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Herb Kent: dusties DJ, black-cowboy enthusiast

It seems safe to assume Herb Kent has seen it all during his 65 years in radio (the last 21 on WVAZ-FM 102.7). But even the record-spinning “Cool...

Photograph: Anna Knott

It seems safe to assume Herb Kent has seen it all during his 65 years in radio (the last 21 on WVAZ-FM 102.7). But even the record-spinning “Cool Gent” was taken aback when he arrived for a mid-’90s gig at a Harvey nightclub and saw a horse tied out front. Back then the club was a hangout for black cowboys who celebrate the legacy of African-Americans in the old West with rodeos, parades and parties. These hombres so impressed Kent with their stylish Stetsons that he soon began haunting Alcala’s Western Wear on Chicago Avenue, adopting his signature look.

While he dug the fashion, horses became his real passion. He acquired a South American paso fino horse, a breed legendary for its smooth gait (“You could drink a glass of water at full speed and wouldn’t spill anything,” he boasts in his velvety voice). As the “King of the Dusties” and the face of the dance style known as stepping, Kent naturally named his horse Dusty Stepper, and when wistfully describing the animal’s markings and the “clitter clatter of the hooves,” his legendary cool slips a little as he becomes an emotional parent. Due to recent hoof problems, the horse now rarely leaves its Indiana stable. Reflecting upon Dusty Stepper’s health, Kent laments his riding days may be numbered. “You become so attached…when you have a kid who dies, you don’t say, ‘Okay, let’s make another one.’ I probably will call it a day after this horse.”

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