It’s common place to throw words around like “legendary” or “real deal” when describing someone. In order to garner more attention, hyperbole sells. For Blues and Music News, we believe those words describe LaDonna Tittle because she defines them. In addition to her radio career spanning over thirty years, LaDonna is also an actress, writer, chef, producer, the list goes on. She is extraordinary. LaDonna however, isn’t waiting for her next project. She feels the pull to create more now than ever in her career, and she aims to show the world just how much she loves what she does. Talking with La Donna was so enjoyable our half hour interview turned into an amazing hour of honesty, insight and laughter, giving us the opportunity to truly engage one of the most energetic and magnetic artists of our time.
Aaron Porter: You were honored with the PUSH Woman of the Year Award, do you find yourself reflecting on the life that earned you that reward and strive to maintain that, or do you keep moving forward, learning and growing as a person?
LT: Well, I must admit I always tried to keep it moving forward; and it’s always good to be recognized by your peers. It was a great honor and pleasure then, and still is today; I’m not the kind of person that takes anything for granted in this life…OKAY!
AP: How do you balance your personal values and beliefs with conflicts you’ve had as a role model, mentor and art in general?
LT: You don’t really recognize when you’re doing something like teaching or mentoring when you’re going through it, you just go through it. The next thing you know, if you’ve worked hard and you’ve done your best people will look and say, I want to be like that, I want to do this, I want to teach, I want to be a disc jockey, I want to be that. You talk them through it, answer the questions they have and give them the right direction. I’m a pretty off the cuff person with telling you what’s really real, and what is the truth about certain things.
AP: As long as you’re the best person you can be?
LT: At the time, because at lot of things are different from then, whatever period of time you’re talking about, and I guess that’s how I started in my career, and why I may have earned certain rewards.
AP: Absolutely. You’ve had an extensive career, you’ve done theater, radio, acting on TV and on the big screen, on top of that you’re a writer.
LT: Yeah and I’m about to do stand up! One of the things, and I mentioned this when I was writing about The Chi, and I keep forgetting because I did a demo tape for these guys and they have been trying to get it made and they finally got the green light for Comedy Central. So it’s called South Side, and I’m one of the characters in this family of south siders so it’s going to debut in January on Comedy Central.
AP: That’s amazing!
LT: I’m in either episode 107 or 108. The demo I was involved in with them was called, Rent-A-Center, that was it’s working title, but they finally settled on South Side. We also have season 2 of The Chi that’s going to start sometime here in February or March.
AP: Speaking of which you did grow up in Bronzeville and Hyde Park. It’s pretty cool that you’re getting to celebrate your roots with your art in your stand up and on The Chi.
AP: It’s hard to have a coming of age that just involves kids, because everyone is always learning.
LT: I’m telling you, the seniors are leaning from the kids the seniors are always learning, it’s such a diverse piece, I’m really proud to be in this project and I really do believe a season 3 is coming, I really do. I’m like, “Keep Ethel alive please! Keep Ethel swinging alright”!!!
AP: If it starts to look grim, just let us know, we’ll start the hashtag, #saveethel
LT: Thank you Aaron! Thank you! I sure will! I think they have plans for Ethel though, so far.
AP: Having done so many different things in your career did you ever wonder where you would be if you had concentrated on just one career path?
LT: Once I was, I was concentrating on one thing but it introduced me to another thing, I love doing radio, and I love acting, I have a passion for everything I get involved in and I jump in there 100%.
LT: I certainly have, and through my acting too. Yes absolutely, then this character I feel is like a lot of grandmothers, they care about their grandchildren or grandson if they have a good relationship. It just so happens the character of my grandson in The Chi he is endearing to his grandmother but he’s been through some things too and he’s trying to get his life together. She may not particularly care for the one girlfriend and maybe would rather he was with another young lady, but he’s trying to find himself too. I think I go through a lot of my experiences. I grew up loving my grandmother and that definitely played a role. I learned a lot from my elders, I’ve learned to respect my elders so that played a lot in it. The communities we live in now, they were fighting back then but we’re facing another sort of challenge with guns and violence and so forth. You kind of get a little taste of that with The Chi and how more or less we should face things if we could. If we could have some happy endings we would. It probably wouldn’t make for very good TV drama though. (LaDonna laughs)
LT: It does, you know, but if we can bring about a change over all what the story telling is about and how it’s going to evolve, I think that’s a good thing. We, Lena Waithe, who is really blowing through the roof there, talk about breaking some glass ceilings, this girl is really on a roll. Of course Common, he’s doing so many things. Just to be associated with these good people is really good. You know it started with me that way when I was living in Robert Taylor projects,(4525 So. Federal #1308) moving from 46th and Greenwood to 55th and Drexel and what did they call it? Urban renewal, what we called it was urban removal (laughs) when they were doing the University of Chicago, they cleared all that property out so we moved to 45th and Federal, Robert Taylor when they were brand new, they hadn’t declined to what they became in the end, at that time it was a nice community, we had Robert Taylor Center where I met Oscar Brown Jr., Okoro Harold Johnson, Joan Brown, and Phil Cohran when they formed the ETA Theatre, so I was blessed to come by some good people in the industry who showed me the real ropes and helped me through my acting career.
AP: During your radio career there were a few different companies you worked for.
LT: I always say I’ve been in the radio business for 150 years because the longer you’re in it, the more you have to learn. It’s something when you’re young and you’re going through it and you’re beginning earning a good living, because you know, modeling was good, and doing voice work, theater and getting acclimated into that was great. I kind of feel like my life was like James Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, every time he got ready to leave to go someplace to find this big future he always got pulled back to his home ground. Little did he know that this is going to be what he should be doing. So my life seems to have taken that path, unbeknownst to me, I’m like that. There’s so many times after a couple of jobs ended that I said okay, I’m throwing myself back into my acting because that’s truly my passion, ACTING!. I also have a passion for radio once I learned how to do it with enthusiasm and realistically as publicly allowed!. So you go back and forth, the good jobs come, and you’re like okay, let me just earn this living and I’ve always wanted my own place. Ever since I had to share a bedroom with my brothers and sisters living in Robert Taylor I knew what I wanted to do at 7 years old to be honest with you, long before we moved to Robert Taylor. I knew that I wanted to work. My goal then was to be a teacher, this is before I even thought about it. My mother and my father, I should say my mother more or less always had us in ballet, tap dance, and some kind of arts and crafts after school. We had a center right across the street from where I lived, 46th & Greenwood. There were a few churches too, the center we would go to was in one of them. The place we used to live is now a park called Greenwood Park, a little park, I’m hoping to rename that one day to Tittle Park, LaDonna Tittle Park. Sounds like a good plan to me! (She laughs)
AP: You mentioned you were teaching for a little while early on?
LT: Yes, teaching is hard but it’s rewarding, when you really are good at it, and you can inspire kids to do certain things. When you see that glow in their face when you’re teaching something it’s something. I taught in the inner city, oh man, I said to myself, “You know what Tittle you got to just try something different.” Before I started in radio, after I got my degree I started teaching over at what was Parker high school which is now Robeson. First thing was I knew I wasn’t making enough money, so I wanted to make more money, because I wanted my own space. So I said, “I don’t know about this.” So I continued to still do modeling and acting earning my wings, more classes than doing plays and stuff and as I continued to grow I got the gig with WBEE which was my first radio station. Thank god it was a union station, because I didn’t really know what significance it would play later in my life, as far as your pension, retirement and so forth. I don’t consider myself, I never considered myself retired but believe me some jobs that I finish I just think, okay, let me concentrate on my acting again. I never left that path, thank God I didn’t. I tell kids today and grown ups too, I find that you can have plan A, but have plan B, and nowadays you gotta have plan C and plan D too! So many seniors are going back to work, because either they have some different challenges they want to finish up or they have to. That’s the sad thing, the ones that have to, making sure they’re back to work and having a salary coming in, it’s challenging.
AP: Things are not getting cheaper.
LT: Absolutely, I try to tell people to be frugal with your money, if you make a little investment in some little bonds or something so you have something coming in. For you later on, take advantage of the good jobs that you’re going to have that pay good, because as you grow older you may have lesser paying jobs, you know what I’m saying? Even with the big movie stars, there’s an ebb and flow to life. You got your great ups and you got your days that you’ve got your flow and you just have to connect.
LT: Once I decided that I was going to do something different, and that was back in 2000, maybe 1999, my mother passed in 2000, and I said, “you know, I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted to do, and that is have my own T.V. show.” Because you audition for everything, it is such a world of rejection. 98% rejection to 2% chance of getting the jobs…It is such a world of rejection, but so rewarding when you’ve nailed it! So I said to myself, self, “I’m going to do my own show, I’m not going to wait to be on this show, or that show.” I’m going to do my own show, and in part it was learning to do more with the camera, electronics, editing, writing, and other elements to produce a good TV show. Because most all auditions are tapped, when auditioning for Roles, you have 60 seconds to get the job or 60 seconds to lose the job, and we’ve got some great talent in Chicago. So auditions are fierce, and now with social media you’re now put into this huge fish tank, it’s global, you not only get people from other cities auditioning like New York, California, and there have been jobs I have gotten where they’d auditioned globally. So you’re competing a lot of not just Chicago, but a lot of other places too. So that’s what inspired me to hang in there, it’s achievable. In radio they were going to digital, where we don’t play from carts anymore, it’s all digital now.
AP: I remember you saying that in a previous interview that radio has changed pretty significantly.
LT: Yes it has changed, it’s changed digitally wise and people can have syndicated shows and things like that. You’ll find more men than
women, because pay still isn’t equal, so that hasn’t changed. So you have to fight and negotiate for your salary, fight to have a good representative to represent you because, you know us representing ourselves isn’t always the best despite knowing what we want. With this industry it wasn’t so prominent then, until I got to WJPC then I had a nice lawyer who was making sure I was getting the right money every year. He was so popular that he represented a bunch of jocks at the time. We were top DJ’s at the time so that worked out pretty good. Once WJPC closed (1989) I had to make another career change. This time I thought, “Strictly acting, concentrate on it as long as I don’t starve, not too much, as long as I can pay my bills, my mortgage, I’m good.” What do I do, I jump right back into Radio with WNUA, and eventually WGCI. For the next ten years, and then things really started changing with formats; they’re tighter now, you can’t really play what you want, and everything is dictated more or less.
AP: No more cherry picking?
LT: Yes! No more cherry picking, I was a big cherry picker. I’d get called on that a lot. You can’t cherry pick the list; but you know what I’m gonna tell ya, some of the songs came so repeatedly because now they’re programming the music on ‘computers,’ machines right. Instead of you going and pulling something out from the library and playing now you have to coordinate what you pull with what’s on the menu (playlist). It became challenging, and redundant every 2 hours…. It had to be a computer mistake, right! So yes, ‘cherry pickin’ the list was inevitable…
AP: Were you able to as a DJ to find new music and play new music?
LT: Oh yeah, absolutely, if you’ve got a good program director, people are always telling me I should be a program director that I’ve, “Got a good ear for music, I feel like you have an ear for hits!” I can tell you when a song is going to be a hit or not, my musical ear is very good, I can tell you right off the bat. We used to have those kinds of meetings at WBMX when I was there(1973-78), and that was fun because the jocks got to participate in what was going to be on the music list. When I moved up, in terms of my level of pay, participating in Music programing decisions became less and less. In other words you used to have a program director who did it all. Now you have a program director, and operations manager and a music director. That’s why people wonder why they can’t get their song heard, well they’re looking at what’s number one on the charts they’re looking at all of this other data,
instead of what the people are calling to hear. What the people were calling to hear then was a lot of underground stuff, like the Parliament, Fundkadelic, and Disco, lot of underground stuff that eventually became popular. Thank goodness it did because we were there to say look, “We need to be playing this because it’s hot up in the clubs.” We needed to be doing this. “By the way, DISCO is back, cuz we love to dance”!
LT: Last year I did a my first interview podcast with some people out in NY. We did that through WBEZ, they rented out the station for us to do that recording and it turned out really good. One of the things we touched on was “what makes a hit record”?… I responded, “Excellent choice of material, PR(promotions), and Radio(airplay)”. I have a couple platinum and gold records on my wall, during my decades as a top jock in Chicago, though I don’t have any money for them (laughs). Several things, breaking a record or making it popular, it’s because that’s what people wanted then and now. For example, the Cha Cha Slide, DJ Casper said it was because of me it became popular during the 90s at WGCI. I didn’t know that I had helped it at the time, but I knew it was a hit. I just knew what people wanted to hear and the joy of line dancing and exercising classes, and the clubs enjoyed playing for the folks! I do have an ear for a hit… now it’s an even tighter format, for R&B, and top 40 radio formatted stations. A disc jockey comes to work and says “okay, why am I playing the same song I played yesterday at the same time and I can’t do nothing about it”. On top of that because it’s corporate radio you have more commercials; furthemore, the commercials that they run end up being longer than the 2 songs you hear. You’ve got people pushing the dial all the time because of it. So that tells you right there how things have changed. Speaking of today’s changes. I can’t believe I’m paying for water, TV and syndicated radio. I am so in protest of all 3; yet, I’m so hooked on bottled water, my cable TV, and loving my choices with all genres of music and talk on syndicated radio. My neighbor said, she got a new car with a 1 year free subscription to SIRIUS FM and now after her year was up, she’s currently paying $280 because she’s hooked on SIRIUS. Once they told her there was a Frank Sinatra station, she’s hooked for life!. As the song goes, “Everything Must Change”, by George Benson and Quincy Jones, some of my favorites. Changes for the better is always good, more options now. If someone came to me to do a syndicated show I’d be head over heels down for that! However, it’s not easy to compete with high profile recording artist, comedians, and actors who also want to be jocks…. Like Millie Jackson is doing a syndicated show, Dave Koz the jazz artist is doing a syndicated show, Ramsey Lewis, Steve Harvey is the greatest at it! I worked with Steve at WGCI, great experience, because he’s truly about taking care of the business. So many people, including my supportive family, have inspired me to continue this contagious enthusiastic diverse journey…multitasking, it’s a true passion!
AP: As an artist it can be a challenge to promot your own work, having someone to get out there and talk about it is great.
LT: That’s what drove me to Cookin’ Wit Tittle, I wanted my own platform and who knew I’d be doing it 15 years later, and I absolutely love it. I have a small crew. I do all my own editing, picking the music, I do everything! I learned how to do everything from scratch. Fifteen years ago, I was so intimidated by the new electronics and stepping into the ‘high tech world, social media, etc. Simply learning was like “WTF”is this! I got over my techno fears, and I’m truly having fun learning! Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn, humbly, and modestly, and with respect for your fellow person… having a good ‘mouthpiece’ be it your neighbor, agent, director, and or fellow actors is great! Hope and pray to be in the right place at the right time for that next incredible adventure!
AP: Technology can be tricky sometimes, especially how quickly it can change and evolve.
LT: You can feel so intimidated by the new technology, I tell people that I’m so glad they have centers for seniors to go to for living and aging well. They’re teaching computer and so forth. So thankful for our public service through the City’s Chicago Access Network TV (CAN-TV)…They’re teaching us how to use and utilize social media, facebook, instagram and twitter. Having your own platform from A to Z with the use of cameras, lighting, computers, etc.You’re either going to be a part of it, or out of it. Thanks to all those teachers and mentors who continue to visit those schools and centers that are open to all who want an opportunity to learn something new in an ever changing global techno world.
AP: There’s a certain amount of self sufficiency to it as well. It’s awesome that you’re doing all of the work behind the scenes with Cookin’ too, it’s a satisfying feeling to work on a project like that so intimately.
LT: I never thought I’d be learning and doing it, editing it, putting it together, it’s what inspired me to write too. Movies, TV, if they ever come to fruition, if I ever get the backing. Even when you’re backing your own stuff, you still need to have investors to get a project off the ground. I’m so appreciative of the people I work with, I make sure I’m on time, I know my lines, I cooperate because I want the scene to be good, all the way, I’m 100% plus there. I’ve seen crew work late, and so if I can come in and make things a little smoother, a little easier, by knowing my lines and hitting my marks, I want to do that. So much love and energy goes into a project and sometimes it gets frustrating because you’ll be waiting around while decisions and sets are being changed, so you go and learn more lines! I’m forever learning and watching! Having respect for your peers is so important to me. I have a “Tittle Entertainment Corner” segment in my show in which I share some ‘behind the scenes’ energy and encouragement for those that want to get into the business from all fronts, we even did a politico, we put a show together on that, over a plate of some good food, of course!
AP: That is the best way to share anything.
LT: It’s the best way to get people together. Cookin’ Wit Tittle was actually considered for development with Oprah’s group prior to them moving out of Chicago.. they, Harpo production team, put together a ‘Tittle Sizzle’ tape. It’s on my ‘youtube.com/La Donna Tittle’ and ‘youtube.com/latittle. We were close, but no Cigars – yet! We’re continuing to work on doing healthier dishes and traveling sampling other cultures. We’ve been putting a few up on Facebook and ‘youtube’, you can check them out there. I did a show with Best Eats in Chicago, we featured Buddy’s place too. My favorite dish is the Creole Pasta, Gumbo, and some others! And of course, Buddy’s Beer!
AP: I know you learned to play harmonica from Billy Branch. You also have a harmonica from Stevie Wonder. I was trying to find a video of you playing, do you have one?
LT: Yeah, yes, Stevie gave me his Harmonica on stage when I MC’d my first big show while I was at WBEE, early 70’s… Later in my Career I met Billy Branch while MC’ing a show in Washington Park, so much fun! After watching I wanted to learn how to play it better…I’m still learning! You won’t ever find a video of me playing unless it’s from someone’s phone. Funny you should ask, because I so bravely while on one of my ‘road shows’, We did a show with the Amish culture. While in Shipshewana, I found a little harmonica that I was playing in the car while we traveled. It’s up and running on CAN-TV. Because of you, I’ll have to put it up on youtube… I “play at it” more than anything else (laughs).
AP: Are there any theater productions you’d like to be a part of?
LT: Of course! Hamilton! Why not, I would love to be a part of that production. The guy who (Chris Lee), he plays Brandon’s cousin in The Chi. During a rehearsal, table read, while waiting for others to arrive, one of the girls says, “I remember you, you were in Hamilton.” Everybody’s face around the table went into ‘hunger mode’ pale! All of the actors around the table started asking him, “Do you have tickets? Do you have tickets?” We totally lost focus. If you’re going to have your pick of shows to be in, you want to pick a hit show. If there’s any, be in Hamilton, the movie!!!.. I’d also love to be in A Christmas Carol and be the character Mrs Fezziwig! I was doing Mississippi Delta at the Goodman and they were rehearsing A Christmas Carol and the guy back then that played him for years, he was so funny, he would come out complaining about how spoiled these kids were (laughs) because he had to contend with them as Scrooge but he really loved what he was doing. Mrs. Fezziwig gets to plant a big ole’ ‘Red Kiss’ on her husband’s cheek! I love doing theater!
AP: What is a piece of music that you can’t live without? What would life be without music?
LT: All of it, I love jazz, I love what’s happening with it, R&B of course. I love to mellow out with some good piano, orchestral, classical, country, folk, da’ blues! One of my favorite orchestrals is the Lone Ranger theme, I just love it, the horns get me going in the morning. I love to chill out and get my laugh on with the Beverly Hillbillies TV shows. Shows I can not do without are Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. That helps balance my whole day. I listen to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, they really get into some amazing lyrical stuff, it’s amazing. I love that kind of music, if you ever listen to the music in Dracula, the Mummy, the swan music, the blue danube. I love it all, I enjoy dance, I like rock, Tina Turner, Rolling Stones, I’ll go see them any time, I loved Prince, Michael Jackson! Will go see a Sade concert, anywhere! I’m just a music nut. I can’t imagine life without music! It’s not an option, thank God and the gifted who make and create it! To paraphrase the great Stevie Wonder, music is truly the key of life!
P: Was there ever a time you thought about leaving Chicago to pursue other opportunities?
LT: I went out to LA for a little while between JPC and GCI and NUA at the time 89’ 90’s I went out to LA and hung out there for about 6 months and you know, I didn’t like it. I felt like, “ I can starve better in Chicago where everyone knows my ‘name’. I was familiar with my agencies here even though I got together with a few agents out in LA, but I just love Chicago. I was guest DJ on some of the Radio Stations, but there were no openings at the time. I don’t know how people survive in LA, what they go through to get jobs is sometimes ridiculous. I’m not starving and living in my car, on a daily diet of eating ‘snowcakes’ all day. A lot of actors do that before they get big and I take my hat off to them. It took a little while but here I am in an amazing TV series-The Chi, Season One And Season 2, debuting on Showtime, April 7, 2019… I’ve done several movies too, one with Will Smith in Ali. I played Bundini’s landlady, roles like that helped prepare me to play ‘Ethel’, they were strong, sturdy, fussy old ladies too. (Laughs) There’s the iconic movie, The Relic, I’m the teacher with the students getting off the bus in the first half hour of the movie!
AP: You’re such an upbeat person, do you find it hard to take on aggressive roles?
LT: No, not at all, I just find it easy to be angry as well as to be nice, I don’t know if it’s a part of who I am (laughs) but I don’t find it difficult. I think it’s harder to be sad and teary eyed! There was a play that I was in called, Taken In Marriage, I played a funny nice hustling entertainer, I didn’t realize I was the main actor andcharacter, I only come off the stage for one period during the entire play for about 5 minutes, otherwise I’m there for the whole play, you just get into it. I’ve been lucky, many of the characters I’ve been cast as are strong leading role characters, which I like; but it’s funny because I don’t look like I’d harm a fly, and I wouldn’t, unless it bit me! (laughs). Having a versatile range in this business is a strong advantage to getting good roles.
AP: Do you have a role that you’ve enjoyed the most so far?
LT: This one, Ethel Davis, but I did enjoy all of them, I enjoyed absolutely all of them.
AP: You have a real passion for acting.
LT: I have a real passion for it. It’s mind over matter for me, I want to be doing this when I’m Betty White’s age, and she’s still working. She’s brilliant.
AP: I loved watching Golden Girls when I was younger.
LT: WOW, Me too! They got this game show network, she was on this game show Match, she was so young, she was good then, comedian, she talked about playing roles like the vixen. One of the plays she did with Carol Burnett, it’s just fun taking on different roles. I’m excited for South Side and my comedic role as part of their ‘ensemble’. My character with The Chi as Ethel Davis on, Showtime. Reportedly, it’s their biggest show ever. Showtime feels really positive about it, we’re hoping to get some good buzz for this year’s Emmys for Season one. Season 2 starting April 7, 2019. I feel that there will be a Season 3, in 2020…
AP: It’s time for the lightning round. Who do you have tagged for the next president?
LT: Michelle Obama, Corey Bookins, he’s out of NY. I can see him as a potential president, but they’re not going to let another black man in that White House! Unfortunately, the USA ain’t ready for a Woman, White or Black! (Laughs) I like the Harris lady too!
AP: They better!
LT: You’re not kidding. Michelle Obama, that might be taking a little far considering, it’s unfortunate but she’d be great.
AP: Favorite Holiday?
LT: My Birthday,(laughs)! Christmas and New Years, but it’s getting a little tougher, missing my Grandma, my loving mom, and just recently, as of January 13, 2019, my beloved brother Skipper! Those days of yesterday, I’ll always cherish and love being grateful that I had such human beings in my lifetime, who loved me, unconditionally!
AP: Favorite restaurant?
LT: Well, that’ll be two of the best in authentic Italian in Chicago, Brunas and Tutu’s, they’re so good! Winner for best in Soul dishes, Buddy Guy’s Legends, of course (we both laugh) that Creole Pasta and Gumbo with the Cornbread is fantastic for the soul! And I’m not just saying that because of you Aaron, Buddy’s is the best! We’re so fortunate in Chicago to have some of the best restaurants here in ‘Sweet Home Chicago”!
AP: Favorite way to unwind?
LT: Take a nap baby! I wish I could do it everyday, I love naps! Power naps are best- will get you too.
AP: Thank you so much for all of your time, it was a tremendous amount of fun!
LT: Thank you Aaron! I hope all will experience my disease of “Contagious Enthusiasm’ for all things good and happy creatively!
La Donna’s enthusiasm is contagious, as is her pride for her city and it’s people. Here’s hoping we hear a lot more from the multi-talented La Donna for years to come.
Also find out more about La Donna at
Check out our next issue in March for the continuation of
La Donna Tittle: Legendary