Roy Eaton may not be a household name, but his voice has been prominent a part of the advertising landscape since the early 1960s.
Eaton’s pioneering work as a jingles composer earned him the distinction of being the first African-American to work for a major ad agency. Eaton’s path to making advertising history was a curious one. Born in New York to Jamaican parents in 1930, Eaton lost part of a finger when he was just a toddler.
Despite that, he took up piano at the age of six and in 1937 he played the famed Carnegie Hall. After completing his education at the City College of New York and the Manhattan School of Music, Eaton studied at the University of Zurich. He then won the Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Award in 1950, cementing his status as a classical pianist.
After being drafted into the Korean War, Eaton spent two years with the service learning the ins and outs of the broadcast business for the Army’s radio station. After an honorable discharge, he looked for a job but was faced with racism.
Young & Rubicam gave Eaton his first big break, hiring him as a copywriter and jingle composer. During his first two years there, he was responsible for 75% of the music in the company’s ads. Several of Eaton’s ads exploded in popularity.
He created jingles for Beech Nut Gum, Jello, Cheer, General Electric, Texaco, Kent cigarettes, Gulf Crest gasoline and Beefaroni. In1959 a car accident killed his new bride while the couple was traveling in Utah.