Willie Morrow, black haircare pioneer and entrepreneur, dies at 82

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Whether Willie Lee Morrow invented hair care products, founded and ran local media, or taught haircut techniques to the military, he was remembered as someone who always worked to uplift the black community in San Diego. and beyond.

The hairdresser, chemist, entrepreneur, author and inventor of the Afro pick and hairdressing pioneer Jheri Curl, died on June 22 at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 82 years old.

Morrow’s daughter, Cheryl Morrow, said Wednesday that the salon her father started in San Diego in 1959 and the hair products he invented in the 1960s and 1970s stemmed from Morrow’s desire to serve the black community by making resources available in their neighborhoods.

Willie Morrow, the inventor of the Afro cut and the Jheri Curl hairstyle, is remembered as a pioneering black hairstylist and local businessman. He died at age 82 on Wednesday June 22, 2022.

(Courtesy of Cheryl Morrow)

Initially, Willie Morrow offered his hair care services, then expanded his hair products business and used the profits to start a radio station and newspaper in the same commercial building as his hair-related businesses. Media companies provided community engagement and affordable advertising opportunities for small business owners.

“He just believed that the community was the source of the economy,” said Cheryl Morrow. “That you shouldn’t have to step out of your own community for the resources and wealth you needed. It should be in your community.

“And it just so happens that because of the cultural iconography of black hair, it was such an industrial powerhouse that it funded other things,” Cheryl Morrow said.

Willie Morrow died at age 82 on Wednesday June 22, 2022.

Willie Morrow, the inventor of the Afro cut and the Jheri Curl hairstyle, is remembered as a pioneering black hairstylist and local businessman. He died at age 82 on Wednesday June 22, 2022.

(Courtesy of Cheryl Morrow)

Born into a sharecropping family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Morrow taught himself the basics of barbering and chemistry, and used those skills to lay the foundation for his haircare empire.

In the 1970s, the United States Department of Defense enlisted Morrow to teach haircutting and haircutting on military bases and in war zones. After his military service, Morrow wrote many books on hairdressing and haircutting.

He also met and married his wife, Gloria Morrow. They had been married for 56 years at the time of Willie Morrow’s death and the couple had two daughters.

Cheryl Morrow said her father enjoyed growing vegetables and making his own wine, something he learned growing up on the farm that became a lifelong hobby.

He also collected objects, including antique cutting and hairdressing tools. Many objects from his collection were exhibited in 2016 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Willie Morrow died at age 82 on Wednesday June 22, 2022.

Willie Morrow, the inventor of the Afro cut and the Jheri Curl hairstyle, is remembered as a pioneering black hairstylist and local businessman. He died at age 82 on Wednesday June 22, 2022.

(Courtesy of Cheryl Morrow)

Assemblyman Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, said Morrow was an inspiration to many.

He “was the embodiment of America’s promise,” Weber said in an email Thursday. “He grew up in a family of sharecroppers in the south, and through hard work and his own ingenuity, he built a multi-million dollar hair care business and a media empire. He embraced his community and became the protector of rare and priceless black art and artifacts. He opened his doors to young entrepreneurs and shared invaluable lessons not only for success, but also for starting over and rebuilding from scratch. He will be remembered for his many inventions and connection to the curl phenomenon and for his devotion to family.

Longtime radio personality William “Tayari” Howard said he met Morrow in 1970 while serving in the US Coast Guard. Howard was looking for a barber to cut and style his afro and found Morrow. They discussed Howard’s interest in broadcasting. Later, when Morrow took over XHRM 92.5 FM, Howard went to work for him.

“It was through his mentorship and connections that my broadcast career spanned 50 years in San Diego, retiring in 2020,” he said in an email.

Shane Harris, a San Diego-based activist and founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, said Morrow’s work helped redefine what was considered “neat” and “professional” when it came to black hair. . Black people no longer needed to have their hair up, straightened, or braided to be perceived as having neat, styled hair—or to be taken seriously.

Morrow, he said, gave black people “the tools they needed to style their hair the way they wanted. But he also worked hard to change America’s perception of natural black hair as something that wasn’t “groomed” or “professional.”

Willie Morrow is survived by his wife, Gloria; their daughters, Cheryl and Angela; and many members of his extended family. A memorial service will be held July 15 at Bayview Baptist Church, 6134 Pastor Timothy J Winters St., San Diego. Cheryl Morrow said the family will announce the time of the service and other details in the coming days.

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