John Burnett is the Southwest correspondent for NPR, based in Austin. Burnett’s father, John G. Burnett, was also on the radio.
John Sr. ran a Dallas-based advertising agency in the 1950s, and Burnett says his father was very much part of the “Mad Men” culture – named after the advertisers who worked on Madison Avenue in New York City during that time, and after the TV show of the same name.
But Burnett’s dad had a particular niche in the ad world: radio jingles.
“He was very talented in music. He played piano.” Burnett says. “He composed. He arranged.”
One of John Sr.’s biggest clients was Ipana, a popular toothpaste sold in Latin America. Burnett says his mother was a proponent of his father’s work. He can remember his mom’s account of their 1950 honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico.
“My mother, who was immensely proud of my father and always showed him off, told me later, she said, ‘Johnny, when we walked on the beach in Acapulco, I could hear people whistling your father’s jingle for Ipana toothpaste. That’s how catchy it was,’ ” he says.
When John Sr. died, he left some mementos from his work for Burnett.
“When my father died, he left a bunch of 78 records of some of his favorite jingles,” Burnett says. “He did banks. He did paint. He did bread. He did Eisenhower – Texans For Ike. There was almost no account he wouldn’t take.”
Burnett says the record collection is a time capsule of his father’s creative talents, and the sound of postwar-era advertisements. He says some of his dad’s creativity rubbed off on him.
“A little of papa’s DNA dripped into me,” he says.
With dad on the piano and son on harmonica, they played in a pickup Dixieland band together for several years.
“I would sit in with the band,” Burnett says. “And we would play the Saints, and Satin Doll and St. Louis Blues. It was tons of fun.”
Written by Geronimo Perez.