Emory Jones was a pioneering Gold Coast stylist whose skill at doing hair of any ethnicity drew loyal clients including a bevy of stars, among them Natalie Cole, Lainie Kazan, Diahann Carroll, Smokey Robinson, Billy Dee Williams, Audrey Meadows of “The Honeymooners” and Mary Wilson of the Supremes.
Mr. Jones, who was 72, died on May 22 at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center on the North Side. He might have had a stroke, according to his cousin Irene Lyons Radford, whom he styled in her print modeling days.
Mr. Jones did Chaz Ebert’s hair before the 2013 funeral for her husband Roger Ebert, the longtime film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
“He had a very diverse clientele,” Ebert said. “That’s why I called him one of the old-school masters. In the old days, certain schools taught you how to do all kinds of hair. He learned how to do Lainie Kazan’s hair. He learned how to do Diahann Carroll’s hair. I don’t know why, hair stylists, churches and undertakers — we’re kind of segregated.”
Once, while creating an updo for Ebert, there weren’t enough hairpins handy.
“He was able to take a rubber band and twist it a certain way and twist it, achieving the desired effect,” Ebert said. “I said, ‘That’s like a magician. How did you do that?’ And he said, ‘When you are on the road, you have to learn how to do everything.’ ”
He was on the road often with Cole, the singer who had hits including “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).”
“He was a genius,” said Kazan, speaking from California. She met Mr. Jones decades ago when he was a shy, sweet newcomer who did her hair for singing engagements at Mister Kelly’s during Chicago’s nightclub heyday. “You know, I’ve been around, been around the world, seen a lot of hairdressers. But no one compared to Emory.”
He tailored haircuts by studying curls, waves and texture, she said. A few times, he and his fellow gospel singers sang back-up for her at shows. They were so close, “He called me almost every Sunday,” Kazan said. “I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.”
From the mid-1980s into the 1990s, he worked in Los Angeles, where his clients included actor Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in the “Star Wars” movies. Williams, a talented artist, liked dropping by the salon to sketch clients, according to Leigh Jones, a stylist who was a friend of Mr. Jones.
Born in Washington, D.C., Mr. Jones attended high school in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, then left the East Coast to attend a Virginia Farrell beauty school in Chicago. It was then known as a “white” school where, Leigh Jones said, others would sometimes ask, “Why do you want to be here when no white woman would ever allow you to do their hair?”
When they both started in 1964 at a salon at 710 N. Rush owned by Fred Glaser, Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser, “There’s absolutely no doubt about that we were the first African-American stylists on the Gold Coast,” Leigh Jones said. “There were other black licensed stylists, but they weren’t styling hair. They were working as shampoo people because, unfortunately, our people were seen as support staff.
“We made a pact then in the ’60s to not allow others to judge our creativity by the color of our skin,” Leigh Jones said.
Another client, socialite and realtor Jocelyn Stoller, witnessed some of the prejudice Mr. Jones faced in his early career. “I recall that he wanted to move from the South Side — but no one on the North Side would rent an apartment to him, so I found him a place through a friend, and later, I rented to him from my building in Lincoln Park,” she said. “He really broke a barrier, being the first African-American stylist” on the Gold Coast.
Later, Emory Jones worked at Brady C’est Bon, Kaye-Pierre, Timothy Paul and at his own salon, Emory and Friends, 49 E. Delaware. He also worked with his friend at Leigh Jones Chicago, 12 E. Walton.
During Emory Jones’ stint in California, where he did hair for Robinson and his first wife, Claudette, he introduced some Midwest freshness to the West Coast, where “their idea of beauty was a lot of eyelashes and a lot of hairpieces,” Leigh Jones said.
Also a talented gospel singer, Mr. Jones wrote music and performed with the group Sanctuary.
“Emory was religious, and one day told me God had given him a song,” Ebert said. “He sang it for me, and it was so beautiful. He said he woke up with the words and melody in his head.”
Recently, he worked at the Elizabeth Adam salon at Water Tower Place.
“Emory was one of the premier hair stylists at Elizabeth Adam salon for 20 years,” said Jennifer Wilson, a co-worker there. “He became a dear friend to many of his clients. He was a very laid-back person, soft, very nice, treated everybody with respect and kindness. No drama.”
Mr. Jones is survived by his brothers Ellsworth Jones Jr. and Marvin Colbert and many relatives and friends in Chicago and the D.C. area. A memorial service is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron.