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Welburn, Edward T.

Edward T. Welburn

1950

Automotive executive

Edward T. Welburn became chief designer of General Motors Corporation, the world's largest automaker, in 2003. The appointment made him the first African American to rise to what is considered one of the most prestigious jobs in the automotive industry. Welburn's mission for the dozens of GM models he oversees is to lead their styling and concept teams into an exciting and visually distinctive brand identity for the twenty-first century. "I feel very fortunate," he said in an Automotive News interview not long after taking the job. "I am coming in at a time when the corporation has a real understanding of the value of design and its importance to the future of the company."

Fascinated by
Vintage Autos

Welburn was born in December of 1950 and grew up in the Philadelphia area. His father was a co-owner of a body shop with his brothers and instilled in a very young Welburn an appreciation for automotive design. The two would spend hours drawing cars of vintage design, with Welburn tracing over the sketches his father had done of 1930s Dusenbergs and similar classics. Welburn grew intensely involved in the hobby as he grew older, and even wrote to General Motors when he was eleven asking about a future with the company as a car designer. The company replied with a helpful letter that recommended what he might study in school to prepare for such a career, and provided information about its internship program. This bid for a job, coming as it did in the early 1960s, seemed all the more remarkable given the fact that the profession was an elite one and minorities were nonexistent in such corners of the automotive world during the era.

Welburn followed the suggestions of that response, and studied fine arts and sculpture at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He won a slot in the GM internship program while still in school, and worked tirelessly from his first day forward, churning out sketches and posting them for all to see. "It was the first time somebody black was putting sketches up on the board," he recalled in an interview with Newsweek 's Keith Naughton. "I quickly realized I was representing more people than just myself."

Welburn was hired full-time after graduation, and spent his three years with the company in the design studio of GM's Buick division. As a newcomer, fresh out of college, he joined the ranks at the right time, for a major shift was taking place in the design studios of the Big Three domestic automakers, with veterans suddenly forced to come up with smaller vehicles as the gas-guzzling automotive-behemoth era ended. In 1975, Welburn moved over to the Oldsmobile studio, and would spent the next two decades of his GM career there. He had a hand in the design of a top-seller during the early 1980s, the Cutlass Supreme, but also worked on a car that was a one-shot project, not for the consumer market: the Oldsmobile Aerotech. Knowing that GM was eager to make a new high-performance race car to compete with a 1,000-horsepower Mercedes model, he sketched out what became the teardrop-shaped Aerotech one day on a napkin and gave it to his boss. His design chief looked at it and said, "'This is it,'" Welburn recalled in the Newsweek article, but Welburn told him, "I have other ideas." His stunned boss replied, "'What are you talking about? This is it.'"

Met A.J. Foyt

Welburn's Aerotech was built by a special GM team, and in August of 1987 was taken out to a track in Fort Stockton, Texas, with racing legend A. J. Foyt behind the wheel. It set a new world land-speed record for a closed course at 259 miles per hour that day. Foyt had long been one of Welburn's idol, he told Automotive Industries writer Gary Witzenburg. "Nothing made me happier than the day whenFoyt first drove that vehicle," he asserted, and recalled that the Indy 500 champion "teased me about my 'Detroit shoes.' After setting the record, he went to his transporter and came back with a pair of Tony Lama ostrich skin boots. He said, 'Here, I don't want to see you ever wearing those Detroit shoes again.' I still have those boots, and I love them."

Welburn worked for GM's Saturn division for a time, and spent a year overseas at the company's Opel facilities in Russelsheim, Germany. By the mid-1990s, he had been elevated to chief designer at Oldsmobile. There, the Oldsmobile Antares concept car he over-saw, a hit on the auto-show circuit, morphed into a production vehicle that debuted in the 1998 model year, the Oldsmobile Intrigue. It was another top seller for GM and sealed Welburn's reputation as a designer with a sharp eye for consumer preferences. That same year, he was made director of GM's Corporate Brand Character Center (BCC), a relatively new design-management concept where all of the stylistic elements for the fleet of cars among GM's various divisions were closely monitored so that a strong brand identity could be forged. Detractors named the BCC the "brand police" and deemed Welburn the "brand cop," but he defended the strategy in an Automotive Industries profile by Lindsay Brooke. "The various chief designers are all building their brands, and they want to keep them separate," Welburn explained. "To have a location where they can congregate and see where the opportunitiesand potential overlaps between brandsexist is important to all of us."

Welburn was said to enjoy good rapport with GM chief executive officer Rick Wagoner as well as the company's design chief, Wayne Cherry. After 2001, Welburn oversaw the trio of studios that brought out trucks and sport-utility vehicles like the Cadillac Escalade, Hummer H2, a retro hot-rod Chevy pick-up called SSR, and the top-selling Chevrolet Avalanche. Nearly all of the models in which he had a hand at the design stage were excellent sellers for the company, but GM did take a hit for the overly plastic-cladded Pontiac Aztek. "It's controversial," he conceded, in the interview with Brooke in Automotive Industries, "and yes, it's absolutely right for the Pontiac brand. I say that with total confidence. We saw an opportunity and we went after it. Aztek's a vehicle that will take a bit of time with some people. Others may never embrace it. That's OK. We have other products for them."

At a Glance

Born Edward Thomas Welburn, Jr., in December 14, 1950, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Edward Sr. (an auto-body repair shop owner) and Evelyn Welburn. Education: Howard University, BA, fine arts, 1972.

Career: General Motors Corporation, design studio intern, early 1970s; General Motors Corporation, Buick division employee, 1972; GM Oldsmobile division employee, 1975; GM, various management positions 1980s-90s; GM Corporate Brand Character Center, director, 1998; GM executive director of body-on-frame architecture, 2002-03; GM chief designer, 2003.

Addresses: Office General Motors Corporation, 300 Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48265-3000.

Welburn's job also entailed the supervision of the concept cars, which debut at events like Detroit's North American International Auto Show and serve as a harbinger of future design trends industry-wide. But his track record on the sport-utility vehicles and trucks that are the profit center for GM was unparalleled, as Phil Patton asserted in the New York Times; eschewing "brand cues like fake exhaust ports on the sides of Buicks and flaring nostril grilles on Pontiacs, Mr. Welburn was taking a more thoughtful view of Chevrolet's tradition and character. The resulting concepts helped shape the Cheyenne pickup, a powerful but restrained design study displayed at auto shows this year and a likely precursor of Chevy's next-generation pickups."

Rose to Chief Design Post

On September 26, 2003, GM announced that Welburn would succeed Cherry as GM's chief designer, making him only the sixth person to hold the job in company history, but also the first African American among any of the Big Three domestic automakers to be promoted to such an influential post. His duties included overseeing the work of some 600 designers for GM, spread out across eleven studios. There were, however, an entirely new set of challenges for anyone who came to the job, and Welburn's first responsibility was to work to strengthen brand identities among the GM lineup. "GM design is at a crossroads," noted Naughton in the Newsweek profile. "Over the three decades that Welburn has toiled in GM's studios, a burgeoning bureaucracy has sapped stylists of the almighty power they had back in the days of tailfins and gleaming chrome. Engineers and focus groups have dictated design. The result: blandmobiles that GM marketed on price rather than style."

Welburn is a low-key executive who seems to lack the press-courting ego of many of the predecessors in the GM chief-designer job. Those he succeeded were legendary figures in the automotive industry, such as Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, under whom Welburn worked when he first started at GM. As Patton wrote in the New York Times, Welburn had "a daunting job, as implied by Buick television commercials that feature a Harley Earl character whose impersonation of the original is a somewhat loose reading of reality. The advertisements suggest how deeply G.M. is both haunted by the achievements of its past and intimidated by the challenge of matching them."

Inside the design studios, he remains "Ed," not "Mr. Welburn," among designers working on the company's next highly anticipated new model, the Buick Velite convertible. Welburn's own car is a classic, a hot rod 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. Though he has participated in a media campaign aimed at African American buyers, Welburn downplays his role as the first black to steer GM's design process into the next few decades. "It's interesting because it's something I don't celebrate," he reflected in an interview with Ward's Auto World writer Drew Winter, "because to celebrate it means there are so many years it didn't occur. But I know it is very important. It can't be ignored. I know it isn't ignored, and I know there are a lot of people in the African-American community that really, really consider this something very significant, so I don't take it lightly. If it has an effect on young people, then I think that's great."

Sources

Periodicals

Automotive Industries, December 2000, p. 31; December 2003, p. 14..

Automotive News, January 5, 2004, p. 28.

Newsweek, May 31, 2004, p. 54.

New York Times, October 13, 2003, p. D13.

Ward's Auto World, February 1, 2004.

Carol Brennan

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Melanie

Melanie

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Folk singer-songwriter Melanie recorded her first album in 1967 and attracted national attention as well as a loyal fan following two years later when she performed at Woodstock, the legendary rock festival. During the early 1970s, Melanies gentle, acoustic sound on songs like Lay Down, Beautiful People, and Brand New Key was in sharp contrast to the hard-driving, heavy-metal rock that dominated the charts. Edwin Miller of Seventeen magazine observed that her urgent ballads bind you to her with invisible threads of emotion.

Melanie was born Melanie Safka on February 3,1947, in Queens, New York. Her mother was a blues singer at the local clubs who fostered a love of music in her daughter and entered her in area talent contests. My mother always encouraged me, Melanie recalled to Miller. At age four, Melanie made her professional debut on a radio show called Live Like a Millionaire, where she sang and played the ukelele.

When Melanie was a teenager, the family moved to southern New Jersey, where despite her mothers blues influence, she was drawn to the New York folk scene and the music of artists Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. At age 16, Melanie was hired to sing at a local club where, she told Miller, I worked Monday nights. I would sing all the Peter, Paul and Mary songs, four and five hours, for $20. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, but continued to ply her musical trade in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village.

Though the young thespian enjoyed her drama studies, she found it extremely difficult to audition for acting jobs. I was always simply too afraid to get up and say this is what I am, she confessed in Seventeen. So I would sit there, reading the theatrical trade papers. Descriptions of the people wanted never [fit] me. She did manage to secure an acting role, but due to lack of funds, the play was never produced.

Melanie signed with a music publishing company and was assigned to producer Peter Schekeryk, whom she later married. In 1967 she landed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Her first single, Beautiful People, became a moderate hit, but Melanie was dissatisfied with Columbia and switched to the Buddha label, where she recorded the album Born to Be, which contained 1969s smash hit Look What Theyve Done to My Song, Ma.

That same year, Melanie was invited to play at the now-historic rock festival, Woodstock. Decades later, she reminisced about the event for Rolling Stone: It was magical. I had never performed in front of so many

For the Record

Born Melaranie Safka, February 3, 1947, in Queens, NY; daughter of Fred (a retailer) and Polly (a singer) Safka; married Peter Schekeryk (a record producer) c. 1970; children: Leilah, Jeordie (daughter), Beau. Education: Attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Penland School of Crafts.

Sang in local clubs in the Long Branch, NJ, area beginning at age 16; signed recording contract with Columbia Records, 1967; performer at Woodstock music festival, 1969; took sabbatical from recording and performing, 1972-75; released critically acclaimed album, Photograph, 1975; released one more album, 1978, before retiring until 1993.

Awards: Selected top female vocalist of 1970 by Billboard, Bravo, Cashbox, and Melody Maker, Emmy Award (with composer Lee Holdridge), 1989, for lyrics to The First Time I Loved Forever, theme song of television series Beauty and the Beast.

Addresses: Office 53 Baymont, Suite 5, Clearwater Beach, FL 34630. Record company Lonestar Records, 519 Cleveland St., Suite 209, Clearwater Beach, FL 34615.

people in my life. I had my first out-of-body experience. I was terrified, I had to leave. I started across that bridge to the stage, and I just left my body.... I watched myself walk onto the stage, sit down and sing a couple of lines. And when I felt it was safe, I came back. Performing at Woodstock inspired Melanie to write and record her 1970 peace anthem Lay Downsubtitled Candles in the Rain. She told Rolling Stone: It started to rain right before I went on and the announcer said that if you lit candles, it would help to keep the rain away. By the time I finished my set, the whole hillside was a mass of little flickering lights.

Candle-lighting fans became a feature of Melanies concerts, sometimes leading to trouble with authorities because of the potential fire hazard. She released Candles in the Rain in 1970. Six months later the album reached platinum status and earned her top female vocalist of the year awards from Billboard, Melody Maker, Bravo, and Cashbox.

In 1971 Melanies tribute to roller skating, Brand New Key, reached Number One on the pop charts, but critics were less than enthused with the cute, inane ditty. They were no more impressed with her 1972 follow-up, The Nickel Song. Disillusioned by the unkind reviews, Melanie took a respite from music and focused her attentions on her family. She returned in 1975 on the Atlantic label with Photograph, an album that was, ironically, praised by the critics and virtually ignored by the public. In 1978, she released the album Phonogenic, Not Just Another Pretty Face, for Midsong International, before once again retiring from the music business.

Melanie eventually returned to the studio and recorded several albums throughout the 1980s. She sang her critically-panned Brand New Key in a television commercial for the Fisher-Price Toy Company. In 1989 she went on the road with the Woodstock Reunion Tour, which traveled through the United States and Europe. Melanie was also honored with an Emmy Award for penning the lyrics to The First Time I Loved Forever, theme song of the award-winning television series Beauty and the Beast

Though Melanie continued to release albums for the European market, it was nearly a decade before she recorded her next domestic album, Freedom Knows My Name, released in 1993. The recording was afamily affair; produced by her husband, Peter Schekeryk, and recorded on his company label, Lonestar Records, the album features back-up vocals by all three of their children (who also tour with Melanie). Critics were divided on the albums merit, with Entertainment Weekly calling it a tepid release, stuck in Woodstock-era reverie, and Philadelphias Daily Local News concluding it was full of vital, fresh tunes which hold up in the 90s.

Melanies schedule remained full in 1994. She continued work on an unplugged album commemorating her 25 years as a recording artist, and had scheduled concerts throughout the United States and Europe. She was also slated to appear at Bethany 94, a musical celebration of Woodstocks silver anniversary, to be held at the festivals original site. In spite of her strong ties with the past, Melanie has always had her sights set squarely on the future. When people want to talk only about the good old days, she explained to People, theres this horrible implication that youre nothing now. But I know Im better than I used to be.

Selected discography

Melanie, Columbia, c. 1967.
Born to Be, Buddha, c. 1969.
Candles in the Rain, Buddha, 1970.
Leftover Wine, Buddha, 1970.

The Good Book, Buddha, 1971.
Gather Me, Neighborhood, 1971, reissued, C5, 1993.
Garden in the City, Buddha, c. 1972.
Four Sides ofMelanie, Buddha, c. 1972.
Stoneground Words, Neighborhood, 1972.
Photograph, Atlantic, 1975.
Phonogenic, Not Just Another Pretty Face, Midsong International, 1978.
Freedom Knows My Name, Lonestar, 1993.

Sources

Daily Local News (Philadelphia), February 19, 1994.

Entertainment Weekly, January 14, 1994.

People, July 27, 1992.

Redbook, September 1972.

Rolling Stone, August 24, 1989.

Seventeen, June 1971.

Elizabeth Wenning

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Melanie

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