It was a homegoing that brought out dignitaries, community leaders and activists. For nearly three hours Pervis Spann was honored in grand fashion for his immense contributions as a pioneering trailblazer who transformed WVON into a radio powerhouse and shaped the music careers of Blues legends.
After an illustrious career that spanned 60 years, Spann, “The Blues Man,” was laid to rest Wednesday, March 23, after a powerful and emotional funeral at Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn. Spann died March 14. He was 89.
Spann’s dark brown, gold trimmed casket rested between a line of floral arrangements that stretched nearly across the sanctuary’s massive stage. He was dressed in a dark gray suit and the words “The Bluesman” was embroidered on the inside cover of his casket.
The service was as grand as Spann’s legacy and contributions to the Blues and Black America. A 12-page colorful program included dozens of photographs that vividly captured Spann as a broadcasting giant who gave birth to WVON as “The Voice of the Negro” and later “The Voice of America.”
There are photos of Spann with Aretha Franklin, whom he crowned “The Queen of Soul” in 1968. Spann also shares a photo with former President Bill Clinton. There are many photos of Spann with his children, including Melody Spann-Cooper, current president and CEO of WVON parent company Midway Broadcasting, which Spann created in the 1970s with business partner Wesley South.
Spann’s wife, Lovie, had a music video presentation shown that included photos of her husband with the late Jazz and Blues singer Nancy Wilson’s version of “The Very Thought of You.”
With a military color guard in salute, a member of the military played “Taps” inside the church to honor Spann’s service in the U.S. Army. An American flag briefly covered Spann’s casket before it was folded and presented to his wife, Lovie.
Black Chicago’s Who’s Who in Politics and Media came out to pay their final respects to Spann and the values that made him an unforgettable name in broadcasting and the recording industry.
Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny K. Davis were there. St. Sabina’s Father Michael Pfleger opened with a prayer and Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., delivered one of seven tributes. Many WVON radio personalities, disc jockeys and producers attended the service, which the station broadcast live.
“When we think of giants in our society, Pervis Spann fits that,” said Reverend Dr. Byron T. Brazier of Apostolic Church of God.
Reverend Al Sharpton flew in from New York City to deliver a heartfelt tribute to Spann, a long-time friend whom Sharpton met in 1970 while attending the Black Expo in Chicago.
“We have a strange habit of celebrating fruits and forgetting the roots,” Sharpton said. “Fruits fall off a tree and die. But roots are what keep things going.”
Chante Spann, one of Spann’s three daughters read a letter from former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. It read, “Today we pay tribute to a true visionary, someone who forever shaped the city of Chicago and the music that’s become the essence of the American spirit.
“Whether he was fighting for civil rights or jumpstarting the careers of music legends, Pervis was at the center of defining cultural and political movements. And he built a station that gave a voice to generations of Black folks in Chicago and across the nation.”
Reverend Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ delivered a rousing eulogy that praised Spann’s passion and talent to connect to people with music.
“Pervis saw a connection between the Blues and Gospel music. He was our Bluesman. He understood the power of voice,” Moss said.
The service capped more than a week of mourning for those who knew and appreciated Spann as a broadcasting pioneer and as a devoted and beloved family man.
The day before the funeral, a visitation was held at Leak and Sons Funeral Home in Chatham. The visitation began at 4 p.m. By 6:30, nearly 200 people had signed the guestbook.
Many were from an older generation who shared an appreciation for Blues music that Spann cultivated and nurtured as it grew into a popular genre. His visitation was held in the same chapel where the visitation for Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers was held in 2021.
Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, on August 16, 1932, Spann moved to Chicago in the 1940s. In 1954, he met and married his wife, Lovie. They remained together for 68 years until Spann’s death.
Spann joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Colorado, where he and his wife would spend the first several years of their marriage. Upon returning to Chicago, Spann drove a cab and attended electrical engineering school which led to him owning a TV repair shop.
A charismatic figure, Spann had his own radio show on WOPA in Oak Park. There, he caught the attention of Leonard Chess, who owned Chess Records with his brother. The Chess brothers launched WVON in 1963. Spann became the second disc jockey to be hired at the station. It was Leonard Chess who gave him the moniker, “The Blues Man.”
Spann co-owned the famous Club DeLisa, which later eventually became The Burning Spear. Spann helped change the landscape of live entertainment in Chicago with acts like the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & The Pips and a young Aretha Franklin.
Spann eventually bought the station and acquired the rights to the call letters and the rest is history.
Spann was buried at Oak Woods Cemetery, the final resting place of many of Chicago’s Black elites.