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Reginald J. Daniels II, founder of Piper Productions, which produced commercials, music videos and feature films, dies

Reginald J. Daniels II worked for WMAR-TV and Abell Communications in addition to founding Piper Productions.
Reginald J. Daniels II worked for WMAR-TV and Abell Communications in addition to founding Piper Productions. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Reginald J. Daniels II, a videographer and cinematographer who was the founder of Piper Productions, which produced award-winning commercials, music videos and feature films, died Jan. 6 of cancer at Halifax Health Hospice Ormond Beach Care Center in Florida. The former Columbia resident was 75.

“He was always into graphics, film and photos, and was a visual person, plus he had a great personality,” said John J. “Jake” Oliver Jr., publisher and chairman emeritus of The Afro-American newspapers. “Reg was well-known for his work because he was simply everywhere.”

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Reginald James Daniels II, son of the Rev. Reginald J. Daniels I, pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and his wife, Marguerite Younger Daniels, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the parsonage which was next door to the church.

“I grew up at 1835 Madison Avenue, in Madison Park, which is near Reg’s father’s church,” Mr. Oliver said. “We went to kindergarten together and elementary school through the fourth grade. Reg is one of my oldest and dearest friends. He was like a brother to me. His father’s church was my family’s church where my father was a deacon.”

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Both boys shared a capacity for mischief and high jinks.

“My father would be back there pouring the communion wine into those little glasses and when he wasn’t looking, Reg and I would hit that wine,” Mr. Oliver said with a laugh.

In the summers, both families vacationed in Cape May, New Jersey.

“Reg loved adventures and we’d explore Cape May on our bicycles, go to the beach, visit the lighthouse and hang with a couple of girls,” Mr. Oliver said.

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As a youngster, Mr. Daniels developed an interest in photography, a vocation that was discouraged by his elders who called it a “nice hobby,” according to a biographical profile.

After graduating from City College in 1963, Mr. Daniels served as a medic in the Army Reserve for several years. In 1968, he began his college studies at Morgan State University and in 1971, entered the Maryland Institute College of Art where he studied for a year, which was followed in 1975 by attending the Kodak Marketing Education Center in Rochester, New York.

Early jobs included working as a veterinarian, as a factory laborer, and as an assistant on the Johns Hopkins animal laboratory. While teaching industrial arts in a city junior high school, he worked as a freelance photographer, taking children’s portraits, and covering weddings, graduations and cotillions.

Reginald J. Daniels II won a New York International Festival Award and an Addy from the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington. (Handout)
Reginald J. Daniels II won a New York International Festival Award and an Addy from the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington. (Handout)

From 1969 to 1981, he worked for WMAR-TV where he wore many hats and was the director of commercial productions, a cinematographer, a videographer, a lighting director, and an editor for national and local programming.

After leaving WMAR, Mr. Daniels in 1981 joined Abell Communications, for which he traveled around the world working on “Jack Anderson Confidential,” a weekly syndicated television program that was directed by the investigative reporter from which it took its name.

Mr. Daniels survived bombing and fighting in the demilitarized zone in Lebanon, where one of his assignments included a 1982 film interview with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mr. Daniels left Abell Communications and two years later established Piper Productions, a media production firm, in an East 25th Street rowhouse in Charles Village, where he had to work hard to overcome the prejudice of those who simply viewed him as just another photographer.

“People berate news photographers. They say, ‘Daniels, he was a news photographer. How creative can he be?’” Mr. Daniels explained in an Evening Sun interview.

The article went on to say, “For the past several years, Mr. Daniels has spent a good deal of energy turning his critics into believers, winning accounts, and collecting local and regional advertising awards.”

Mr. Daniels’ first success came when he began producing commercials for Big B Food Markets, a Baltimore chain, which earned him a 1989 Telly Award for the best TV jingle. He also did work for Muhammad Ali Sportswear, a music video for Bottom Line, and commercials for Baltimore’s Big George’s Big and Tall Men’s Shop.

Mr. Daniels filmed a national public service commercial in Las Vegas with boxer Mike Tyson and fight promoter Don King. The anti-drug spot was co-sponsored by the NAACP and Don King Productions.

Mr. Daniels produced the opening, closing and transitional scenes of “Roc,” a 1991-1994 Fox sitcom that celebrated the life of a Baltimore garbage collector.

Other honors included a New York International Festival Award and an Addy from the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington.

In 1998, he returned to WMAR, where he worked in creative services as director of photography and lighting, and as a visual producer, until retiring in 2008. During his years at the Rodgers Forge TV station, his work earned him a Videographer Award of Excellence in 2000; The ALPHA Award for Best TV Station ID; and in 2007, the national Capital Chesapeake Bay Emmy as director of photography for WMAR’s “Good Morning Maryland” broadcast.

“He was there before I came and he definitely was the finest video photographer I ever ran into at the TV station,” said George Ward, who worked at WMAR as a news photographer and engineer for 26 years before retiring in 2003. “Plus, he was an outstanding individual who had a very cheerful disposition. He was a fun guy to be around and very talented and was clearly an absolute pro beyond comparison.”

According to a biographical profile: “In photography, Reggie is extremely critical of his work and strives for perfection. If anyone has ever been present while he works, they can be prepared to spend an hour watching him get every dust particle off a picture before he frames it.”

Mr. Daniels who moved to Ormond Beach 12 years ago, enjoyed horseback riding, and spending days at the beach, boating and fishing. He was also an avid music fan, particularly of modern jazz. Favorite artists included Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Shirley Horn and Poncho Sanchez.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

Mr. Daniels is survived by his wife of 26 years, the former Bobbi Lynne Champney; two daughters, Piper-Leigh Daniels of Baltimore and Emily Mace of Los Angeles; two stepsons, Nicholas Mace of Annapolis and Marc Mace of Killeen, Texas; a stepdaughter, Jena Rathell of Port Orange, Florida; two sisters, Freda Daniels of Baltimore and Judy Daniels of Philadelphia; and eight grandchildren. Earlier marriages to the former Tonya Bundara and Joyce Jefferson ended in divorce.

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