Pep’s Musical Bar opened in 1951 under the ownership of William “Bill” Gerson. Pep’s was one of Philadelphia’s most celebrated jazz spots. Gerson brought in national jazz, blues, R&B and soul greats, including Jimmy Rushing, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington and Yusef Lateef.
Philly favorite John Coltrane frequently performed at Pep’s, including on September 18, 1964.
G. Bruce Boyer, a journalist and former editor for Town & Country shared the night he saw Nina Simone at the legendary club:
I remember seeing the great pianist-chanteuse Nina Simone at Pep’s Showbar at the corner of Broad and South Streets in South Philly in the early 60s. At that point the club had already been one of the great East Coast haunts for jazz performers and aficionados for two decades or more. Nat King Cole had played there, and so had Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Lester Young and Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Thelonious Monk, and Jimmy Smith. Going to Pep’s was a jazz pilgrimage.
She was an incomparable artist and played much of that wonderful mix of music at her Pep’s engagement. Starting off with an extended version of the great blues “Trouble in Mind”, followed by a stirring, elegiac jazz/classical version of “You’d be so Nice to Come Home to.” Then some Ellington and more blues. The audience knew it would all lead up to “Porgy” for a grand finale.
About a half hour or so into the show she had gently just begun to swing into “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, when she suddenly stopped playing. Just stopped, her high-coiffed head bent over the keys and the sidemen trailing off. The place got quieter and quieter ’til you couldn’t even hear an ice cube clink in a glass; there was complete silence … except for two thugs at a table in the corner who had been talking. Another 30 seconds in that vacuum and they looked up too, and found Miss Simone glaring straight at them.