Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Radio Scholar Dick Golden

What he plays is life

Dick Golden with Sonny Rollins
Dick Golden with Sonny Rollins
Dick Golden with Tony Bennett
Dick Golden (l.) with Tony Bennett
Dave Brubeck with Dick Golden
Dave Brubeck (l.) with Dick Golden

Cape Cod’s loss has been Planet Earth’s gain. After being the voice of jazz and the Great American Songbook for Southeastern Massachusetts from 1977 to the end of 2005, Dick Golden now broadcasts his absolutely perfect show, GW (George Washington University) Presents American Jazz, on Sirius XM Radio—beaming around the globe. For those who wish to bathe in the sounds of Lester Young, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dave McKenna, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Ruby Braff, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins and countless others, tune in on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. on Channel 67, Real Jazz. (The show is rebroadcast on Mondays at 12:00 a.m.)

Dick Golden is a man whose work has always stirred deep passions. For over a quarter-century, his WQRC evening show Nightlights was a staple of Cape Cod and Southern Massachusetts life, its seamless mingling of Jazz and the Great American Songbook heard in countless restaurants, taverns, cars, and homes. Golden’s in-between song chats were always fascinatingly informative, like an enthusiastic friend sharing his bliss. Artists of the caliber of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Rosemary Clooney were on record in considering Nightlights one of the America’s finest radio shows.

And Golden received letters from listeners—hundreds of them.

“I spend weekends and summers in my cottage in Orleans,” wrote one eloquent fan. “I purposely don’t have a television so that I can leave the nastiness of the world behind and allow the Cape to perform its transforming magic on my spirit. Nightlights—along with your intelligent, tasteful commentary—is probably the most important element in this transformation. I look forward to your show everyday and never am I disappointed.”

The poet Donald Hall once wrote of New England summer nights being woven together by radios broadcasting Red Sox games. Well, for 28 years Cape Cod was woven together by radios broadcasting the cream of American music, courtesy of Dick Golden. In addition, the gentleman was always willing to take part in charitable causes to aid his community.

In short, Dick Golden was irreplaceable.

However, in February 2005—for reasons that had nothing to do with ratings—WQRC scaled back Nightlights to weekends only. Mike Freedman, who at the time was George Washington University’s vice president for External Relations as well as Executive Producer of GW Presents American Jazz, offered Golden a full-time job. In March ’05 Golden made the move to Washington, D.C., but “returned to the Cape every couple of weeks to record weekend programs. I wrote to (the WQRC manager) in November and said I didn’t think I could be going back and forth because George Washington University’s responsibilities were ramping up.” Golden’s last Nightlights aired on Sunday, December 18, 2005. A golden era of Massachusetts radio had ended.

A talk with Dick Golden is a fascinatingly educational voyage, peppered with direct quotes from heroes as varied as Abraham Lincoln and Larry Hart. Ever wonder what song Cole Porter, in horrible pain, composed in his head after falling from a horse? Just ask Mr. Golden. Need proof? Well, listen to Dick’s story about the generosity of one Francis Albert.

“One adage I heard from my mother when I was young was that if you observe someone doing something well, tell them! Don’t hesitate because you feel you might be embarrassed or misunderstood. Share your admiration and you will feel wonderful when you do.”

These wise words led to Golden writing a congratulatory letter to Frank Sinatra after hearing that Old Blue Eyes was to be a Kennedy Center honoree. “It was a Saturday morning in August 1983. I went for a six mile jog through Hyannisport and in my mind I composed a thank-you letter to Frank Sinatra. His music was such an integral and essential part of my broadcasting life.”

His jog over, Golden sat down and “within thirty minutes I had written a three page letter. I mentioned that for me, someone who came of age during the ascension of rock music—which had resulted in the American standard being marginalized and disappearing from the airwaves—it was Frank Sinatra who had introduced to another generation newly visualized versions of the great songs written by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and others. I went to the post office, looked up the zip code for Rancho Mirage, California, put a stamp on the envelope, and dropped it in the out box. That’s it, I thought. Even though Frank Sinatra would never read the letter, I had the personal pleasure and glow that my mother had promised I would have after expressing my admiration to someone who did something meaningful in an extraordinary way.”

However, Sinatra did read Golden’s letter: “In October 1983 I found an envelope in my mailbox with a Los Angeles return address. The letter inside was written on Frank Sinatra stationary and it read:

October 6, 1983

Dear Richard:

I was deeply touched by your warm words about the upcoming Kennedy Center Honors. It was thoughtful of you to take time to share your thoughts with me. It’s always a joy to hear from the marvelous people who have supported my music throughout the years—and I love you all. Please let me know if I can do anything to help your station as a gesture of our thanks for your support and kind letter. Perhaps a holiday message to your listeners? I wish you and your loved ones a long, bountiful life brim full with happiness and good health.

Warmest Regards, Frank Sinatra

A few months later Golden received a cassette in the mail. Popping it in a player, he heard the “most recognizable voice of Frank Sinatra”:

“Testing, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Well, howdy, Dick. I guess you think I probably got lost … but I’ve been pretty busy and then I had some kind of a wild virus they couldn’t even find a name for for about five or six weeks, and that laid me up for a while. I had to cancel a bunch of one-nighters and I’m picking them up now as I’m talking to you. Anyway, I thought what I would do is just kind of knock off some greeting for you, for your listeners, and then I think you can probably isolate them and put them on separate tracks. Let’s see, the first one you should have now … well, I guess it should be Christmas time.”

Without any prepared scripts, Mr. Sinatra knocked off one promo after another:

“Hi, everybody, this is Frank Sinatra, wanting to wish you, all your families, and all of your relatives a wonderful Christmas, and I hope Santa Claus is good to all of you and God bless.”

Another said, “Hello there, everybody, this is Frank Sinatra, and I just like to say that I’m delighted that Dick Golden is playing my records from time to time on WQRC at 100 FM in Hyannis and I hope the signal is reaching all kinds of people way out on boats, submarines, dinghies, and all kinds of people. And we hope that you enjoy the music from time to time.”

“Howdy, folks, this is Francis Albert Sinatra talking to you from Hyannis, Massachusetts, where Dick Golden plays all the fine music of the great artists like Nat Cole and Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, and Count Basie and Louis Armstrong and everybody you can think of, including myself, which pleases me. Enjoy the music. It will keep you happy.”

Others followed, including messages for New Year’s and Mother’s Day. Years later, after Sinatra’s 1998 passing, Golden met the singer’s daughter, Nancy, at the opening of Tony and Susan Bennett’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens. Says Golden, “I said to Nancy that she probably has at least 100,000 stories that exemplify her father’s great generosity of spirit and charity—but I wanted to give her the 100,001th tale.” After telling her of her father’s taped messages, she asked Golden “to write up the story so she could post it on the Frank Sinatra Family website. It was personally very gratifying to share with his daughter—Nancy with the laughing face—the love and admiration I have for the artistry of Frank Sinatra.”

Dick Golden, who claims to be “a few years younger than Paul McCartney,” was born and raised in the late 1950s/early 1960s in Quincy, Massachusetts, the “City of Presidents.” Says Golden, “I had a great cultural advantage because so many of the masters of jazz, the creators of the American Songbook, and the greatest interpreters of this music were alive and still relevant in America’s popular culture.”

The gateway for Golden and millions of others to the riches of American music was … the radio. “Radio … the same instrument that opened the ears and imagination of a teenaged Frank Sinatra to the music of Bing Crosby and Rudy Valle. Radio … which carried his voice through the air when it was broadcast from the Rustic Inn in New Jersey where he worked as a singing waiter… The popularity of swing and the music of the Big Band era were fueled by the popularity of radio as it matured in the early to mid-1930s-the first ‘Golden Age of Radio.’

“I grew up in a home where radio was quite prevalent, and as a kid it really captured my imagination. The sound of voices and music traveling through the air, and to me as a child, magically coming out of the radio speaker, never failed to intrigue and amaze me. The late 1950s was the time that traditional popular music stations were morphing into Top Forty formats but because the preference in my home was to listen to stations that featured Ella, Tony, Sinatra, et al., my ears were opened, at an early age, to well-crafted songs performed by artists who could communicate to listeners on more than just an audio level… who could make an emotional connection with the listener.

“I’m not sure exactly when the ambition crystallized for me, but sometime in my pre-teen years I had decided that this is what I would like to pursue in my life … to enjoy the solitude and low visibility of a radio studio and create programs that featured a body of music that was so creative and timeless and bought such joy and hope to listeners. In addition to a great knowledge and appreciation of music, the people I listened to on the radio all conveyed, through their words and the selections they played, a great sense of appreciation and respect for the radio audience. You are asking people for their most precious possession … their time.”

As one can tell by these words, Dick Golden is also a poet.

Golden nabbed his first radio job at an AM station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire while still in high school. Then while attending Northeastern University, he worked for two Boston radio stations, receiving valuable “big market” broadcasting experience before moving to Cape Cod. “In 1970 I moved to Falmouth on Cape Cod to become the first program director at WCIB. In June of 1972 I was given the opportunity to join Don Moore, founder and operator of WQRC in Hyannis.”

Don Moore, according to Golden, was an anomaly “in that the quality of the radio content was first and foremost (to him) and not how much revenue he could produce. He understood the unique radio market Cape Cod is—the pride of place so many residents have in that beautiful area. Don’s standards were very high.”

By February 1973 Golden was given the additional duty of creating and producing a weekly hour-long public affairs program. “For 10 years, each week, I was given the freedom to produce a radio magazine using Cape Cod as my source for stories and radio profiles. I got to interview Teddy Wilson, George Wein (who had established Storyville on Cape Cod for a few seasons in the early 1960s); Bobby Hackett (who lived in Chatham); Dave McKenna (who lived in Dennis); and Ruby Braff (who also lived in Dennis). With Jack Bradley and Marie Marcus we did the first radio promotion for the Cape Cod Jazz Society. Over the years other guests included Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. She lived in Falmouth and I got to record and produce a radio version of A Christmas Carol with Monica narrating. For several years, on Christmas Eve, WQRC would feature a live broadcast of pianist Dave McKenna’s holiday concert at the Asa Bearse House on Main Street in Hyannis and then broadcast Monica Dickens’ production of A Christmas Carol.”

The “public service” aspect of Golden’s career afforded him countless unforgettable experiences. “I interviewed Walter Cronkite on his boat in Falmouth Harbor. With News Director Bob Seay, I was invited to an almost two-hour one-on-one interview with Senator Ted Kennedy in the living room of the Hyannisport compound and then had the Senator conduct a personal tour of that historical home. I also co-produced and co-hosted a Cape Cod Cancer Society tribute to actress Lee Remick, who lived part of the year on Cape Cod. The other host was actress Julie Harris, who lived in Chatham. This unforgettable evening was held at the historic Cape Playhouse in Dennis, where Lee made her first starring stage appearance with Art Carney in The Seven-Year Itch in the summer of 1956. Lee’s spirit inhabited every minute of the event. Roddy McDowall flew in from Hollywood to make a presentation. We had tribute letters from Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Stephen Sondheim (Lee had appeared in Anyone Can Whistle) and Angela Lansbury.” Miss Remick—who this writer once saw in Boston’s Logan Airport looking too lovely for words—passed away from cancer in July 1991.

In addition, Golden served as host for Jazz Society of Cape Cod concerts; served on the board of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra; and was a charter member of the Pops By The Sea steering committee that first brought the Boston Pops Orchestra each August to Hyannis’ Village Green. “Among my duties in that project was to serve as program host for the underwriters’ event on the Saturday before the Sunday afternoon concert, and to introduce the honorary chairs for the event, which included Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite, Joan Kennedy, Mike Wallace, Julia Child, and Beverly Sills. The project led to helping to create the Jazz By The Sea concerts we staged on the Friday night preceding the Sunday concert and we presented artists such as Carol Sloane, Herb Pomeroy, and the John Pizzarelli, Jr. Trio in their first Cape Cod concert.” Due to his public service work, Golden was made a Paul Harris Fellow by the Mid-Cape Rotary Club and honored by groups such as the Cape Cod NAACP, the Cape Cod Conservatory, the United Way of Cape Cod, and The Samaritans, among other organizations. “All of this commitment was a result of the deep appreciation I had for being able to live and work in such a unique and beautiful area like Cape Cod.”

When Duke Ellington died in May 1974, Golden approached his boss Don Moore with an idea: “I convinced Don (not a difficult task) that we should produce a three-hour local tribute to this American Master. A friend who worked at WCBS radio in New York sent me the entire memorial service, which gave me some wonderful material (including the eloquent Stanley Dance eulogy) to mix with local interviews and, of course, Duke Ellington’s recorded music. When asking Don for his permission to create and air something that would preempt our regular programming, I thought I could appeal to him by saying, ‘Don, this is something I’m sure that we could get an institutional sponsor for and the station could gain revenue from this.’ His immediate response was, ‘Dick, we would never try and SELL something that is meant to be a tribute to a great and creative American genius. Go ahead. You’ve got three hours.’ And this was the OWNER of the station!” Golden’s Ellington tribute went on to win a UPI Tom Phillips Award.

So it’s not surprising that in 1977 Moore approached Golden with an idea, a six-evening-a-week, four-hour-an-evening program that would feature “America’s music.” Says Golden, “Again, I was offered something that was more valuable than income and that was ‘freedom of expression’—the essence of the music I was allowed to play.” This Golden show premiered during Labor Day Weekend, 1977.

“One of the great coincidences of establishing the program in 1977,” says Golden, “was that Carl Jefferson had created his Concord Jazz label in California in 1973 and among the first artists signed were Cape Cod’s Dave McKenna and Providence, Rhode Island’s saxophone legend Scott Hamilton. Soon other New Englanders like Jake Hanna, Carol Sloane, Gray Sargent, Ruby Braff, Lou Colombo, etc. were recording for the label and I had the great joy of being able to share with ‘hometown’ audiences the results of their masterpiece recordings. This all culminated with Carl Jefferson coming to Cape Cod in May of 1992 and I had the pleasure of hosting a Sunday called Concord All-Stars on Cape Cod. I not only got to welcome the guest artists but I also got to bring Carl Jefferson onstage and have him bask in the glow of an audience that was truly grateful that he recognized the major jazz talent that lived in the Cape Cod and Boston area.”

We Cape Codders lived in jazz heaven for quite a while, with Dave McKenna playing regularly at Dave Colombo’s Roadhouse Café. “What a joy,” recalls Golden, “to listen to anything Dave McKenna played, and then to get to know him. His sons Steve and Doug would come to the WQRC studios on occasion to watch me produce the evening program. Dave’s wife Frankie loved pug dogs and asked me to please bring my pug Curly to the McKennas’ Dennisport home for a visit. She promised to have treats for him. The boys loved Curly and then Frankie said, ‘Dick, bring Curly out to the kitchen … I’ve cut up a jelly doughnut for him.’ While Curly was really going at the doughnut, Dave walked through the kitchen, stopped to gaze at my pug, and then I heard Curly emit a low growl. Dave came into the living room and said, ‘That’s a very smart dog you have. He knew with me in the room that he better be very protective of that doughnut!'”

In 1985 Don Moore sold WQRC, and twelve years later a decision was made to scale back Nightlights to just weekends. Golden was “personally devastated” and the public sprang into action. “Hundreds of letters, phone calls, newspaper editorials, signed petitions of protests … all from an audience who for twenty years had found a radio beacon that featured jazz and American standards for four hours each evening. I have a 300-page book compilation of some of the material from that chapter of the story. It is still amazing to read the comments of how important this music is to listeners’ lives.” Among the people who wrote letters were Tony Bennett, Carly Simon, Willie Nelson, Michael Feinstein, Billy May, Bette Midler, Lionel Hampton, George Shearing and the wonderful singer Susannah McCorkle. Nightlights was restored to its traditional schedule.

It is no surprise that Tony Bennett wrote a passionate letter for Nighlights, for not only is Mr. Bennett a connoisseur of artistic excellence in all its forms, but he is also one of Dick Golden’s closest friends. “Tony Bennett’s personal friendship is something that I count among my greatest treasures,” says Golden. “He is like a wise and caring brother. I’ve known him for over 30 years and each time we talk, I learn something new… I become inspired to read a book, or to look at a painting, or to listen to a piece of music he might suggest.

“One of the most influential books in Tony’s life is painter Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. It has offered Tony an insight into what every great artist must do to realize the limits of their gifts: to observe nature, which leads to a deep passion for all things living. I have a copy Tony gave me and it is a continual source of insight and inspiration.

“When Tony is home (at his Central Park South apartment) he spends as much time as possible in his painting studio. Two of the four books he’s written are art books. He is as dedicated to painting as he is to singing. He has three paintings in Smithsonian museums. His Ella is part of the National Museum of American History. His Duke ‘God Is Love’ painting is part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, and he has murals of Central Park at the Renwick Gallery.”

Golden introduced this writer to Mr. Bennett backstage at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1994. One is struck immediately by the legend’s sincere kindness. It is heartening to know that some geniuses are as good-hearted as they are gifted.

Tony Bennett, by all accounts, is one of those unique human beings (Duke Ellington was another) who simply cannot stop being creative. “One day,” says Golden, “Tony called and told me that he was in his art studio working on a painting of Abraham Lincoln with Turner Classic Movies on in the background. That’s Entertainment was showing and Tony was thrilled at the performances he saw by Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. Later in the afternoon he wanted to continue reading Roger Housden’s How Rembrandt Reveals Your Beautiful Imperfect Self. He is a natural teacher and a natural lifelong student. (Recently) he fulfilled a longtime ambition to create a sculpture. He believes that learning some of the mechanics of the process would better inform his painting. His first sculptured creation was a bust of his longtime friend, Harry Belafonte.”

Tony’s roots, according to Golden, are beyond deep. “The first source of his inspiration to sing and paint was a wonderful, close, and loving family (in Astoria, Queens). His dad died when Tony was ten and his mother raised the three Benedetto children—he had an older sister, Mary, and brother, John—instilling in them not only a set of high personal standards, but also with a great sense of justice.

“(Bennett’s) brother John told me one time that he had gone into the Second World War a few years before Tony joined the Army and was sent to the front lines. Upon returning, the brothers had a long discussion about their shared anger and frustration over segregation in the armed forces. ‘How could we send men into battle to preserve freedom, and then have them denied that freedom by segregation of the troops while in service and … deep segregation upon their return home?’ The brothers agreed that it was their mother and their family who had instilled this deep sense of justice within them.”

With the release of the film Selma, a new generation will learn of the bravery of the men and women who took part in the three marches, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March, 1965. Taking part in this historic march—which helped usher in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965—were Dr. King’s friends Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte. Golden tells a beautiful story of Tony performing for the marchers one night. “Of course, there was no stage—everyone was standing or sitting in a field in Alabama—but a local undertaker provided an empty wooden coffin and Tony stood on it to sing.”

Mr. Bennett’s strong desire to give back to his community continues to this day. Says Golden, “Just as Tony derived strength, values, ambition, and much love and security from his family as he grew up, today his family is the center of his universe. His wife Susan is devoted to helping to create just the perfect environment for Tony to focus on his passions of singing and painting. She and Tony have also created the shining light of performing-arts high schools in New York City, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, located in Astoria, Queens, Tony’s hometown. In addition to guiding the school, their foundation, Exploring the Arts—Tony Bennett’s foundation for arts education—is now subsidizing arts programs in 17 public high schools in New York and Los Angeles.”

With a warm smile, Golden says, “As a radio host, I owe so much to Mr. Bennett because he helps infuse such a great spirit into any program when you include one of his tracks. So often I’ve been asked by listeners, ‘Does Tony Bennett write those songs he sings?’ His honesty/authenticity is so believable that listeners sometime can’t distinguish the singer from the song. To me that’s a grand slam. Louis Armstrong, the father of jazz singing … captured Tony’s gift so accurately when he observed, ‘If Tony Bennett, who sing-swings wonderfully, can’t send you, there’s a psychiatrist right up the street from you. DIG him.'”

And like Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett is as fine a human being as he is an artist. Says Golden, “Tony Bennett has been my model and inspiration for my career in radio. His uncompromisingly high standards and his quest to record only great songs—and to bring to his live performances a spirit and joy that is so uplifting to the human spirit—has been the goal I’ve set for myself in producing radio programs. His friend, the pianist Bill Evans (with whom he recorded two classic albums), told New York radio personality William B. Williams, ‘Every great jazz musician I know idolizes Tony Bennett. From Philly Joe Jones to Miles Davis, you name it. He puts music first, and has dedicated himself to it. He has great respect for music and musicians and that comes through, and it’s just a joy to work with someone like that.'”

How has Bennett’s dedication to music translated to Golden’s radio work? “Each time you have the privilege to sit before a mic and choose music to create a program, you should always use great care in what you play … and say. I don’t talk very much between selections except to give the essential information a listener would want. Once you say, ‘Here’s the Duke Ellington Orchestra,’ get out of the way and play the music. What possibly could you say that would enhance the listener’s experience? When the selection is over you might say, ‘October 1957, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra featuring Johnny Hodges on saxophone, and Duke’s composition, “Prelude to a Kiss.”‘ By giving this information you’re acting in service to the music and the listener.”

According to Golden, the latest chapter in Mr. Bennett’s career—his best-selling album and sold-out performances with Lady Gaga—is part of his lifelong ambition: “to expose young audiences to music they have little access to. The airwaves have abandoned, for the most part, jazz and American standards. This causes consternation with Tony because he believes we are being denied access to our great American musical heritage. He believes when we study jazz and its roots in the African-American experience we are learning about the struggles of a people and how this music is an extension of their experience. As President Clinton once said of jazz, it is a form of music that ‘was forged in great pain, but played with great joy.’ And it is not only the music young people are hearing when they hear/see Tony and Lady, but it is the message of these songs: ‘Love is funny or it’s sad…it’s a good thing or it’s bad…but beautiful.’ Or when they sing Nat Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’: ‘…the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love…and be loved in return.’ Then there’s the style…the clothes…the dance steps, the obvious joy and respect they have for the music, each other, and the audience. It’s a joy to witness.”

Who was Dick Golden’s first radio interview? “It was August 1962,” he recalls, “and I was working at WBBX-AM in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Count Basie had been appearing at the Hampton Beach Casino. I did some background research but I knew I was not adequately qualified to ask questions of such a giant.

“I brought my Wollensak tape recorder to the main ballroom at the appointed time and after the first set, which was electrifying, Basie’s road manager came to me, then brought me to the Count, saying, ‘Here’s the kid from the radio station who wants to interview you.’ I don’t know what Basie must have thought. He and the band were on their way to Los Angeles to record their first studio album with Frank Sinatra … and here’s some kid…” However, Basie was generous and friendly. “He suggested we find a quiet dressing room for our talk and on the way stopped at a little clam stand and insisted on buying me an order of fried clams and a soft drink. Once we began the interview, I took out my list of questions and with a quivering voice began… Now with those amazing ears of his, he could hear and sense my nervousness but instead of the short, concise answers he usually gave—he spoke like he played: every note or every word spoke volumes—to assist me he gave long and loquacious responses. He treated me with such respect you’d have thought I was Ralph Gleason or Nat Hentoff interviewing this international giant. When the interview was over, he then recorded two or three station IDs and asked that I rewind the tape and listen to the first fifteen seconds, just to make sure everything was recorded.”

And as the years flowed past, with Golden interviewing musical immortals such as Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, and Oscar Peterson, he realized that America’s jazz artists share a common quality: “They are deeply spiritual people.” In fact, Golden asked Oscar Peterson the question: You knew Basie for such a long time and were such close friends. Would you describe him as a spiritual person?

Mr. Peterson, growing quite emotional, replied, “Well, let me tell you something. Bill was such a kind and humble person. He was like a brother to me and when my wife and I had the joy of our first child, I invited Basie over to the house. When he arrived, I handed him our little baby. Basie cuddled her in his arms and as I looked at him with that little angel, the only thing I could think of was a classic painting of the Madonna and child.” (When Golden told this story to Tony Bennett, the singer replied, “That image would make a great painting!”)

Like any person of substance, Dick Golden is resilient. Despite being “personally devastated” by the demise of Nightlights (believe me, he wasn’t alone), he came back swinging. A lifelong New Englander, he packed his bags and moved to our nation’s capital to work at George Washington University.

“When I arrived, GWU was the venue for the daily broadcasting of CNN’s Crossfire. This led to other national television productions that our office was involved in producing. The school’s location, which the founders in 1821 said would always be our greatest endowment, is four blocks from the White House and up the street from the National Mall and all the Smithsonian museums.

“There is such a great vitality at the university … year round … and our office gets to interact with some wonderful students and faculty and many other offices within GWU. It’s a community of about 30,000 people. And so much of my work is in External Relations/Office of Events in addition to producing the weekly radio program.

“When Sirius merged with XM, GW Presents American Jazz was now broadcast twice each weekend on the Real Jazz Channel. The Sirius audience is involved and smart! It’s a joy to receive their feedback and as a radio listener, I very much enjoy several of their channels.”

So how does one prepare a satellite radio show? Says Golden, “I usually spend one or two weekend days recording the program in a small radio station at the university. It’s quiet at that time and I’m usually free from my other responsibilities as a member of the Office of University Events. I try to work about a month in advance of programs airing. Unlike the Cape Cod program, which was listened to by people in the same time zone, I do try to keep in mind that when the program first airs (Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon EST), that the audience is listening in three different time zones (so) their lives have a variety of rhythms and patterns.

“If there are historic tie-ins (the birthday of a composer or jazz icon), I will create a theme around that subject. I think of the program like a jazz performance. You start the set with a few tunes you know you’re going to include and as you listen (I’m recording the program in real time, which means I get to listen to each track), you often become inspired in your choice of the next couple of selections.”

How refreshing to hear! How different in tone and philosophy from most of the rest of music radio—forced by demographics to play the same mechanical, soulless tunes ad nauseam.

“What guides me in my programming choices,” says Golden, “in addition to listener comments, are the music philosophies of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, which have formed my principles. It was Louis who said, ‘What we play is life. The memory of things gone by is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the back yard on a hot night or something said long ago.’ And then Duke Ellington: ‘What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music (cicadas in the tropical night). The sea is music; the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infinite.'” As these quotes show, Pops and Duke were poets of words as well as notes.

A year after Golden joined GW Presents American Jazz, he and Mike Freedman received a conference call from Tony Bennett. “I was taking (his beloved pug) Curly for a walk along Barnstable Harbor, Mike was at this GW office, and Tony was at his New York City apartment. Tony suggested we produce a program that would feature profiles of a group of iconic Americans—everyone from pianist Bill Evans to entertainer Jimmy Durante. He suggested we call the program GW Presents Beyond Category. The series ran on the XM Fine Tuning channel and we created about 50 two-hour programs with themes that included the music of the Gershwins, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Johnny Carson, Abraham Lincoln, Tony’s great friend the portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, Quincy Jones, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Yip Harburg, Louis Armstrong, Harold Arlen, Bobby Hackett, W.C. Handy, Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. An essential part of most of the programs was interview comments from Tony. These people are among the ones who nourished his talent and his life.” Not surprisingly, the show was honored at the 2008 New York Festivals International Radio Broadcasting Awards.

Golden is understandably proud of what he’s accomplished at George Washington University, and of the school itself. “We often say that our campus is four blocks from the White House—but we are also only four blocks from Ward Place, the birthplace of Duke Ellington. The university offered the first classroom space to what has become the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown.” Alumni of the Duke Ellington School include opera star Denise Graves and comedian Dave Chappelle.

Golden gives a great deal of credit to Dr. Steven Knapp, the president of George Washington University. “He is not only a scholar and university administrator, but also a jazz percussionist and a firm advocate of the humanities being a part of our students’ experience while attending GWU. Dr. Knapp is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he just recently concluded a project that resulted in GW acquiring the historic 1869 Corcoran Gallery.”

Shortly after Dr. Knapp became the university’s sixteenth president in August 2007, he offered GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium “as a venue to launch Jazz Appreciation Month, which was founded by Dr. John Edward Hasse, the Smithsonian’s Curator of American Music.” Others may know Dr. Hasse as the author of the essential 1993 biography Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington (Da Capo Press).

Says Golden, “The launch (of Jazz Appreciation Month) included an appearance by pianist Ramsey Lewis. The GW Presents American Jazz program features Smithsonian guests during the four weekends in April and gives us a chance to spread the word to a national radio audience of the vitality of the music. Dr. Hasse brings his wide range of experience and knowledge to these programs, and they also give us a chance to air selections by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. As the relationship has grown, Dr. Knapp has collaborated with the Smithsonian to produce two concerts at Lisner Auditorium that are free and open to our students and (folks from the) Foggy Bottom neighborhood. We have an exceptional jazz faculty in our music department and our students perform at the Kennedy Center, the State Department, and other DC venues. They are also very engaged in Jazz Appreciation Month.” Mr. Golden was also asked to narrate Aaron Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait with the Air Force Concert Orchestra at DAR Constitution Hall. “This was an extension of my work with The Airmen of Note Air Force Jazz group that sponsors a jazz heritage series hosted by GWU and open free to the GW and Foggy Bottom community.”

Yes, it’s safe to say that Dick Golden, with passion and resilience, has done quite well since leaving Cape Cod.

Oh, and if this isn’t enough, Golden also produces a weekly three-hour program called The American Songbook for the NPR station along Florida’s Treasure Coast, WQCS (88.9 FM and on line at This equally essential program airs on Saturdays from 8-11 p.m. following Prairie Home Companion.

Oh, and sorry for keeping you waiting. Mr. Golden? “In October 1937, in great pain and stress after being thrown from a horse, while waiting for help, Cole Porter in his head composed, ‘At Long Last Love.'”

As he dives in to prepare yet another glorious show of the very best of American music, Golden wraps up our interview by saying, “Again, I love the Louis Armstrong quote—because it captures what I’ve always tried to present to a radio audience: ‘What we play is life.'” Originally Published