African-American Advertising Pioneer Barbara Gardner Proctor Dies At 86 Trailblazing Chicago businesswoman Barbara Gardner Proctor, who was best known as the founder of the first ad agency owned by an African-American woman, died at 86 last month.
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African-American Advertising Pioneer Barbara Gardner Proctor Dies At 86

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African-American Advertising Pioneer Barbara Gardner Proctor Dies At 86

African-American Advertising Pioneer Barbara Gardner Proctor Dies At 86

African-American Advertising Pioneer Barbara Gardner Proctor Dies At 86

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/687951113/688372922" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Trailblazing Chicago businesswoman Barbara Gardner Proctor, who was best known as the founder of the first ad agency owned by an African-American woman, died at 86 last month.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to take the next couple of minutes to remember a pioneer - Barbara Proctor. She was the first African-American woman to start an advertising agency in the U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Her success in the heavily male and white advertising industry earned her the praise of President Ronald Reagan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONALD REAGAN: The spirit of enterprise is sparked by the sunrise industries of high tech and by small business people with big ideas, people like Barbara Proctor, who rose from a ghetto to build a multimillion-dollar advertising agency in Chicago.

CORNISH: Proctor was born in poverty, but managed to go on to college in Alabama. In 1954, she'd just spent a summer in Michigan and was planning to return to her native North Carolina to teach but made a fateful stop in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARBARA GARDNER PROCTOR: I lost my money to go back to North Carolina. As a matter of fact, I didn't lose it. I went shopping, and I spent it. And I lost my bus fare to go back to North Carolina. And in a sense, I've been 30 years trying to get my bus fare back home.

KELLY: Chicago became her home. But before that career in advertising, Proctor got work with a small record label called Vee-Jay, and it was that job that gave her a small hand in bringing an unknown British rock band to America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROM US TO YOU")

BEATLES: (Singing) Da-da-da-da (ph) dum-dum-dum (ph).

KELLY: Proctor swapped the rights for songs by the group The Four Seasons for those British singers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PROCTOR: I took The Four Seasons to London, and they traded with EMI Records to trade The Four Seasons' records for the Beatles.

CORNISH: Proctor's label released the Beatles, and after a couple of other jobs, she landed a job in advertising. When the agency she was working for proposed an ad borrowing images of social justice marches to sell hair care products, Proctor refused to take part, and she was fired.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PROCTOR: It became quite apparent to me that if I did not begin to control my own destiny, I was going to have it changed about every five years.

KELLY: And control her own destiny she sure did. Proctor went on to found Procter & Gardner, for years a highly successful agency with major accounts including Kraft Foods, Alberto-Culver and Illinois Bell. Proctor died last month at the age of 86. We learned of her death this week.

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