Retro Baltimore

Retro: Radio host and singer Chuck Richards captivated Baltimore listeners

Chuck Richards, pictured in 1949, was a pioneering African American radio and television host and singer in Baltimore.

Chuck Richards was a staple of late-night Baltimore radio 65 years ago. The man with the soothing, romantic voice came on after the 10 p.m. WBAL news and delighted his audience with recorded music between breaks for National Bohemian beer commercials.

Richards, who died in 1984 at age 71, was a veteran of the entertainment industry. He’s still remembered today.


Alice Brailey Torriente, who graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1955, said she listened to Richards on WBAL at night on a show called “Cupid’s Corner.”

“His voice was mellow and melodic. He was a real professional. He did not engage in jive talk,” she said, explaining that listeners would call in and ask to have records dedicated to a girlfriend or boyfriend.


“We listened to the music and to Chuck to see just who that song was being dedicated to. People were a little bit nosy about who was being honored,” she said.

She feels Baltimore needs to be reminded of the Chuck Richards story and his show business role.

“He was a real pioneer,” she said of the African American radio and later television host.

In his day, Richards also traveled as a vocalist with the bands of the 1930s and 1940s.

“He was a friend of my father, state Sen. Troy Brailey,” Torriente said. “My dad was among the planners of the 1963 March on Washington.”

She explained that she lived in West Baltimore on Baker Street and Richards lived nearby, in the 1800 block of Bentalou Street.

Richards was a 1931 graduate of Frederick Douglass, where he studied piano, violin and voice. And to make a little extra money, he operated an elevator in downtown Baltimore.

When one of his riders heard Richards singing in between calling the floors, the man recognized his talent and put him on the radio, a live local broadcast for Baltimore’s Jewish community.


Richards’ voice won recognition quickly and he was soon heard singing throughout the Southern states over the old CBS Dixie Network.

“After graduation, Richards went to New York and began a successful career. He worked with the bands of Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington,” a 1966 Sun article said. “He played the Cotton Club in New York and went on several band tours, one of which took him as far as Australia.”

He also sang from the stages of New York City’s Paramount, Capitol and Loew’s theaters.

In Baltimore, he performed with Lucky Millinder and the Mills Blue Rhythm Band at the old Club Astoria on Edmondson Avenue.

By the time of World War II, Richards waxed more than 20 vocals on band recordings.

In a 1978 interview with The Sun, he recalled the days when his agent also represented Ellington, Cab Calloway, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Milton Berle and his personal favorite, Bing Crosby.


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When Richards gave up New York and the road to return to Baltimore, he became a WITH disc jockey, The Sun reported. And soon he moved on to WBAL’s Charles and 26th streets studios and became a pioneering Black announcer working on a 50,000-watt station. He remained with the Hearst Corp.-owned station for 16 years.

He then went on to be WCBM’s Black announcer. In 1959, he became host of a live musical show, Open House, that aired over WJZ-TV on Saturday afternoons. His show was aimed at an emerging market: first-time Black homebuyers who would trust his reassuring voice and presence.

Richards had another TV show, Tomorrow’s Stars, a weekly program that featured Ethel Ennis, the Baltimore jazz singer. It was a pioneering vehicle for local talent and touring recording artists.

He worked at WMAR as a staff announcer and began making regular appearances on news programs and during intervals of the morning “Today” show.

“I’ll never forget the time Chuck took a trip to Bermuda,” Torriente said. “He never left being on air. The network did a radio hookup and it was just like he was still in Baltimore. It was amazing.”

At his death, a writer wrote to The Sun: “He was your friend and mine. ... He served dignity in huge portions to every person he met. He never spoke ill of any human being. He was kind and strong in spirit to the end and should be remembered as a once-in-a-lifetime man of gentle, cheerful power.


“He was Charles A. Richardson, the ambassador of goodwill we knew as the unique and individual,” the writer said.