Local Black Photographer talks about his career

Jerome Simmons
Jerome Simmons

 Local Black Photographer talks about his career

By Tia Carol Jones

Jerome Simmons has had a storied career as a photographer. He started his career as a photographer at Johnson Publishing Company. He also had the pleasure of working with Don Cornelius of Soul Train, taking photographs.   He has done the photography for album covers and he also conducted interviews of musical artists from R&B to Gospel. He has a track record of covering local and national political leaders as well. He recalled that his first published photo was of Jerry Lewis in Las Vegas.

Simmons was recognized during an event about the History of Black Photography at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center on Feb. 8th for all of his work as a photographer since 1968. Simmons called the recognition from the DuSable Museum a humbling experience.

Simmons worked with the Ebony Fashion Fair, an annual travelling fashion show that began in 1958 and lasted 50 years.  After working for Ebony Fashion Fair, Simmons became the photojournalist for Marvin Gaye’s world tour. He also traveled over the road in and out of the country with the Staples Singers.

Because of his relationships with people in the record industry, he was able to photograph entertainers when they came to Chicago on promotional tours for their music.

Simmons met Sidney Miller, who had a magazine called Black Radio Exclusive. The Black Radio Exclusive was one of the first Black music trade publications. Simmons had a page in that publication for about 18 years. His interest in writing began because he started to write his own captions for the photographs that he submitted to media outlets.

In 1980, Simmons opened his own photography studio at 79th and Eberhardt and had that studio for 20 years. “During that time, I worked with Mr. Bill Garth and the Citizen Newspaper Group, covering people like Harold Washington and Jesse Jackson,” he said.  Simmons started the Midwest Radio and Music Conference in 1980. It was in existence for about 13 years.

Simmons continued to contribute to Ebony and Jet Magazine, photographing the weekly covers of Jet Magazine.  He recalled doing the album covers of the renown ‘Maestro’ Barry White and Chicago’s own Blues great Tyrone Davis.

Simmons said his favorite people to take photos of was Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips. While photographing Marvin Gaye on the road, each time Simmons had to create in his mind what he was going to do because each performance was similar, so he had to create something different for the newspapers and other media outlets.

Simmons said Gladys Knights & The Pips were his favorite because they were like a family. They joked and ate together, just like a family. He had good relationships with a lot of artists. Simmons’ most privileged interview was with Lena Horne he said, “she was truly my idol.”

“It’s was a privilege to meet and greet a lot of famous people, especially when most of these people I photographed and worked for, I met them when they were starting their careers,” Simmons said. “I helped them as much as I could during their careers.”

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