Tag Archives: #Blues

Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base

Gus “Mr. Silk” Lacey, was the unofficial mayor of 52nd Street, aka “the Strip.” He and his wife, Virginia, owned Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and music legends Cab Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities who frequented Silk’s.

Mr. Silk's 3rd Base

Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott performed here. In his biography, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott, he recounted the neon sign outside read: “Always Touch Third Base Before You Go Home.”

Silk’s 3rd Base was featured in the 1972 blaxploitation film Trick Baby.

Film critic Dan Buskirk wrote:

Between “White Folks” and Blue, we see both sides of the city: from a posh dinner party where “White Folks” meets well-heeled businessmen whose greed makes them potential marks as well as the raucous scene at “Mr. Silk’s Third Base” a West Philly nightclub that functions as Blue’s unofficial office. We see a lot of the warm glowing interior of Mr. Silk’s. The club was a real place, a center of African American nightlife at 52nd and Spruce (their slogan was “You have to touch 3rd Base before you go home”). Owner Gus Lacy was “Mr. Silk,” by all accounts a bon vivant who received his smooth moniker by selling ladies’ undergarments along his postal route. He was also known as “The Mayor of 52nd Street” and before it closed in 1985 politicians, pimps and regular folks rubbed shoulders with stars like Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and James Earl Jones. It’s a blessing that this little corner of the world was captured on film.

A blessing indeed.

Ripley’s Music Hall

Ripley’s Music Hall was located in the former Hippodrome in South Philly. The music venue played host to greats of all genres, including McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Sam & Dave, Gil Scott-Heron and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Ripley's Music Hall - Stevie Ray Vaughn - Live In Philadelphia

Ripley’s Music Hall was demolished. A new building constructed on the site was occupied by Tower Records, which closed in 2012.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In 1957, Sister Rosetta Tharpe moved to Philadelphia. She was a first-generation resident in the historic Yorktown neighborhood, and a member of Bright Hope Baptist Church.

From Philadelphia, she did some of her finest recordings, releasing five LP’s and gaining a Grammy nomination with her 1968 album, “Precious Memories.” Her tours of Europe in the late 1950’s helped to spark the British blues revival and the onset of 1960’s popular music.

Sister Rosetta was gospel’s first superstar who brought spiritual music into the mainstream with a blend of blues, jazz, big band, and rhythm & blues. Her ringing soprano voice and guitar virtuosity set her apart from other greats of gospel’s Golden Age. In 2007, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2011, a historical marker was installed outside the house in Yorktown where she lived for 15 years until her death in 1973.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Historical Marker

Jack’s Rathskeller

Jack’s was located in South Philly. In her autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow,, blues great Ethel Waters, recounted a watershed event in her life that occurred on Halloween Night 1917:

I sneaked into the back room of Jack’s Rathskeller, where there was a big Halloween party going on. Jack’s was on the corner of Juniper and South. No one under twenty-one was supposed to be allowed in Philadelphia saloons. …

Youngsters representing the wards all over Philadelphia were supposed to complete in entertaining at that party. I was living in the old Seventh Ward. The girl who was supposed to perform for our district never showed up, and somebody at my table yelled:

“Chippie sings! Come on, Chippie, sing for the old Seventh.”

I was Chippie.

[…]

And that night at Jack’s, Chippie Waters got up and sang tearful ballad, “When You’re a Long, Long Way from Home.” The crowd liked my rich, young voice, and I had to give two or three encores.

Among the professionals there were Braxton and Nugent, who had a small vaudeville unit. They said that if I would work on the stage with them they could get me ten dollars a week.

And the rest is history. By the way, residents of the 7th Ward were the subject of W.E.B. DuBois’ landmark sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro.

St. Peter Claver, Gentrification and Black History

First it was #PopeInPhilly. Now this: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia plans to put the oldest church for black Catholics on the auction block. St. Peter Claver Union was named after the “Apostle of the Slave Trade,” a 16th century Spanish Jesuit priest who fought against the slave trade.

St. Peter Claver Church Historical Marker

St. Peter Claver was an anchor in the community. Future blues legend Ethel Waters recounts in her autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow, that at age six, she was gravely ill with typhoid fever and double pneumonia. Her grandmother sent for Fr. Healey who baptized and anointed her.

In 1942, St. Peter Claver’s Catholic Church, Fifty Golden Years, a self-published history, was released:

It was also toward the end of the 19th century that a sizable population of blacks developed their own Catholic congregation in Philadelphia. Prior to 1886, black Catholics had worshiped in the parishes of St. Joseph, St. Mary, and St. Augustine in the city. In 1886, Holy Trinity Church, a traditionally German Catholic Church at 6th and Spruce, began holding a mass for blacks. The pastor of Holy Trinity, Father Hilterman, encouraged his black congregants to form their own union, which adopted the name St. Peter Claver Union, after the native of Catalonia, Spain, whose efforts in behalf of emancipation earned him the title, “Apostle of the Slave Trade.”

In July 29, 1889, Rev. Patrick McDermott, arrived in Philadelphia to take charge of the burgeoning black Catholic congregation at the request of Mother Katherine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, after she visited Holy Ghost College (now Duquesne University) in Pittsburgh, PA. McDermott’s congregation began assembling in a small chapel in the second story of a home at 832 Pine Street in 1889, but it soon became too crowded, and the group began to look for a large church home.

When in 1890, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia offered its building at 12th and Lombard for sale, the congregation began to pool its resources to purchase it. When Patrick Quinn, treasurer of the Beneficial Savings Fund Society, one of Philadelphia’s largest banks at the time, died the same year, his will stipulated that $5,000 of his fortune was to go to the “proposed Colored Catholic Church of Philadelphia.” With donations from other well-to-do Philadelphians and loan from a bank, the congregation managed to assemble the funds to purchase Fourth Presbyterian Church at 12th and Lombard, which was dedicated as St. Peter Claver’s Church, Philadelphia’s first black Catholic church, on January 3, 1892.

Fast forward to today. The Archdiocese is in Orphans’ Court petitioning for the removal of racial language in the deeds that would rewrite history.

Arlene Edmonds, community historian and author of the African American Catholic Youth Bible, told Sabrina Vourvoulias of Philadelphia Magazine:

I feel a special connection because I’ve always been interested in historical sites, particularly the Underground Railroad and the sites that were built from by those enslaved Africans who creatively masterminded their escapes. Setting foot in St. Peter Claver one can feel it is part of that lineage. As a Catholic, so many of the earliest African connections to the faith have been overpowered by Western traditions after the faith was embraced by Europeans. Most American Catholic churches are centered around a Eurocentric interpretation of the faith.

Then you have a St. Peter Claver Church that was donated to the Black community for the purpose of evangelizing to African Americans. They lived in Philadelphia during the antebellum era, were among those who escaped along the Underground Railroad, or who migrated here later from the south as well as the Caribbean and Latin America. This was their church before there was an Archdiocese of Philadelphia [emphasis added]. It housed their history in photographs and artifacts. To have that taken from us is very sad. That is why many feel as I do, that others are trying to erase our history even those who say they share our faith.

I don’t share Edmonds’ faith, but I share her concern that gentrification is erasing African American history. Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, is host of “Urban Insight” on 900amWURD. In an interview with Edmonds, Rev. Tyler observed:

St. Peter Claver is sandwiched between Big Wesley and Mother Bethel. The neighborhood is awash with great history of founding events in the black community. It’s an American story. We must help the Archdiocese find a different way to deal with this property.

Given the givens, I put my faith in Orphans’ Court. So I filed an objection to the Archdiocese’s Petition for Cy Pres.

U.S. Postal Service Tribute to Sarah Vaughan

On March 29, 2016, at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall at Newark Symphony Hall, the United States Postal Service released the Sarah Vaughan Forever Stamp.

Sarah Vaughan - Available Now

Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman dedicated the stamp:

As one of the most compelling vocalists in American history, Sarah Vaughan was renowned for her artistic eloquence. Her dynamic vocal range, iconic vibrato, and innovative phrasing helped to transform jazz and popular music. The Postal Service is proud to honor Sarah Vaughan. Let this stamp serve as a lasting tribute to her legacy.

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who played with Miss Vaughan when he was 21 years old, sent a video tribute:

It’s only fitting that Sarah Vaughan is being memorialized with a forever stamp. She was great on so many levels. In honoring her, we honor ourselves. And her talent is truly forever.

The Sarah Vaughan Forever stamp is available at local post offices or online.

Barney Gordon’s Saloon

Barney Gordon’s was located in South Philly. In her autobiography, Philadelphia Walk of Famer Ethel Waters wrote:

Barney hired me, and after I’d sung two nights at his place he offered me a steady job at fifteen dollars a week. I sang there six nights a week and on Thursday afternoons. Servant girls and houseworkers had that afternoon off, and they’d come to Barney Gordon’s to drink and relax. We called them “the Thursday girls.”

[…]

Barney Gordon’s saloon was on the ground floor. We entertained, though, in a big room upstairs where the customers sat at tables. There was only a two-piece band. Toots Moore, the drummer, and a piano player who could play only in two keys.

Ethel Waters’ autobiography, His Eye is on the Sparrow, is available at Amazon.com.