The Real Mad Men Diaries: Roy Eaton
Hall of Famer Who Broke Color Barrier Doesn’t See Much Progress in Industry Diversity
By Judann Pollack
“If you were white, I’d hire you immediately.”
That’s how Advertising Hall of Famer Roy Eaton recalls his first job interview at Young & Rubicam, where he began his career in 1955. Mr. Eaton, who played at Carnegie Hall as a child, earned a musicology fellowship at Yale and has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, had to fight his way into advertising because he is black.
Following the mantra his mother gave him, “You have do do 200% to get recognition for 100%,” Mr. Eaton went on to create a storied career, moving up to music director at Benton & Bowles. Over the decades, he created memorable ad jingles for products such as Yuban coffee, Beefaroni, Texaco, Honeycomb, Sugar Crisp and more. But it wasn’t easy getting past the color barrier, he recalls in this video, particularly when hiring African-Americans to appear even off camera in commercials.
Mr. Eaton, who today is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and is very active in composing and performing in his 80s, doesn’t see that much progress more than a half-century later. Ad agencies, he said, aren’t hiring more black copywriters or executives; instead they are hiring “a lot of African-American diversity officers.”