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Part one of a two-part series

Mel Shaw, Lou Rawls, James Alston

Left to Right: Mel Shaw, Lou Rawls, and James Alston

During its heyday (1980 – 1993), the United Negro College Fund’s Lou Rawls Parade of Stars was the largest African American special event in the United States held on one day. It forever changed African American philanthropy and how African Americans are perceived as donors, volunteers and fundraising leaders.

Lou Rawls played an initiating role and three other men from outside of UNCF played key roles in creating, growing and sustaining this national special event. Here’s the back story.

When Anheuser-Busch signed Lou Rawls as its national spokesperson, the corporation asked which charity he wanted Anheuser-Busch to support as part of his contract. Lou replied, “UNCF,” for he had worked with our own Mel Shaw in Texas, promoting Something Special – a forerunner to the telethon. He had pledged to Mel, “If I ever get in a position to help this grow I will.” The time had come and Rawls asked Anheuser-Busch to help grow the telethon/radio-thon concept and take it national. Rawls’ manager spoke with the CEO of UNCF, the late Christopher Edley, who spoke with the leadership of Anheuser-Busch.

The timing was perfect, for there was a mandate from the UNCF board to enhance the number of African Americans supporting UNCF with both money and involvement. And Anheuser-Busch was looking to enhance its image in the African American community and grow its market share so that it would become the number one beer with African Americans. Anheuser-Busch wanted to know if UNCF could “make the needle move.” UNCF’s response was “yes.”

Anheuser-Busch had a history with UNCF as a donor, but it was nowhere near the level of financial investment that it grew to during the Low Rawls Parade of Stars. UNCF had been developing the telethon/radio-thon concept for five years in the Texas market under the leadership of Mel Shaw. Something Special was hosted by Nancy Wilson, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis and was broadcast in local markets across the state raising funds for UNCF and the Texas Association of Developing Colleges, all of whom were UNCF members.

For this project, the lead for Anheuser-Busch was Wayman Smith, then Vice President for minority affairs. Wayman ultimately provided financial backing in the millions of dollars, staffing, and all the resources at his disposal. His team included Victor Julien who was responsible for telethon-related marketing and cause marketing partnerships; and Byron Glore who produced the entertainment for the telethon. Together these three men fulfilled Anheuser-Busch’s commitment. They provided the necessary resources to produce the telethon and promote it both nationally and within local markets, especially through their distributors and key sales outlets.

Next week: more behind the scenes details.

Copyright 2016– Mel and Pearl Shaw

For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

Additional columns on the telethon:


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