This blog celebrates and highlights the remarkable life and career of Ruth Jean Baskerville, President of the world’s largest black-owned talent and entertainment company, an African-American talent agency, while recognizing the pioneering contributions of black people in the entertainment industry.
In the mid-1960s, amid the excitement of the civil rights movement, a remarkable woman paved the way for the entertainment industry. Ruth Jean Baskerville, an African-American talent agent, not only represented some of the most iconic black artists of the era but also broke the glass ceiling. Her journey, tied to the rise of Queen Booking Corporation, illustrates a unique chapter in the history of the representation of black talent. In this blog post, we explore the life, career, and indomitable spirit of Ruth Jean Baskerville.
Ernestine McClenndon: Another Trailblazing Black Talent Agent
Ernestine McClenndon is another prominent Black talent agent in Hollywood who made significant contributions to the industry. Some say she is the first black agent. She is well-regarded for representing African-American talent, including actors and musicians. While there may not be a definitive record of who the very first Black woman talent agent in Hollywood was, both Ruth Jean Baskerville Bowen and Ernestine McClendon are notable figures who were instrumental in advancing the careers of Black artists and entertainers. They are recognized for their pioneering efforts in the field of talent representation. Today, I want to talk about Ruth Jean Baskerville.
Baskerville’s The Early Years
Ruth Jean was born on September 13, 1924, to Marion and Claude Carlton in Danville, Virginia. Her parents were African-American parents and French parents. Her father was an Irishman who was born in England. She had three older white sisters and one older brother, James Edward Good. She went to Westmoreland Elementary School and Langston High School in Danville. She and her family moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she attended Girls’ High School. Baskerville attended New York University, where she studied for two years before marrying.
Ruth Jean Baskerville’s Career
Bowen’s career began in 1944 when she married William “Billy” Bowen, a founding member of Ink Spots (one of the first African-American musical groups to break the color barrier). While traveling and managing her husband’s business, she was introduced to the “Queen of the Blues,” Dinah Washington. Shortly after their first meeting, Washington offered her a job as a publicist, which she accepted. Within a few months, she was in charge of the publicity and management of the blues, R&B, and jazz singers.
Dinah urged Bowen to get her booking license, and in 1959, she formed Queen Booking with the assistance of her attorney (future mayor of New York City) Dinkins. The agency multiplied once she became an agent, with Dinkins as her top sales rep. While Dinah toured and performed all over the United States, she encountered other artists who needed Bowen’s experience. Queen Booking began bookings at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and Chicago’s Regal Theatre.
The Queen Booking Corporation’s Formation
Dinah Washington’s death in 1963 marked the beginning of a period of rapid growth for Queen Booking. In 1964, Bowen continued to expand the business, and the company’s name was changed to QBC. As a result, the roster and personnel of the company increased significantly.
By 1969, Queen Booking Corporation had grown to become the largest African-American-owned talent agency in the United States, if not the entire world, with a roster of superstars such as Aretha Franklin (the “Queen of Soul”), Ray Charles (the lead singer of Ray Charles and the All-American Reggae Group), Sammy Davis Jr. (lead singer of the Isley Brothers), Dionne Warwick (lead singer of Dionne and Dionne’s All-American Rhythm Band), the Four Tops (lead singer of The FourTops), Kool and The Gang (lead vocalist of The Temptations), Bobby Watson (lead singer of Bobby Pendergrass) and a variety of other prominent black singing artists. In 1969, Bowen was named one of the “Outstanding Black Women Achievers” of the United States.
QBC changed its name to Renaissance Talents in 1974, the name of which was later changed to The Bowen Agency Ltd.
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells
The Isley Brothers
Kool & the Gang
The Sweet Inspirations
Ike Turner and Tina Turner
The Four Tops
Dee Dee Warwick
Dee Dee Sharp
The Ohio Players
The Staple Singers
Ben E. King
Theater in Harlem
Regal Theatre in Chicago
Ruth Jean Baskerville’s Legacy
In addition to running the agency full-time, Bowen also served as co-founder and president of a club called The Rinkydinks, mainly comprised of the wives of famous musicians, like Mrs. Basie, Mrs. Bostic, Mrs. Hinton, Mrs Jacquet and others. The group supported minority kids in their educational endeavors.
As I reflect on the extraordinary life of Ruth Jean Baskerville and the groundbreaking contributions of Ernestine McClenndon, I am deeply inspired. Having worked as a talent agent and a black woman in the industry, I admire their pioneering spirit. Ruth Jean Baskerville’s journey changed how talent was showcased, while Ernestine McClenndon’s role as the first known black agent broke down barriers. Their legacy reminds us that determination and diversity can shape the world. They continue to inspire generations and serve as beacons for progress and inclusivity.