By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
Clarence Waldron was recently named the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Headline Club’s 2020 Peter Lisagor Awards. Often called “the dean of arts and entertainment journalists,” Waldron has enjoyed a distinguished career in journalism for more than 35 years, including a 29-year tenure as senior writer and senior editor of Jet Magazine.
“This is a long overdue and deserved award,” said Grammy-winner Dionne Warwick. “Clarence has been absolutely phenomenal. I am certain that he will continue writing and bringing the greatness to the people who deserve to hear it and know about it.” She added: “I was his first interview and have followed him throughout his career thus far. Thank you, Clarence, for being. Love you!”
Recording artist India.Arie also passed along her congratulations and admiration for Waldron in a recorded message that will be part of a video that will be released after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m sending big love and greetings to everybody,” India.Arie said. “I’ve been up all night in the studio, but I had to get up and send this for Clarence.” She continued: “I wanted to take the time to send this note to you because I will never forget the impact you made on me the first time we met. I was a new artist, and everything was new, and everything was very uncomfortable. I was traveling a lot for the first time. I didn’t know how to handle that. People were touching me a lot. I didn’t know how to handle that. People were asking a lot of me and taking pictures and judging me and constant movement and a lot of noise and I didn’t know how to handle any of it.” She added: “And as I was learning how sensitive I really was, one of the joys of learning that about myself was being in the presence of someone who really made me feel at peace and at ease. And so, the first time I met you I just remember thinking, ‘I really like this guy. I really like this guy.’ You made me feel safe and calm and at ease and it was nice, really nice to be in the presence of someone who really loved their work.”
Chicago Headline Club board member Geoffrey Black offered this memory about working with Waldron: “On January 13, 2010, legendary R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass died. This was my first week as the new Jet Magazine photo editor and the scheduled magazine was a wrap, save being sent to the printer. I remember Clarence Waldron’s calm reaction to the news while the rest of us scrambled to get content to fill the hole our new cover story would occupy. He picked up his phone called Teddy’s people, got quotes and anecdotes from family and friends as well as from musicians like Aretha Franklin. Man, was I impressed he knew who to call and had their info at his fingertips. That’s why they call Clarence the Dean of Chicago entertainment writers.”
Waldron has been an adjunct professor at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism since 1998. His courses include “Reporting & Writing,” “Magazine Writing” and “Covering Popular Music,” a music journalism course that he created for graduate students. He has also taught at Columbia College Chicago and Loyola University. He holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Columbia University in New York City.
In 2010, the National Association of Black Journalists presented him with the Legacy Award and named him, you guessed it, the “dean of arts and entertainment journalists.”
Here’s how Waldron responded to receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award: “I am honored. An award is the people’s way of saying, ‘We think that you’ve done it.’ And that is the way it has to be accepted. Thank you for recognizing me and celebrating my career. This honor encourages me to continue my writing.”
The Chicago Headline Club is the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the nation. Each year, it administers the Peter Lisagor Awards, which recognize excellence in journalism. Due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, the SPJ has cancelled its banquet this year, but Waldron will be invited to next year’s event to accept his award, show a career spanning video and say a few words publicly.
This year’s full list of winners will be announced with a virtual event on May 15. Check the Society of Professional Journalists website for more information.