His voice was as crisp and cool as a fall night wafting over the campus of Illinois State University in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. As host of “More Jazz,” Joe Davis ’81, was a soothing voice coming riding on the airwaves.
From the minute he stepped to the microphone at WGLT, a National Public Radio affiliate licensed to ISU, Davis began honing skills that eventually catapulted him to fame at major market urban radio stations across the country from Philadelphia to Florida.
As “Jo-Jo Davis” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Davis earned many awards, including the 2000 Billboard R&B Monitor Assistant Program Director/Music Director of the Year, for entertaining and informing listeners for more than 30 years as a broadcaster before switching gears to pursue law.
In 2001, Davis opened the Law Offices of Joseph Haynes Davis, a full-service firm that serves individual and corporate clients, and has been appointed year after year to serve as an exemption/classification Value Adjustment Board Special Magistrate.
Davis loves to debate the intricacies of the U.S. Constitution and relishes his role as a highly sought legal analyst. He has appeared with Anderson Cooper and Chris Matthews in the murder cases of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. He also frequently appears on “TRT World,” an Istanbul-based, English-language broadcast company.
“The cornerstone, the cornerstone, the cornerstone of all my accomplishments was my ability to matriculate while working at WGLT. Being at ISU in the School of Communication and access to public radio all the time solidified me as a professional,’’ he said.
Looking back over his high-profile career, both as a broadcaster and an analyst, Davis points to his early experiences at ISU as the foundation for his soaring successes.
Professor Mike Shelly had encouraged a young Davis to join the station, and he would go on to be a news announcer, co-host of the local “All Things Considered,” and the host of jazz and classical music programming. He initiated many strategies in place to this day.
From his broadcast perch, Davis sometimes would play the albums of his older half-brother, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis who would often visit the family in East Saint Louis, according to a 1959 spread in “Ebony” magazine.
Davis was the last child born to dental surgeon Miles Davis, Sr. and Josephine, a public school teacher and one-time radio show host. His parents, both college graduates in a time when African Americans faced barriers to education, pushed their son to excel in his own life and give back to others less fortunate.
At ISU, he joined the historically black fraternity of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. to promote academic scholarship and service to the community. His brothers agreed he was unusually focused and driven as a student, and that Davis helped promote the fraternity’s visibility.
“I had a class with him, and he was always so knowledgeable and articulate,” said Grailing King, ’82. “He was like a celebrity on campus.”
In a professional recommendation for Davis, G. Ben Paxton, Jr., WGLT General Manager in 1981, wrote “His interest in and expertise in jazz has made him one of the best announcers we’ve had in that type of programming.”
Paxton and then Program Director Peter Dominowski, now president and general manager of WBOI in Indiana, were pivotal in Davis’ trajectory. “Were it not for them, I wouldn’t be who I am,’’ he said.
Inspired by his achievements at ISU, Davis went on to burn up the airwaves at WUSL (Power 99) in Philadelphia, and WVEE (V-103) in Atlanta, KRNB (Smooth R&B 105.7) in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and WCFB (Star 94.5) in Orlando.
Calling himself a “holistic broadcaster,” Davis said he was intrigued by a new music genre he helped introduce to the Philadelphia market in the ‘90s. He decided to study it.
“Hip-Hop was brand new, and I wanted to know if what I was playing affected the subconscious of my listeners,”
The answers are in his 1992 Master’s of Social Work thesis, “The Black Male Juvenile Delinquent: A Struggle with Manhood and Identity.” In 1996, he earned a Juris Doctor from Rutgers Law-Camden.
He said his interest in the law began with a media law class.
“The seeds were planted there and made me realize I had a greater responsibility to the Black community than to just play the hits,’’ said Davis, who volunteered with several nonprofits across Philadelphia.
For his work on and off the air, ISU’s School of Communication took notice, and in 1998, honored Davis with the Outstanding Graduate in Communication award for his accomplishments in the field of broadcast.
During his last visit to campus in 2019, Davis visited Dr. Steve Hunt, who now leads the School of Communication. He also met with ISU President Larry Dietz, and, of course, visited the broadcast center of WGLT, which he called the 310 Media Center, in the Old Union building near Hovey Hall.
Talking about the trip brought emotion to Davis’ voice.
“They still have my desk in the corner. It a storage area now, but I used to set up my turntable there and stack my records. To walk in and see it and see how the program has grown… it’s really incredible to see the impact you have.”