Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Projection, Lights & Staging News. CLICK HERE to signup now!
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

In Memoriam: Joe Schaffner, 81

Kevin M. Mitchell • News • September 3, 2021

Joe Schaffner

DETROIT – Joe “Uncle Joe” Schaffner, 81, longtime concert touring professional, died July 14, 2021. A teen-aged Schaffner started out helping a young Aretha Franklin (when she herself was a teen gospel singer) on the road, and he was beside her working her last tour in 2016 as stage manager and almost every tour in between. Other acts he worked in his 60-year career include Marvin Gaye, Elvis, the Temptations, Richard Pryor, the O’Jays, Jackson 5, Prince and many more. He did it all: Lighting Designer, Stage Designer, Road Manager, Personal Manager, General Manager, Stage Manager, Production Manager, Entertainment Consultant, and Accountant. Along the way he’s also worked on multi-media shows for clients including Chrysler, the French Government in Paris, and the Dutch Government in Amsterdam.

He was born in Detroit on October 26, 1940, in a neighborhood filled with future Motown stars including Franklin. He was one of the early pioneers of understanding the importance of the big lighting rig, and worked with companies like ShowCo and Fantasee Lighting. In a January 2021 PLSN profile, he said his lighting design work was getting noticed and he was increasingly able to get black promoters to look beyond just the bottom line and make their acts’ live shows stand out. “I was blessed to be able to create my own lighting.” (Read the entire article here). Perhaps most importantly, he was a mentor to many, including Lance “KC” Jackson, a touring professional and co-founder of Roadies of Color United International. “What stood out to me the most was how he was kind to me and the rest of the crew,” Jackson says of his early days of working with Schaffner. “That kindness made a lasting impression. And Joe was not afraid to share his knowledge and wisdom with us new jacks coming up in the business.”

In addition to his smarts and his kindness, Schaffner’s long career can be attributed to his attitude and perspective. In that PLSN article he said: “You can’t fall in love with the act. You can be friendly, but you’re not friends. You’re an employee, not a buddy – that’s something I’d tell people all the time.”

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!