Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Blog

In light of his recent passing, we want to take this time to share how exceptional and dear Casey Kasem was to the heart of the Arab American community. Best known for his radio countdown show American Top 40, disc jockey and radio personality Casey Kasem was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1932 to Lebanese immigrants.

More than an entertainer, AAI President James Zogby reflects, “Casey is more than the most recognized voice of his generation, what he said mattered. He inspired us to be positive, to strive for peace and justice, and to care for each other and our planet.”

Immensely proud of his Arab heritage, Kasem was a strong voice and guiding force for all Arab Americans. Indeed, he helped establish the Arab American Institute and was there at our founding meeting with President Reagan at the White House. The work we do today builds upon Kasem’s foundational efforts to empower and celebrate the Arab American community. In honor of his myriad and tremendous contributions, we awarded Kasem with the 2013 Award for Individual Achievement at the Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala, and the Casey brochure celebrating the accomplishments of Arab Americans remains our most popular publication.

Kasem worked to challenge negative stereotypes of Arab Americans and publicize the remarkable achievements of the Arab American community. Named “Man of the Year” in 1996 by the American Druze Society, he helped to establish institutions to promote cooperation and unity among all American ethnic communities. Kasem also led nationwide efforts to create effective dialogue between Arab Americans and American Jews, earning him prestigious awards and recognition from major American ethnic organizations.

Following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Kasem was moved to action, laudably advocating for peace in the Middle East and calling on his peers to oppose war in the region. Kasem was such a strong and passionate advocate for a more meaningful U.S. role in Middle East peace negotiations that he was invited by President Clinton to attend the White House ceremony where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yassir Arafat signed the peace accord.

Kasem was an outspoken peace activist and dedicated to defending the rights of not just Arab Americans, but of all Americans. He was a determined advocate for domestic and international concerns from championing environmental awareness, racial equality, economic justice, homelessness, healthcare, and civil rights to Middle East peace. 

Casey’s infectious vibrant energy and optimism was evident in his earliest years when he first started down his road to success. When Casey was 20 years old, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Korea where he honed his skills as an announcer and DJ on Armed Forces Radio Korea Network. Enthused by the radio industry, upon returning to the United States, Casey worked at radio stations all over the country, including in San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland where he developed his rock-trivia persona. During this time, Casey introduced to the world his famous “teaser and bio” feature, a cliff-hanger technique that leads the listeners into the next song on his playlist and one that would later define his legacy and distinguish Casey from his fellow radio broadcasters.

Moving to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Kasem branched out into film acting with several American International pictures, and in 1968, took on voice-over commercials. His voice was immediately sought after and filled the airwaves for years on children’s television cartoon shows; in over 2,000 episodes, Kasem performed the voice of Batman’s Robin and Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy, as well as vocal roles in Transformers and Sesame Street. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Kasem guest-starred on many TV series like Charlie’s Angels, Quincy, Fantasy Island, ALF, and Amen.

In 1970, Kasem launched the nationally syndicated radio program American Top 40, a radio show that would skyrocket Kasem to the top of his industry, bring him into the homes, cars and workplaces of millions of Americans, and lead him into the world of American pop-music. On this smash hit show, Kasem counted down the most popular songs in the country until he hit No. 1, often including trivia facts about songs he played and artists whose work he showcased. At one point, the program was aired to more than 1,000 radio stations worldwide. His signature voice made him a legendary radio host, and he regularly used his notoriety to inject inspirational messages of compassion and hope. Kasem’s famous signature sign-off for the show was “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Kasem hosted the syndicated American Top 40 TV spin-off America’s Top 10, a weekly half-hour music video show that counted down the top 10 songs in the United States. He was also host of Casey’s Top 40, Casey’s Hot 20, and Casey’s Countdown. Kasem was awarded one of Hollywood’s most coveted stars on the Hollywood Boulevard’s “Walk of Fame” in 1981 and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1992. He received the prestigious Founder’s Award for aiding Danny Thomas’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and through TV spots and specials, combatted alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and smoking.

Kasem will be profoundly missed for his incredible talent, generous spirit and relentless humanitarian work. Arab Americans couldn’t be more proud to have him as a member of our community. Through both the music radio industry and political realm, Casey Kasem has moved and inspired millions and continues to be “the brightest star in our Arab American constellation.” 

Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.