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Who is Gloria Toote?


There is a Starbucks at the corner of Palisade Avenue and Dean Street in Englewood, New Jersey, where I have lived for many years. Only recently, however, did I learn that that corner was the site of a state-of-the-art recording and mastering studio, Town Sound Recording Studios, that was founded by a Black woman—Gloria Toote! My son David, Associate Professor of African American History, Ramapo College, discovered Gloria Toote for his fascinating project  “Englewood Makes History.” (Check out “Englewood Makes History” on TikTok)

Intrigued, I set out to learn more.

In June of 1969, Mel Most, a business writer for The Record, a newspaper in Hackensack, New Jersey, went to Town Sound Studios and interviewed Gloria Toote: “This is a business story,” he wrote, “that’s got everything—a Horatio Alger who started on a shoestring and a bootstrap, a bishop’s daughter, and a U.S. Supreme Court lawyer who made good in Tin Pan Alley, a handsome businesswoman who beat the men at their game, a philanthropist who put underprivileged youth on their feet. Timeliest of all: a minority group, do-it-yourself entrepreneur who showed it could be done.

All of them are Gloria Toote.”

Born on November 8, 1931, in Harlem, Gloria Toote’s parents—Bishop Frederick Augustus Toote and Lillie M. Tooks Toote—were activists in a worldwide movement—Black

nationalism and Pan-Africanism—that were dedicated to promoting the social, political, and economic empowerment of all Black people. The Tootes were also all physically short: “My father was not quite 5-feet-2 like me and my mother is even shorter. We Tootes are small maybe, but we move fast.” To please her father, Gloria earned law degrees at two universities: Howard in Washington, D. C., where she was the youngest person to earn a law

degree, and Columbia in New York City, where her dissertation was on the constitutional law and civil rights. In 1958, she was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For many years, Gloria Toote worked at a prestigious law firm, specializing in constitutional, corporate, and entertainment law.  Her clients included the songwriter, singer, and producer Luther Dixon. (Dixon would later team up with producer Florence Greenberg, a bored-housewife-turned-record- producer who first recorded The Shirelles from Passaic, New Jersey, who pioneered the girl group genre. I

met two of the Shirelles when they were inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2014.)

“A LOT OF my friends were in the music business,” Gloria Tate told a reporter. “They were making a lot of money and throwing it away and I got to be business adviser.”  In 1965, when she heard about a vacant building in Englewood, a town just across the George Washington Bridge, Gloria Toote seized the opportunity.

The 95-year old four-story building with 10,000 square feet of space had been empty for years. Unfazed by the ruinous condition of the dilapidated space, Gloria Toote named herself the contractor, hired a licensed electrician and plumber, recruited unemployed black youth who had dropped out of school, went to the library to learn about sound studios, and set to work creating Town Sound Recording Studios. (She set aside a two-room suite to set up Conscience for Mankind to raise funds for needy and promising youth.)

A year later, “Science and Mechanics Magazine” termed Town Sound “the  best-equipped recording studio in the East.”  A columnist for The Pittsburg Courier, wrote, “It’s rated by musician and singers who’ve used the facilities as tops in sound and equipment.” A high school student Gloria Toote trained to use the recording equipment went on to become probably the only Black recording engineer in Los Angeles at that time.

Renowned performers recorded at Town Sound Studios such as Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist ; the British rock group The Animals; and The Mothers of Invention, an American band.  Other projects included a sound track for an Otto Preminger movie, a children’s record, industrial training films, and a session with a 72-piece high school band.

Gloria Toote created a soul record label, Tru-Glo Town Record Company, with her partners Ed Thompson, a singer, songwriter, and Trude Heller, a promoter and owner of  a “swinging

nitespot” in Greenwich Village, the eponymous—Trude Heller’s. Under the Tru-Glow-Town label, they released songs such as “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo” by Don Gardner and “That’s the Way  Love Is” by Susaye Greene who went on to be one of the  legendary Supremes. (Some Tru-Glo Town records are on YouTube. It is fun to see the actual record and listen to long-ago songs!)

That all ended on June 2, 1970. In the early morning hours, Town Sound Studios burned down, destroying $500,000 worth of recording

equipment. Gloria Toote who lived just across the George Washington Bridge in Harlem, was summoned.  “Miss Toote appeared at the scene as the fire continued this morning,” a reporter wrote. “She broke into tears and was taken home.”

Gloria Toote quickly bounced back, returning to work in law, politics, and public service. She served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  Ronald Reagan appointed her head of the Merit Systems Protection Board that managed the civil service, making her the second highest ranking black person in his administration.

Gloria Toote lived her whole life in her parents’ home, 282 West 137th Street in Harlem. She died there on May 18, 2017.

Although I don’t frequent Starbucks, I do frequently drive pass the corner of Dean Street and Palisade Avenue that I’ve now dubbed—Gloria Toote’s Corner.


Images: Mel Most's article; Gloria Toote, Penn State University Library; l-r Shirley Owens, Penny Colman, Beverly Lee 2014; Trude Heller's Matchbook, Off the Grid Village Preservation Blog; Dan Schlieben’s article; Gloria Toote photo posted with her obituary in The Desert Sun,  Palm Beach, California, one of Gloria Toote's favorite

places. There was mention of Town Sound Studios or Tru-Glo Town Records in her obituary.

Citations:

“This is . . .” Most, M. (1969, June 22). Miss Gloria Toote Scores A Record Success. The Record.

“My father . . . La Hay, W.  (1973, July 19). Gloria Toote is making waves at HUD. The Cincinnati Post.

“A LOT . . . La Hay, W. (1973, 19).

“The best. . . ( 1970, June 3, 13). Press of Atlantic City.

“It’s rated . . .Robinson, M. (1966, October 8, 11). In New York,” The Pittsburgh Courier.

“”swinging nitespot. Robinson, M., (1965, 2).

Miss Toote . . .Schlieben, D. (Fire Ruins Studio in Englewood. The Record.




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