Donnie Simpson celebrates ‘Donnie After Dark’, shares what made him come out of retirement, what his original career plan was and the lesson Disco legend Sylvester taught him
By: Eleanor L. Smith
Cherish the Soul Entertainment
TV One has kicked off its second season of ‘Donnie After Dark’, a late night talk show that gives viewers a double dose of entertainment with candid interviews, comedy and sultry performances that include the biggest names in pop culture.
Hosted by radio and television legend Donnie Simpson, the show airs on Sundays at 10:00pm CST/11:00pm ET. After an 18 year retirement from television and five and half year one from radio, Simpson is not only excited about his return, but gives his wife of 43 years, Pam, the credit of shall we say, relighting the torch. “I decided that I wanted to return to TV at the urging of my wife, who said ‘you’re too young to retire and everywhere you go, all you hear is people telling you that you should come back and do something and you have this gift that God has blessed you with that you should be sharing with people.’ She put it in a really sweet way, but I think she just wanted me out of the house and what I really heard was ‘GET OUUUUUT!’,” Simpson joked sounding as if he was impersonating a scene from Tyler Perry’s movie ‘Diary of A Mad Black Woman’.
Donnie Simpson—everyone knows that name. Those of us who grew up on the man with the bright, genuine smile, infectious laugh, and green eyes our mothers (aunts, sisters, cousins…the list goes on!) raved about, get the opportunity to reconnect with him in our living rooms, while new fans obtain a true education in how an interview should be executed. Call it a biased opinion, but deep in your heart; you know it is primarily the honest to God truth, nothing more, and nothing less. After a meeting with Alfred Liggins, III, CEO of Radio ONE and TV One, Simpson decided to ‘get back in the game’ with a two prong approach: radio, as the host of ‘The Donnie Simpson Show’ on TV One’s sister property WMMJ-MAJIC 102.3 FM and television with ‘Donnie After Dark’, the first of many more projects to come birthed from his company Donnie Simpson Productions. “I come out and do a jokeless monologue,” Simpson laughs. “We intend to do many other things besides this. When I started doing it (‘Donnie After Dark’), I felt like the Frankie Beverly song, back in stride again. We did two shows initially in Los Angeles from the club the Xen Lounge and these shows we did in Atlanta. With this change, this format, the late night talk show type format, I feel right at home. This is my groove. This is where I need to be,” said Simpson.
During his retirement, surprisingly enough, Simpson says he was not feeling nostalgic about ‘Video Soul,’ but rather found other activities to indulge in and occupy his time. “I was not sitting around thinking about the good ol’ days of Video Soul or anxious to come back…I wasn’t. I had no thoughts about it…I was cool with my new job, I ran a shuttle company for my grandkids (laughs) and shuttled them back and forth, picking them up from school…I was really good at it too! I love spending time with my grandkids,” said Simpson lovingly recounting the joys of being a grandfather. “So once the deal was negotiated, I thought, ‘man, I can’t pick her up from school every day. But doing the show has been a lot of fun for me,” Simpson continued.
Hailing from Detroit, MI, Simpson had his sights set on another career path, however at the age of 15, he became a teen reporter after his mother, who owned a record shop, held a live broadcast with one of the local DJs, Al Perkins. “Al did a show from the shop for three or four hours and asked me to come in and announce the offers. People would tell me from the age of 12 ‘you sound like a DJ’ and it was in one ear and out the other. I wanted to be a Baptist minister but then George Clinton and the mothership turned me around somewhere along the line,” Simpson joked. Soon after, he found himself being intrigued and eventually the calling on his life was born. “Watching Al, I felt ‘wow, this looks like fun, I can do this.’ I was hired for weekends and became very popular,” said Simpson. Doing 90 seconds of broadcasting a day led to the powers that be asking him to head up the 8pm to midnight slot. “After school, I would go to the radio station and at the time being a teenager, I couldn’t work until midnight so I would go home, do my homework and come back and leave at 10:30 and for the last hour and a half, the taped show was aired,” said Simpson. You know the rest is history.
When Black Entertainment Television came calling, ‘Video Soul’ quickly became an historical staple in television that showcased music and sit down interviews featuring your favorite artists as a match made in heaven. Not only did you get a chance to hear the song that you danced to with the guy/girl you had a crush on at the school party, but you saw the visual art of the video and was treated to the experience of getting a closer look into who that artist was: their personality, their lyrics, their goals, and whatever drove them to being the cream of the crop in the game called the entertainment business.
For us it was our culture, our moment to shine on a cable television network strictly for the who’s who of Black Hollywood, as well as thought provoking programming centered around our issues, our perspectives and our voice that heightened awareness of the world and beyond. And while we were being entertained, Simpson was living his dream and learning a few lessons along the way. During the reign of ‘Video Soul’, there was one interview in particular he dreaded for at least three weeks. That interview was with the late, great disco vocalist Sylvester. Being a flamboyant, gay Black performer, at the time, didn’t sit well and admittedly, Simpson was a bit uncomfortable and struggled with being homophobic—until they met. “I had Sylvester on the show and moments after we got to talking, I absolutely loved him. I look at him as the turnaround for me, we were so cool. We even exchanged phone numbers. I learned that judging people is beyond my pay scale. It’s very simple to me; all I can do is love you. And I don’t care who you are, what color you are, black, blue, purple, green,” said Simpson.
Now embarking on a new journey with ‘Donnie After Dark’, Simpson is bringing back the soul, light and ‘feel good’ of music and entertainment to the forefront. We, the fans, feel that it’s been a long time coming. Media heavy hitters that Simpson has become acquainted with personally shared with him how inspirational he was to them while growing up being that he was a Black man on television succeeding. Among those are ESPN anchors Gene Harris, Stephen A. Smith and the late Stuart Scott. “All three of them said, ‘You’re the reason I’m doing TV’. I can’t tell you what that means to me, how that makes me feel. You know when you’re in it, you’re just doing what you do, you don’t think about the impact,” said Simpson. “It is so flattering and enriching for me. What a blessing,” he continued.
Indeed. Award winning legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have been trying to convince Simpson to return to television for the past 15 years. Our wish has come true which speaks to the magnitude that is Donnie Simpson. And just like those ESPN anchors and every other media professional who welcomed Donnie Simpson into their homes, I, too, was inspired. Growing up, R&B/Soul music not only exemplified what I liked to hear and dance to, it became a part of me and flows smoothly through my veins like the God given blood I, as well as every other human being, was born with. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and see my favorite videos. As for me and my household, ‘Video Soul’ trumped daily news broadcasts my parents wanted to sit and watch in our den and if I did not get my way, I had a Holy Ghost fit and my temper reared its ugly head. I couldn’t wait to see who the special in studio guests were, and if I had a major crush on them, it was even a sweeter cake and ice cream moment. I religiously listened to his morning radio show on WPGC while getting ready for my classes within my Howard University dorm room. Just like then, ‘Donnie After Dark’ has the same mission statement: To create quality programming that is civil and gives a platform to artists of all sectors—vocalists, actors, comedians, whose work represents authentic talent, fun, music that makes you move, lean back and perhaps remember the first time you fell in love. Whatever the case, all Donnie Simpson wants you and I to do is enjoy and to always ‘shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars.’
Watch ‘Donnie After Dark’ Sunday nights at 10pm CST/11pm EST on TV One.