Joe Madison, an influential talk radio host with a rumbling musical baritone, who interviewed President Barack Obama in the Oval Office and numerous other political leaders in his Washington, D.C., studio, urging them to take action on civil and human rights issues, has died at his home in Washington. He was 74.
His family announced the death on Thursday but did not specify when it occurred. In December, Mr. Madison said in a statement that he was taking a leave from his daily show, on SiriusXM radio, after learning that his prostate cancer had returned; it had been in remission since it was first diagnosed in 2009.
Mr. Madison was ranked the No. 6 most important talk show host in the country in 2023 by Talkers Magazine on its Heavy Hundred list, where he was also the highest-ranked nonwhite host.
“Joe Madison was the voice of a generation,” President Biden said in a post on social media this week. “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.”
Mr. Madison, a former senior official with the N.A.A.C.P., blended on-air social activism with advocacy outside the studio. He participated in a 73-day hunger strike in 2021 to urge Congress to strengthen voting rights laws after Democrats had gained control of the Senate and the White House.
On Mr. Madison’s show, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new majority leader, pledged to get behind long-stalled anti-lynching legislation because, he said, Black voters had played a crucial role in returning Democrats to power and “we owe them.”
“Nobody fought harder for his beliefs and his community than Joe Madison,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement.
Other recent guests included Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California when she was speaker of the House, and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina.
At the congressional signing of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in 2021, Ms. Pelosi thanked Mr. Madison for championing it.
His broadcast — 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday — was on the Urban View channel on SiriusXM, which Mr. Madison joined exclusively in 2013. For decades before that he was a fiery personality on two Washington talk radio stations, WWRC-AM and WOL-AM, where he was known as “the judge” for fact-checking callers.
“People will call and try to give you misinformation,” he told The Washington Post in 2013. “Most people get upset out of frustration. They don’t like being challenged, but that is how I grew up — people challenged your thought process.”
Before entering radio in 1980, he was the political director of the N.A.A.C.P. and served on its national board for 14 years. While there, he led a march from Los Angeles to Baltimore to promote voter registration.
Mr. Madison continued his political activism as a radio host. He was arrested in 2001 after handcuffing himself to the Sudanese Embassy in Washington; he had made repeated broadcasts to raise awareness of modern-day slavery in that African country. He made several trips to Sudan and, working with the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International, helped free Sudanese who were being held as slaves.
In 1996, Mr. Madison was arrested while leading a protest outside C.I.A. headquarters after repeatedly accusing the agency on his show of contributing to an explosion of crack cocaine use in Black communities in the 1980s. The allegations were raised in a series of articles in The San Jose Mercury News. A Michigan congressman, Representative John Conyers Jr., called into Mr. Madison’s show to praise him for raising the issue, but critics said Mr. Madison was spreading a conspiracy theory to Black listeners.
A House Intelligence Committee investigation later found no evidence linking the C.I.A. to the epidemic.
In 2015, Mr. Madison remained on the air for 52 straight hours to raise money for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Joseph Edward Madison was born on June 16, 1949, in Dayton, Ohio, to Felix Madison, a press operator, and Nancy (Stone) Madison. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a B.A. in sociology in 1971 from Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a running back on the Bears football team, a baritone soloist in the campus choir and a D.J. for the campus radio station.
At 24, he became director of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Detroit branch. His radio career began at Detroit’s WXYZ-AM. After moving to Washington, his popularity led to national syndication of his show, then to a deal with SiriusXM, the satellite platform available to subscribers nationally. He called himself “The Black Eagle” on air. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2019.
In 1977, Mr. Madison married Sharon L. Moore, who survives him, along with four children, Shawna, Jason, Monesha and Michelle; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Mr. Madison often posed a trademark challenge to guests: “What are you going to do about it?”
“I always have seen myself as a person who recognizes that one person can make a difference,” he explained in 2013. “Rosa Parks was a seamstress. Mabel Teel was a mother. Fannie Lou was a share cropper. President Obama was a community organizer.”