make sure her number one priority was her daughter Whitney. She wanted to make sure Whitney had an opportunity to grow up to share the America Dream of being somebody. JB was a single parent, and against all odds the struggles sometimes would become overbearing. The hard times made her more determine and she hung tuff, thanks to Lou and the WUST radio family who was always there for her. The family consisted of Jay Marie Morris, Reggie Hales, Wendell Henderson, Ralph Colbert, Levi Conley, Carl DeShazio and I. We were family in every sense of the word.
Despite the tough times her focus remained on little Whitney and making sure she was always on the right track of life. JB’s warrior mentality paid off in spades. Her legacy is in good hands, Whitney is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC. She is an accomplished dancer and teacher (Debbie Allen School of Dance). She has appeared in movies with Martin Lawrence, (Big Mamma’s House 2) and with Queen Latifah (Hair Spray). Whitney recently returned from a stint with the Broadway Musical cast “Memphis.” This proves the theory that an apple does not fall too far from the tree.
My last encounter with JB was in 2010 when her friend Dr. Carl DeShazio (former co-worker at WUST) called and asked me to help them coordinate and in-school event “The Michelle Obama Fight against Childhood Obesity.” The event was being held at Amidon Elementary school in southwest Washington, DC. Legendary boxing champion Roy Jones was the guest speaker.
When JB saw me the first words out of her mouth was “The legend” and my response was ‘You waited to get old to get fat.’ We both burst out laughing.
I will never forget when the late NBC TV 4 sportscaster George Michael (The Sports Machine) called the radio station wanting to speak with me while I was preparing for the evening broadcast. Janice brought the message from Lou for me to pick up the telephone.
George was pissed off because I had singled him out in a Washington Post story relating to sportscasters covering the Washington Redskins; I had called him the town’s biggest cheerleader.
When I had finished, I called George every name but a child of God and hung up the telephone. Janice peeped through the door and said, “Calm down legend,”and walked away laughing.
Janice Lee Frink Brown was always good for a laugh. She was a rare lady—she could laugh at herself! Heaven and God’s Angels have just been blessed with the complete entertainer (move over Sammy Davis, Jr.).
JB, you believed that you could fly and fly you did throughout the Washington, DC metro area for over 30 years. Some people are legends in their own mind and others are legends in their own time, you are truly a legend in your own time. RIP my friend.
There will be a final goodbye to Janice Lee Frink Brown on Saturday October 13, 2012 with a memorial service in her honor at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts from 7 pm until 9 pm.