Lasker (Las) Bell (1928–2016)
Lasker Bell Sr., founder of the Las Bell Variety Show television and radio program, hosted the show from 1967 to 1985, ushering in a shift in entertainment options in southern Arkansas and the Arkansas-Louisiana-Mississippi region. Bell also made contributions in public affairs in Arkansas, holding civil appointments under Governors Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Bill Clinton.
Las Bell was born in Homer, Louisiana, on May 21, 1928. He was the son of Union Bell and Bethena Randolph. Bell was raised by Frank and Irene Brooks, his maternal grandparents. Early in his life, Bell worked as a sharecropper alongside his grandparents. Bell only attended school through the eighth grade and, in 1944, relocated to Camden (Ouachita County) to find employment. He later moved from Camden to Hastings, Nebraska, before returning to Camden where, in 1945, he began working for Camark Pottery. He worked there until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950. In 1952, Bell was honorably discharged as a corporal and returned to Camden to find work. Bell dreamed of becoming a radio and television show host. In 1967, Sonny Daye, the owner of radio station KJWH at 400 W. Main Street in El Dorado (Union County), hired Bell to host the station’s first soul music radio show.
Bell wanted to reach a larger audience, so he pitched the idea to producers of KTVE Channel 10 in El Dorado for a summertime show directed toward children. Bell envisioned a weekly musical showcase supported by a live audience of young people, similar to American Bandstand. In 1970, the Las Bell Variety Show became a part of KTVE’s weekly lineup. Bell hoped that the show would give African Americans in the South some of the same opportunities they had in northern states. High school students from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi participated in the show, which received sponsorships from Coca-Cola and Ouachita Valley Dairy, along with advertisements from First National Bank, Belk Jones Department Store, Budweiser, Piggly Wiggly, Pine Ford, and Kents Department Store. The Las Bell Variety Show aired on Saturdays from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. From 1970 to 1973, the show included dancing; an hour of musical genres including top-twenty, soul, and hard rock; and live group performances.
In 1974, Bell also became the first black interviewer for Channel 10 News. In 1975, Bell added a gospel show to his radio program. The radio show remained on air until station ownership changed in 1985.
Bell became active in community groups and causes, serving on the executive board for the Arkansas Council on Human Relations in Ouachita County, founding and organizing the Elks Club in Camden, becoming an ambassador of the Red Coat Human Relations Council, and serving on the governing board of South Central Arkansas Community Action Authority and the Bi-racial Committee for the Camden schools. Bell was also a public relations officer for Senior Citizens Council. In 1977, Bell was appointed to the Human Resources Commission by Governor David Pryor and was reappointed under Governor Frank White.
Bell and his wife, Joyce Harris Bell, had four children. After retiring, Bell resided in Camden, the mayor of which proclaimed May 21 to be “Lasker Bell Day” in 2014. Bell died on September 12, 2016, in Ruston, Louisiana.
For additional information:
Frazier, Tammy. “Molding His Destiny: From the Field to the Microphone.” Camden News, August 10, 2008, pp. 1C–2C.
Arkansas Baptist College
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I was a guest on the Las Bell variety show in the summer of 1973, probably one of the last shows to be produced. A group of us came from Ruston, Louisiana, to be on the show. I won the dance contest that day, dancing to one of James Brown’s songs. We received some Coke products. I wore a pair of split-down-the-front-white slacks with a lace blue body suit. Mr. Bell did not let my dance partner dance with me but instead another guy in the group who was also wearing a pair of white slacks danced with me, so we could match.
I would love to get a copy of that tape. I know it has been a long time. Great experience!!!
I remember his shows and my hometown appearing on the show. Would like to see reruns of those shows…
Man, that is all we had in those days on a daily basis. R&B was very limited, so we looked forward to the Las Bell hour. Mr. Bell was a great inspiration to me. God Bless him for what he did.
I have thought about the Las Bell variety dance show in El Dorado for many years. I am now fifty-eight years old. I was around thirteen or fourteen when myself and three of my sisters and brother were on the Las Bell Variety Show. I remember like yesterday being so excited about being on the show. My family used to watch it every Saturday. The Saturday after we were on the show, I couldn’t wait to see myself on TV for the first time. But then I realized that the show was live, and the people at home had watched it the day I was on the show.
I would love to get my hands on a copy of that recording. What a wonderful, memorable piece it would be to have. Las Bell made so many kids so happy back in those days.
I have often asked my friends and relatives in Ruston, Louisiana, if they remembered the Las Bell Variety Show. It reminded me of Soul Train, but I never knew the name of the show. I thought the show aired from Stamps. Glad to know that this was not my imagination. I can now provide proof to those who did not remember!