BY NANCY NILLES
A tragic day in American history changed Tanya Hart’s life forever. That new path led to meeting her husband and building a career in radio and television that has lasted more than forty years and counting.
From the time she was preschool age, Tanya Hart knew she was going to be a Spartan. On her family’s many road trips from Muskegon to visit relatives in Detroit, her father, Lewis Hinton, would pull off in East Lansing to drive through campus, telling her, “Now this is where you’re going to go to college.”
In high school she even torpedoed an audition with Motown Records’ Berry Gordy when she realized that pursuing a singing career would sideline college. “I’ve got to go to Michigan State,” she recalled telling her manager.
Still, her voice has served her well, launching a long career as a radio and television host and producer—at a time when a black woman was
“a novelty” in the industry.
However, broadcasting hadn’t been her original plan. Hart excelled at science and biology and was pursuing a career in medical technology—until April 4, 1968, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a day that shaped Hart’s history along with America’s.
“Something came over me and a voice said, ‘Get over to the (campus) radio station and get on the air.’ And that’s what I did,” she said.
“It was such a horrible day. I solicited two friends, Larry Redd (’71, ’76) and Bernard Carver (’72) and we took some James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic albums and whatever we had in our little slim collection. We started spinning records and just talking. We were just trying to make people feel better.”
Hart had unknowingly just hosted her first show, “Takin’ Care of Business,” on WKAR.
That summer, a friend who had helped her get on the air that day invited her on a road trip to New York. Along for the ride was an MSU sociology grad student named Philip Hart (’70). Their car broke down on the George Washington Bridge. The pair have been married for fifty years.
“Now I know there are no coincidences in life,” Hart said with a laugh from their home in Los Angeles.
Phil encouraged her to focus on communications and to change her major. After graduation, the couple settled in Boston, where she broke into television while Phil worked as a professor and they raised their daughter Ayanna Kai.
Hart filled her Rolodex with A-list names as she built her reputation as an interviewer. She was the perfect choice when BET’s founder Bob Johnson wanted someone to set up a West Coast operation for the network.
But Phil had achieved tenure at the University of Massachusetts’ Boston campus and commuted for 12 years, visiting Tanya whenever he could. Those years were some of her hardest. “It was only by the grace of God we survived all that,” Hart said, along with plenty of hard work. She pulled all-nighters every Wednesday for 10 years, “because it was the only way I could get everything done.”
As host of “Live from LA with Tanya Hart” on BET, she interviewed hundreds of stars—including the first televised interview of late
rapper Tupac Shakur, which was later included in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Tupac: Resurrection.”
Other career highlights have included singer Ike Turner revealing publicly for the first time—to Hart on live television—that he’d been sexually abused as a child, and landing an exclusive interview with Winnie Mandela during her 1990 world tour.Hart currently hosts the syndicated “Hollywood Live with Tanya Hart” on American Urban Radio Networks.
“Many times it wasn’t easy,” she said. “But I still consider myself very blessed and lucky, and really charmed with all the good things and people that have come my way. But I do think you attract what you put out.”