Martha Jean the Queen was a legendary African-American radio broadcaster, civic activist, spiritual leader, and station owner. She was one of the first female disc jockeys in the United States and a charismatic media personality who influenced and inspired millions of listeners. She died of natural causes at the age of 69 on January 29, 2000.
Early Life and Career
Martha Jean the Queen was born as Martha Jean Jones on September 9, 1930, in Memphis, Tennessee. She worked as a nurse to support her three children after divorcing jazz musician Luther Steinberg. She entered a contest to win an on-air job at WDIA – reportedly the first white owned station with an all black staff – and earned a weekend shift in 1954.
She moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1963, where she was heard on WCHB and then throughout the late 1960s and 1970s on WJLB. She played the latest R&B hits and also offered social commentary and advice to her listeners. She became an ordained minister in the 1970s and founded a church called the Home of Love.
Civic Engagement and Activism
Martha Jean the Queen was not only a radio star, but also a community leader and advocate. During Detroit’s 1967 civil disturbance, she remained on-air for 48 straight hours, imploring listeners to stay off the streets and calm down.
She initiated several programs and campaigns to address the social and economic issues facing the black community, such as poverty, unemployment, education, health, and crime. She organized job fairs, voter registration drives, blood drives, and fundraisers.
Station Ownership and Legacy
In 1982, Martha Jean the Queen and several partners bought a Detroit AM station, changed its format to gospel and talk, and changed the call letters to WQBH (which many say stood for “Queen Broadcasts Here”). She bought the station outright in 1997 and remained its star broadcaster until her death.
She was mourned by her fans, friends, and family, who remembered her as a beautiful, sweet, and talented person who had a bright future ahead of her. She was also one of the most influential and respected figures in the history of radio broadcasting. She was inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Martha Jean the Queen was a larger-than-life figure on the air and in the black community, who leveraged her radio presence to influence and inspire the public. She was a pioneering R&B disc jockey, civic activist, spiritual leader, and trailblazing station owner, who cultivated a 46-year career and left a lasting legacy. She was truly the Queen of radio.