“That’s my girl,” former St. Louis American editor Pat Washington said of Delores Shante.
Through her popular Partyline column, Shante has been “telling it like it is” for nearly 30 years. She’s spilled piping hot tea (gossip) and delivered reads (zings) related to people, places and activities in black St. Louis. Through Partyline, which currently occupies The American’s back page, the mercurial character keeps it real – and is currently synonymous with urban St. Louis nightlife.
Though the language and tone remain the same, the content has varied from the intent of Washington, the column’s creator and original author. “I started the column as a parody really,” Washington said. “But it really caught on, so I had to keep doing it.”
She was tired of people overlooking what she felt was important concerns facing St. Louis’ African-American community for the sake of the social and party scene. So, she folded them both into a single column and made sure that it was juicy and “sassy.”
“There was a summary of social events and parties,” Washington said. “There would also be some things about politics. I always tried to involve serious issues in a lighthearted way.”
There was also plenty of gossip – who was where and doing what. She had plenty of sources. “People would just call me and tell me all kind of dirt. My eyebrows would be singed,” Washington said, laughing. “A lot of it was shared anonymously, but I always made sure I did my homework. People had scores to settle, and I didn’t want people trying to use the column for that.”
Washington was her own most-reliable source. She would make mental notes and observations while covering assignments that she knew would be perfect for the Partyline audience. “I created that Delores Shante persona because I needed to have an outlet,” Washington said. “I’m such a serious journalist. I would never write those things.”
It didn’t take long for both the political audience and the Partyline reader base to catch on. “My favorite thing about doing it was that every single politician was on edge – when I walked into a room or an event, people got nervous as heck,” Washington said.
All eyes would be on her as she worked any room. People wanted to know what she was going to write, even attempting to predict what the next Partyline would be, based on with whom she was engaging. No matter where she went, the assumption was that she was on the clock as Delores Shante.
“It was so funny,” Washington said. “Even if I was out somewhere just to enjoy myself, people would see me coming and just straighten up.”
She has not written under the famous moniker she created in more than twenty years ago, but Washington said she still gets the “Delores Shante treatment” from time to time. In those exchanges, she’s either bombarded with “you didn’t hear this from me” gossip – or met by people on their best behavior. Washington said this speaks to the influence and continuing interest in the column two decades later.
“It’s amazing, but true,” Washington said. “To this day people still talk to me like I’m Delores.”
Present-day Partyline has evolved into a different format than when Washington closed her chapter on Delores Shante. Several others have picked up Shante’s proverbial pen and given the column their own spin since Washington’s departure. The political element spun off into its own segment, Political Eye – which has been a go-to for political insider scoop since its inception. The current Partyline content is primarily entertainment and nightlife driven. The column previews and recaps local and national shows and gives the flavor of the club scene – including visits from national celebrities and local social influencers. The Partyline Gallery, which features photos from out and about, emerged as an extension of the column. The gallery expanded online in 2005 and now features more than 100 photos each week on stlamerican.com.
As the paper celebrates 90 years of service as a trusted source of news targeted to the African American community, Washington is proud of the paper’s continuing legacy that she and others were able to contribute.
“It’s been a joy for me watching the paper come of age and finding its stride,” Washington said. “We worked so hard to create an identity and keep an identity for the paper. Just seeing it coming into its own – and having such excellent writers and viewpoints – is important to me.”
Washington said that black St. Louis in particular – and St. Louis in general – should be proud to see the paper continue its mission of uplifting and informing the community.
“A lot of papers have folded because they have failed to adapt – but The St. Louis American is one of those exceptions,” Washington said. “You all find a way to keep it fresh – with the online version, both the social media and digital.
Mastering the technical side of keeping The St. Louis American relevant is something that I truly admire.”
On the shoulders of Mel and Thel
Partyline follows in the footsteps of two different columns. The American’s longest running columnists. ‘We’re Tellin,’ by Mel and Thel, was written by the late Melba Sweets (wife of publisher emeritus Nathaniel A. Sweets) and Thelma Dickerson. The feature ran for the better part of 55 years.
“They definitely laid the foundation,” said Wiley Price, veteran St. Louis American photojournalist. “Before Delores Shante, there was Mel and Thel.” The column was a blend of social events, weddings, births, deaths and other events the pair deemed noteworthy. It was a favorite column of literary great Langston Hughes.
“We’re Tellin’” ran from the early 1930s until Melba Sweets’ retirement in the mid-1980s.
“Every once in a while, we would get into things deep,” Melba Sweets once said about the column. “But mostly it was social, homey stuff. It was for young people.”
The other column was ‘Between Us,’ written by Barbara Jefferson, from the mid 1980s until right before Partyline began in 1992. Jefferson stated that Between Us “focused on local trends, local people and different things in community that weren’t being covered in the newspaper or anywhere else for that matter.” “It was about the social goings on….it was not gossipy but more chatty.”
With the new generation in mind, Partyline picks up where “Mel and Thel” left off – both as a long-running staple of the current paper, and as an item that works to be on the pulse of the fun side of the city.