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Sad news from the WPFW community: The station’s longtime blues and jazz DJ Rick “Da Gator” Bolling died on Tuesday, August 2 at the age of 82. Bolling—born Frederick Austin Bolling—who had retired from WPFW in 2014, had been dealing with a number of medical issues since 2011. A fixture on the station since the ‘90s, Bolling started at WPFW as a weekday jazz DJ under his own name. Later he added a Saturday program to his hosting duties, under the name “Da Gator,” and included multiple styles of blues along with southern soul tracks like “Junk in the Trunk (I Like that)” and “Slap That Booty.” Known for his easygoing manner and distinctive laugh, he pleased listeners—who he affectionately called “Gator Mamas” and “Gator Papas”—on the air, as well as in person. For a number of years he hosted an annual “Gator Day” with local and national acts at Lamont’s Nightclub in Pomonkey, Md.
Bolling was born in New Orleans but raised in Jacksonville, Fla. where his grandmother gave him his nickname because of the way he ate. Bolling was loved by his fellow WPFW DJs as well. Chris DeProperty, a WPFW DJ who was mentored by Bolling, started as one of his four Gatorettes, reading the concert calendar and telling jokes. In an email, she says that while he was very serious on his jazz program, “he let his ribald side come out on the southern soul show.” He would tell tales of his fictitious credit card-crazy wife Suzi. “His stories and opinions were pure Gator, he played what his Gator Mamas and Gator Papas wanted to hear, and occasionally he had to listen to others complain about what he played. But he always reminded people that the show was for ‘life experienced’ adults,” DeProperty says.
She says that “jazz was his real love and his jazz show reflected that. He talked more about the musicians, having seen and listened to them for a lot longer than what he played on his Saturday show.” But local and national blues and soul artists respected him as well. Local act Memphis Gold wrote a 2009 song about him and the Gatorettes, called “Gator Gon’Bitechu!,” while Mississippi soul act Ms. Jody called in to the show to wish him a happy birthday.
Another Gatorette, Millie Everett, says via email that “he was a very warm person who was very passionate about his music. I was amazed when I visited his home for the first time and he showed me his music room in the basement which was as organized as any music store, instrumental music on one side, jazz on another, blues on another. Gator always remembered our birthdays, and called to check on me, especially after a hospital stay. I am so happy I had the opportunity to talk to him the day before he entered the hospital for the final time. Gator will truly be missed.” WPFW DJ Larry Appelbaum succinctly described him as a “Big man, big heart, big talent.”
Bolling’s funeral service was today at the Allen Chapel AME Church, 2498 Alabama Ave. SE.