Tag Archives: Ray Charles

Empire Records

Empire Records Shop was located on the edge of “The Strip” at 52nd and Market Streets.

Empire Record Shop - Overlay -Zoom

Empire Records was the oldest, continually-operated Philadelphia jazz record shop (1930 to 1970). In an online profile, Bill Morlitz shared his story:

I was born in Camden NJ since my mom’s cousin was head of Obstetrics at West Jersey Hospital on February 1, 1950 and have lived my whole life in Philadelphia and/or its suburbs. My dad had the first jazz record shop in Philadelphia so at an early age, I was immersed in the music business. Maybe that’s why I can’t sing a note on key nor have the 10 years of piano lessons stayed with me. Chopsticks is beyond me.

During my teens, I was fortunate to personally meet many great jazz artists including Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Buckner (who developed the locked wrist rhythm style of piano playing and was Lionel’s pianist), Lionel Hampton and many others. Grover Washington, Jr. worked in the store on the weekends and we used to go listen to jazz sets together. My photography is included on his “Live at the Bijou” album.

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The Mitch Thomas Show

The Mitch Thomas Show debuted on August 13, 1955. It was one of the first televised dance shows for black teenagers. During its three-year run, Mitch Thomas brought black rock and roll stars to television, including Little Richard, the Moonglows, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Ray Charles.

Mitch Thomas - Ray Charles - 7.5.15

The Mitch Thomas Show was broadcast from a studio atop Suburban Station in Center City. Across town in West Philly, Bandstand, excluded black dancers and audience members:

In a typical dissemination process [read: cultural appropriation], dances seen on Bandstand were often picked up at school dances or local dance hops and brought back to the show where they were presented by mostly white adolescents. In fact, many dances derived from The Mitch Thomas Show, the popular all-black teen show in Philadelphia, from which they were copied by white teens and then seen on Bandstand.

On August 5, 1957, Dick Clark made his debut as host of Bandstand. Clark’s claim that he integrated the show before it left Philadelphia has been debunked

More than fifty years after the show first broadcast, American Bandstand’s representations of youth culture remain closely linked both to the show’s legacy and to larger questions about popular culture, race, segregation, and civil rights. Billboard magazine journalist Fred Bronson, for example, argues that American Bandstand was a “force for social good.” Bronson bases this claim on Dick Clark’s memory that he integrated the show’s studio audience when he became the host in 1957. “I don’t think of myself as a hero or civil rights activist for integrating the show,” Clark contends, “it was simply the right thing to do.”

In the context of local and national mobilization in favor of segregation, underscored by widespread anti-black racism, integrating American Bandstand would have been a bold move and a powerful symbol. Broadcasting daily evidence of Philadelphia’s vibrant interracial teenage culture would have offered viewers images of black and white teens interacting as peers at a time when such images were extremely rare. Clark and American Bandstand, however, did not memory of integration. Rather than being a fully integrated program that welcomed black youth, American Bandstand continued to discriminate against black teens throughout the show’s Philadelphia years.

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Town Hall

Located in Center City at Broad and Race, the Scottish Rite Temple, also known as Town Hall, was built in 1926. The 1,692 seat auditorium played host to jazz and blues greats, including Count Basie, Lester Young and Jimmy Rushing.

Town Hall - Count Basie - 7.5.15

On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges.

Town Hall - Ray Charles

Check out this account from the Ray Charles Video Museum:

Town Hall was divided into two sections; the theater and the cabaret. The Ray Charles show was scheduled for the cabaret. Excited about appearing with a major star like Charles, the Sensations settled into their dressing room and began preparing for the show. All of the sudden, the dressing room door burst open and Ray Charles entered with his entourage including band members David “Fathead” Newman, Jay Dennis, James Sheffield, William Peoples, John Willis, Joseph Bridgewater, Tommy Brown and vocalist Mary Ann Fisher. The Ray Charles band informed the Sensations that this was to be their dressing room and the Sensations must leave. While somewhat in awe of Ray Charles, the Sensations would not back down and give up their dressing room. They were Kae Williams’ group and Kae was producing and MC’ing the show.

If Kae wanted them to have the dressing room, they were staying put! In the middle of the ensuing argument, Kae Williams walked in.

“You don’t understand, I’m Ray Charles!” the famous entertainer proclaimed. Kae Williams had broken into radio a decade before, at a time when blacks were not welcomed in the business. His feisty nature had allowed him to fight back at prejudice and discrimination in the entertainment field. Where weaker men had been driven from radio, Kae had a reputation for not taking crap from anyone. “I don’t care who the @!*# you are!” snapped the fiery dee jay defiantly. “I’m Kae Williams!”

The argument continued for a short while with much shouting. Ray Charles and his band succeeded in getting Kae and his group out of the dressing room and locked the door. Alphonso and the group watched as Kae Williams went to the hallway pay phone and made a call. Shortly thereafter, another commotion ensued. A team of Philadelphia police officers were banging on the door to Ray Charles’ dressing room, looking for drugs. People in the entertainment field knew that members of Ray Charles’ group had at times indulged in the use of illegal substances. But then, drug use was rampant in the business. According to the Philadelphia Tribune, the police found a burnt spoon, a needle and syringe, and a small quantity of marijuana in the dressing room. In addition, Charles and three of the band members were reported to have fresh needle marks in their arms. Ray and his band members were promptly placed under arrest. Fearing a riot, the police consented to allow the show to go on. But through the entire show, the stage was encircled with cops.

After the show, Ray and his entire band were taken downtown and arraigned. Ray Charles made the $2000 bail. The rest were jailed overnight. The Sensations, who had only wine in their possession, were not arrested. Ray Charles, who recalled the incident in his autobiography, Brother Ray, denied the reefer even belonged to his band. The newspapers promptly ran the headlines, “Disc Jockey Had Own Dance Raided For Dope.” After going through a lengthy legal process, the charges were finally dropped. Ray Charles vowed never again to perform in Philadelphia. But Kae Williams further enhanced his reputation that night as a person not to be messed with. And this Kae loved.”

The landmark was demolished in 1983 and replaced with Parkway Corporation’s headquarters and parking garage.