Madison, born June 16, 1949, was a 1967 graduate of Roosevelt High School. According to his official bio, he was an All-Conference running back at Washington University in St. Louis where he was also a baritone soloist in the university choir and a disc jockey at the campus radio station. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology, becoming the first person in his family to graduate college. Washington University also awarded him an honorary doctorate.
At age 24, he became the youngest executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch before being appointed the organization’s National Political Director and eventually being elected to the National Board of Directors where he served for 14 years.
During his tenure at the NAACP, Madison led hundreds of volunteers on a series of successful voter registration marches, including a cross-country “March for Dignity” from Los Angeles to Baltimore. The marches garnered thousands of signatures for an anti-apartheid bill in Congress.
His radio career began in 1980 at Detroit’s WXYZ. He continued his broadcast journey to WWDB in Philadelphia, WWRC and WOL in Washington, DC. The popularity of his WOL program led to syndication on the Radio One Talk Network and its XM satellite channel which merged with Sirius to become SiriusXM in 2008. In 2023, he celebrated his 15th anniversary with SiriusXM.
In 2015, Madison set the Guinness World Record for the longest on-air broadcast: 52 hours. During the record-breaking show, he raised more than $250,000 for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Five months later, he made history again by broadcasting live from Cuba and becoming the first American radio host to do so in more than 50 years.
In 2021, Madison went on a 73-day hunger strike to encourage passage of voting rights bills. Unbeknownst to his listeners, he was fighting prostate cancer during his hunger strike. When asked if he understood the danger he was in, he replied, “I am willing to die.”
A few months after his hunger strike, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed in the Senate with the help of Madison’s radio influence. His efforts were noticed by many, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Madison was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. The cancer went into remission but returned in early 2023. He went on leave from his radio show in December.
“Joe Madison led an incredible, impactful life,” SiriusXM noted in a statement. “He was also an invaluable member of the SiriusXM family and a treasured colleague and friend. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife, Sherry, along with his entire family, his devoted listeners, and the countless people he inspired with his determination to make the world a better place.”
“Joe Madison was the voice of a generation,” President Joe Biden posted on X/Twitter. “Whether it was a hunger strike for voting rights or his advocacy for anti-lynching legislation that I was proud to sign in 2022, Joe fought hard against injustice. Jill’s and my thoughts are with his wife, Sherry, and the entire family.”
On Madison’s website, a family statement thanked the nation for its ongoing support while reiterating the importance of remaining vigilant in social justice matters.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our beloved husband and father, Joe Madison. He passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family. Joe dedicated his life to fighting for all those who are undervalued, underestimated, and marginalized. On air he often posed the question, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ Although he is no longer with us, we hope you will join us in answering that call by continuing to be proactive in the fight against injustice. The outpouring of prayers and support over the last few months lifted Joe’s spirits and strengthened us as a family. We continue to ask for privacy as we gather together to support each other through this difficult time.”
Madison is survived by his wife, Sharon, of more than 45 years, four children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.