A nationally known promoter has been inspiring WilmU students for years. In October, the City of Wilmington recognized his accomplishments — both in and out of the classroom.
It’s not every day you meet a Delawarean who has worked with megastars like Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett. But one has been teaching at the New Castle campus for two decades. In fact, this marks the 20th year that adjunct and alumnus David Freeman Wooley has served Wilmington University’s College of Business.
Wooley has also worked with Warwick for 20 years. “Dave is a good guy — and there aren’t many of them left,” she says, speaking to WilmU Magazine between tours in Japan and the U.K. “He’s a true friend, and as a writer, he’s diligent. He kept me focused and just made it all happen.”
Wooley has been “making it all happen” for three decades, promoting celebrities like B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, James Brown, Run DMC, Queen Latifah — the list goes on. He co-authored three books with Warwick, including her autobiography, “My Life, as I See It.”
Add to his mix the 1988 Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks championship boxing match, which, at the time, was the biggest fight in boxing history, grossing more than $100 million. Wooley was the only African-American producer in the country to be awarded exclusive broadcast television rights for the fight, something he calls “a tremendous responsibility.”
In October, Wooley was honored by the City of Wilmington for his work as an impresario, author, educator and community activist. But there is a guiding force in his life, which has little to do with celebrity.
Take it From the Top
Wooley’s beginnings were humble. Born to musical parents in the Harlem projects, his weekly visits to the Apollo Theater were routine. At 6 he saw James Brown and knew instantly that show business was his destiny. By 10, he was an entrepreneur. Wooley and his friends made extra money by standing outside the market and helping elderly women carry their groceries. Wooley was the only one who scraped together $25 for a shopping cart, so he could carry more and work faster. “I had a competitive advantage,” he says, adding that he eventually bought four carts and hired his friends to do the legwork. They, in turn, paid him half of their profits.
Then came the music. The iconic Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji — a friend of Wooley’s dad — gave Wooley his first conga drum then taught him how to play it. Wooley excelled, was discovered by famed R&B producer and drummer Norman Connors, then became a popular studio drummer in New York City, backing singers like Cissy Houston and groups like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He laid down tracks on numerous
hip-hop records and toured the country, all while attending Rice High School, a private Roman Catholic school in Harlem.
In 1981, he moved to Delaware to be near his father, who had relocated several years prior. He founded Wooley Productions at a time, he says, when “Wilmington was a ghost town, in terms of multicultural entertainment. The young, hip multicultural demographic was not being served.”
He successfully tapped the untapped market, booking the likes of Wynton Marsalis, The O’Jays and The Temptations at clubs like The Boardroom and The Stone Balloon. He started working with the City of Wilmington, contracting local bands to play on the Market Street Mall. By 1987, he booked Rodney Square outdoor concerts exclusively. He then founded and produced the Wilmington Jazz Festival, later renamed the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. It has become one of the nation’s largest free jazz festivals.
To Teach and Be Taught
Wooley earned his bachelor’s and master’s in business administration from Wilmington University. He gives back as an adjunct, and brings his real-world experience to such classes as Small Business Management (BBM 351), Principles of Advertising (BMK 306) and Business Ethics (BBM 319).
His WilmU students like Shawn Drewry, Arianna Hicks and Jessica Luo are absorbing his wisdom. “I’ve learned that having good ethics contributes toward a significant financial increase for the company,” says Drewry. Hicks believes Wooley offers “real-life examples on what he’s accomplished, and how I can create new ideas my way.” Luo, who’s been working at her family’s restaurant, wants to change career paths, and Wooley’s class is helping her make sound business decisions.
“Students have commented to me about how interesting his stories are,” says Lynda Fuller, director of undergraduate programs in the College of Business. “He’s a very interactive teacher. He offers his first-hand experiences for discussion.”
What the students don’t know is that every class is more exciting to him than the last. “I have developed a mantra that has carried me through my career,” says Wooley. “I call it the three P’s: passion, purpose and perfection. Teaching is, in part, my passion,” he says. “If I had to narrow down all I’ve done and who I am, I would consider myself a teacher. Everything has been about empowering others, and I feel I was put here to be of service. And if you teach, you’ll be taught.”
With passion comes purpose, he believes. “It’s what you were put on this planet to do. Every time I walk into the classroom, it’s the same joy I feel when I see an audience of 10,000 people. It has not diminished for 20 years. But perfection is a lifelong journey. You never achieve it.”
The WilmU alumnus and adjunct has worked for decades to promote Wilmington as a vibrant center for the performing arts. He’s also been an inspiration to WilmU business students. It’s mostly for those reasons that he was honored by the City of Wilmington in October, and why his friend, the renowned Warwick, co-hosted the celebration with Mayor Dennis P. Williams.
“It’s wonderful to know that Dave is finally being properly recognized for all he has contributed to the entertainment industry, education and community issues — not to overlook his dedicated parenting of his two lovely daughters,” says Warwick. “I’m proud to have him as a friend and associate.”
The recognition is meaningful, but Wooley considers his experiences as a single custodial father to be his most profound. “Raising Veda and Davina (Wooley) and being a totally devoted dad is my proudest achievement,” he says. Davina is a senior at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington. Veda, a Cab graduate, is studying business at Wilmington University.
Both speak highly of their dad. “My Dad has been my primary source of inspiration and motivation throughout my life,” says Davina. “He’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams and he’s stood by me every step of the way.” Veda credits him for teaching her how to “never let a setback set you back,”
And, as Wooley says, “To whom much is given, much is required.” WU