D.C.-based ring announcer Henry “Discombobulating” Jones has been on a circuitous, somewhat curious journey for 30 years now, trying to break into pro boxing’s mainstream. That quest will be fulfilled next week.
Jones will make his Showtime Boxing debut in Philadelphia on Friday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m., three decades after he began announcing cards in 1988 for local promoter Tyrone Johnson.
Prior to becoming a ring announcer, Jones tried his hand at stage acting but quit when the producer told him he had presence, but it would take maybe 40 years before he could play Othello because he hadn’t been through enough pain yet. Jones begged to differ and looked for something else.
He tried his hand at stage comedy but questioned if he had what it takes after being hit with eggs one night while opening for a square-jawed guy named Jay Leno (“that’s when I realized the ‘yolk’ was on me!”). He tried it again but walked away for good after an open mic audition at the old Improv on Connecticut Avenue, when he had to follow a then-unknown comic from D.C. named Chris Thomas, who got a standing ovation. When Jones handed in his card in after hearing Chris, the host told him it was probably a good decision.
It was also a good decision that he didn’t quit his day job with D.C. government. Jones has been a social worker for 36 years, and currently supervises a unit created by Mayor Muriel Bowser that deals with missing and runaway youths. But something was still missing and he was on a mission to find out just what was lacking in his life.
“There is no doubt I was traumatized coming up in elementary and grade schools when I was always the understudy to the main character in stage plays — always a Caucasian — but never got a chance to get on stage to showcase my talents,” he said. “I had developed a photographic memory and would recite lines from behind the curtain to the actors.”
Given that symbolism, Jones has been waiting in the wings for a very long time.
“I certainly thank the Master for giving me the vision, strength and longevity to pursue my dream and stay resolute to achieve something unprecedented despite the …’challenges’ ..we’ll say … as the foremost African-American ring announcer in pro boxing history,” he said. “One would have to go all the way back to 1947 when a gentleman named Joe Bostic out of California became the first licensed African-American ring announcer. It would take him 25 years before he was allowed to announce in Madison Square Garden. He just wanted to break that color barrier in that position and quit soon after, becoming the premier gospel DJ in NYC.
“After him there was a guy in the early ’70s out of the Kronk Gym in Detroit, made famous by Tommy Hearns and his manager Emmanuel Steward, who later became a color commentator for HBO,” Jones said. “Manny told me that the networks would not allow his ring announcer, Jim Ingram, to appear regularly on TV because of his dark pigmentation. He said Mr. Ingram died in the late ’80s from a cardiac condition … but with a broken heart as well in not being allowed to announce in prime time like his contemporaries in the position.
“I feel as if I am channeling the spirits of these predecessors of mine and continue to draw inspiration from their stories,” he said. “I take even greater pride in how I am using this rather curious celebrity status to reach — and teach — our youth to follow their own noble causes and aspirations, to never be discouraged in striving for their own breakthroughs, so they can become victorious in their own good fights … in life!”
Jones has penned a novel, “It’s More Than a Notion,” which tells of overcoming great adversities by having even greater character and faith. The foreword was written by his mentor and perhaps the most renowned ring announcer, Michael Buffer (“Let’s get ready to rumble!”). A script is in the works based on the book, as is a documentary by the local BruceBrown Filmworks.
Jones can be reached on Twitter @announcerjones, on Facebook (Discombobulating Jones) and via email firstname.lastname@example.org. He will work a pro MMA card at THEARC Boys and Girls Club (1901 Mississippi Ave SE) at 7 pm Nov. 10 and a pro boxing card at the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena on Dec. 1. For ticket information, call 301-841-5584.